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Response to ‘selective outrage’: Vote against selective history

by Keivan Shamami November 18, 2014
Response to ‘selective outrage’: Vote against selective history

On Nov. 25, vote for sanctions against Israeli institutions

We graduate students voted with our conscience in January 2013, voting yes to Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) against Israel’s occupation of Palestine. In doing so, we learned that making an educated decision about BDS means not letting a selective history blindside you. Last week’s op-ed “BDS and the CSU: a story of selective outrage” by Bradley Martin was a great example of the selective omissions and common myths propagated by those opposing BDS. These myths need to be debunked so that a more comprehensive history can emerge.

First, Israel’s occupation does relate to us as students. For example, our tuition dollars are complicit with Concordia’s bilateral agreement with the Technion-Israel Institute of Technology, which assists in the development of tanks and technologies reinforcing the occupation and wall dividing Israel and Palestine. BDS does not condemn Israeli individuals, but rather such particular institutional relationships that make us complicit with Israel’s violations of international law—just as the boycott campaign against South Africa did not target South Africans, but the institutions supporting apartheid.

Another common myth is that BDS would “single Israel out for isolation, when such standards are not applied equally across all governments,” in Martin’s words. This myth sits on bankrupt historical grounds. Syria and North Korea are heavily sanctioned by the international community. The reason Saudi Arabia is not sanctioned is because of the interests of Israel and its allies in oil-rich industries. If that escape from sanctions comes as a shock, the case of Israel is what really “sticks out like a sore thumb,” to use Martin’s words. It is not BDS, but the international community’s lack of sanctions, that historically singled Israel out. According to the WRMEA, Israel has enjoyed the largest amount of aid from the U.S.A (and a cozy relationship with our own Stephen Harper). So not just our tuition dollars, our tax dollars are complicit with Israel’s violations of Palestinian human rights.

When Martin argues that BDS ignores how “235,000 Palestinians have been displaced inside Syria since the beginning of the conflict two years ago,” he conveniently forgets to mention that Israel was created in 1948 by forcefully displacing 800,000 of the Palestinian population from their homeland to the West Bank, Gaza Strip and other parts of the world, as documented in Israeli historian Ilan Pappe’s book, Ethnic Cleansing of Palestine. Add to that 300,000 Palestinians and 150,000 Syrians who were displaced during the 1967 Israeli invasion of the West Bank, Gaza and Golan Heights. These examples remind us that BDS does not have selective memory; unfortunately, Israel does.

 Martin created yet another smoke screen when he claimed that BDS would hinder technologies on campus. I would like to remind him that South Africa’s apartheid regime also hosted advanced academic and technological innovations, yet this did not stop the international community from successfully and strategically boycotting that regime. According to Sasha Polakow-Suransky, author of The Unspoken Alliance: Israel’s Secret Relationship with Apartheid South Africa, it only stopped Israel, whose joint nuclear research with the South African apartheid regime led Israel to be the only state in the Middle East still owning nuclear bombs. BDS is not selective about history, but it is selective about its most strategic targets, which will ultimately be up to its student members to determine.

 This brings me back to the mandate of student associations. Contrary to what Martin suggests, the mandate of your student union is not permanently engraved in stone on any website or in any constitution; rather it is carved out by you, critically minded students, who decide what role you believe students should have on your campus and in your society.

In this spirit, we hope that you will take the time to make an informed decision, based on a comprehensive sense of history and of students’ valuable role as critical thinkers in a democracy, and vote YES to BDS from Nov. 25 to 27.

Member of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) Committee of the Graduate Students’ Association (GSA)

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