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by Rhonda Spivak, March 7, 2012


I attended the BDS [Boycott Divestment Sanctions] lecture today at the University of Manitoba and I found it educational, because it gave me a far better understanding of Israel Apartheid Week supporters’ agenda on campus. I have also been doing some research on this.

Here is what I think seems to be the agenda being pursued across Canada, and it sends a wakeup call to action for those who want to prevent the climate on their campus from becoming increasingly anti-Israel:

1. IAW supporters and organizers work on get elected to positions on University Student Unions--such as President, Vice President, etc. They can then begin to try to create an increasingly hostile anti-Israel climate on campus. The take-over of the Student Union by anti-Israel students with an agenda was the beginning step which led to the  anti-Israel environment on Concordia's campus.

2. Once IAW supporters are elected to a university's student union, the next step is to pass motions calling for boycotting Israeli businesses, academics or calling for the university to divest pension funds from companies that have ties or do business with Israel. On February 11th, 2012 the University of Regina’s Student Union passed a resolution calling for a boycott of Israeli academics and businesses. BDS motions have also occurred on Carleton University in Ottawa.

3. The fact that a Student Union passes a resolution does not mean that the University administration will follow it. The University is run by a Board of Governors, who does not have to accede to student wishes. But in today’s session, I learned that student unions may seek to try to hold a referendum on the divestment issue, such that the anti-Israel students will pressure the Board of Governors to bend to their collective will if their side is victorious in the referendum.

Two years ago, Students Against Israeli Apartheid (SAIA) Carleton launched a campaign to get the Carleton University Pension Fund divested from companies that they felt were violating human rights and international law in Palestine. This campaign, which started simply as a SAIA initiative, has grown into a campus-wide movement, made up of students, faculty, staff, retirees, and alumni.

One of today's  speakers was giving SAIA students advice on simple actions they could initiate such as getting ten faculty to write to the university administration asking to have their pension funds divested from companies with ties to Israel.

4. Pro IAW student unions  on other campuses have sought to pressure a university to break its ties with Israel-based academic institutions. Today I learned that there are attempts to stop McGill and Concordia from having ties or exchange programs with the Technion-Israel Institute of Technology , since Technion has scientists, engineers, and aerospace experts whose work has relevance for Israeli military. Technion seems to be the first Israeli institution of higher learning targetted, but I have no doubt that others will become targets of IAW supporters.

This is what I found on a BDS website posted by Elliot Frayheyt, a member of Tadamon, in regard to Concordia, McGill and Technion:

"In the wake of successful/ongoing divestment campaigns at Hampshire College, UC Berkeley, Carleton University, and the University of Johannesburg, a group of students, faculty and community members in Montreal have started to organize a campaign to sever the links between the Technion-Israel Institute of Technology, and Concordia and McGill University. Several months ago, this group published a report... that outlines the ‘strong bilateral student exchange programs, joint research projects, and collaborative scholarships’ that Concordia/McGill share with Technion in Haifa. This report, and the campaign more broadly, hopes to highlight (and eventually sever) Concordia and McGill’s overt complicity in, support for, and normalization of, an academic institution that is inextricably linked with the Israeli military and weapons corporations...."

It's worth noting that while some are trying to boycott Technion, a Technion scientist Dan Schechtman, just won a Nobel Prize for chemistry. (Too bad no one told him he should boycott himself!) Another Technion Professor (who was here this year), is Mark Talesnick who is helping produce global engineers to assist underdeveloped nations, hardly a matter to boycott but rather to encourage.

5. In today’s session, IAW supporters were being advised to try to target local businesses that would be easy targets and not to waste too much time deciding whom to boycott. Students were given specific websites and organizations with information to help them decide who to target. An activist I heard today did not have particulars of University of Manitoba's ties with Israel; that information would not be too difficult to ascertain.

One of the speakers also spoke about targetting the Canada-Israel Free Trade agreement, (bilateral trade has been on the rise betwen the two countries) and the CIRDF [ Canada Israel Research Development Foundation]

6.There were about 20 people who attended today’s session; excluding known IAW supporters and the pro-Israel students, there were fewer than five unaffiliated students. Those numbers alone do not suggest the community should be concerned. However, since all it takes is a small number of motivated individuals to be elected to the Student Union and push the BDS agenda, we should not be complacent.

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Rhonda Spivak, Editor

Publisher: Spivak's Jewish Review Ltd.

Opinions expressed in letters to the editor or articles by contributing writers are not necessarily endorsed by Winnipeg Jewish Review.