Students Against Israeli Apartheid

March 29th, 2008 | Posted in Boycott, Lebanon, Palestine, Tadamon!, Politics, Solidarity, War and Terror
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    York University: Students Demand Debate on Academic Boycott of Israel.

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    Photo: Israel’s Apartheid wall in Palestine.

On March 27, 2008 Students Against Israeli Apartheid at York University (SAIA-York) organized a rally in Vari Hall (the central campus space) in order to: (1) commemorate the 60th anniversary of the Palestinian Nakba, (2) call for an end to the starvation policies and siege imposed on Gaza by the Israeli apartheid regime with Canadian complicity and (3) demand that the university hold a debate on the boycott of Israeli academic institutions that are complicit in the perpetuation of apartheid.

The rally ended at the Senate Chambers (York University highest governing body) that was holding session at the time. Students requested to present an information package about the boycott of Israeli academic institutions to York president Mamdouh Shoukri. A motion was put to the senate floor to hear the students out, but shamefully senators defeated it twice. Eventually, business in the York Senate was disrupted as the students refused to leave and peacefully persisted instead with their demands – finally the president was obliged to grant the students a hearing.

Two hundred students took over the Senate Chambers carrying pro-Palestinian flags and anti-racist placards/banners. Three representatives spoke on behalf of SAIA at the meeting: an Iraqi refugee, a Palestinian refugee to Lebanon and a Palestinian citizen of Israel. The first speaker questioned the use of the Student Code of Conduct to harass Palestine Solidarity activists. The other two speakers called on the president to hold a debate on the academic boycott of Israel similar to the one hosted by Ryerson University earlier this academic year.

The call by students was made in opposition to Shoukri’s support for his predecessor’s statement that condemned the British University and Colleges Union (UCU) resolution last year calling for an open discussion on the boycott of Israeli academic institutions complicit in apartheid practices. Both statements were made without any consultation with the student body or university faculty, staff and workers – students argued that it was fair to allow open debate on the issue at a minimum.

The president was non-committal about holding the debate – however he did agree that such forums are useful at York. Students delivered the information packet to him and promised that they will keep pursing the matter until such a forum is held at York University. SAIA notes that in 60 years of occupation and ethnic cleansing, university presidents in North America and Israel have remained silent on the routine violations of Palestinian academic freedom imposed by the Israeli military. Such practices include the closure of universities, arrest, torture and killing of students and daily restrictions on movement of Palestinian students and faculty.

In Vari Hall the usual intimidation by Zionist pro-apartheid students persisted, they held a counter rally that was largely outnumbered by the Palestinian solidarity side. The pro-apartheid side showed the usual callousness as they booed while a holocaust survivor, who is an anti-Zionist Jew, was giving her speech. They also held banners and wore T-Shirts praising the Israeli military and had reportedly invited Moshe Feiglin as a key-note speaker. Feiglin was recently barred from entering Britain by British Home Secretary Jacqui Smith for routine use of hate-speech and exultation of violence. Members of SAIA were pushed, yelled at and harassed, but instead of engaging with the racist attacks – the SAIA crowd turned around and ignored the pro-apartheid side completely

SAIA understands that what we face on campuses in Toronto pales in comparison to the racism that Palestinian students face on a daily basis. We will continue to organize for holding the debate about the academic boycott of Israel and to fight for our universities to divest from institutional ties to Israeli Apartheid.

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