RE: Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions

Editor's note: Ahead of the Students' Society of McGill University (SSMU) Winter General Assembly (GA) the Tribune will be accepting letters on the subject of the "Motion Regarding Support for the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions Movement." Click on any of the titles below to read current submissions. If you would like to join the conversation please send a 400-word letter (any letter above the word limit will not be accepted) to [email protected]. If you would like to join in on the conversation for any of the other motions being debated at the GA, we welcome your opinions as well. We look forward to publishing the McGill community's thoughts on the issue.

- Mayaz Alam, Editor-in-Chief

"Yes to BDS: Why I see no other option" by Zahra Habib

When discussing the abuse of Palestinian rights in the Occupied Territories, McGill students on both sides seem to be adopting more constructive dialogue. But it’s still perplexing to hear the mantra, “it’s complicated, it’s divisive” when talking about the potential for Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) becoming the norm.

Adopting BDS principles is not a complicated question, but a last resort for ending the systematic persecution of innocent lives in Palestine. BDS is a grassroots response where governments and international law have failed. There is nothing complicated about the reality of Palestinian suffering under Israeli government policy; if this were true, it would be a question of two equal sides. But then what exactly is the system (read: not universally-hated terrorist group operating on the fringes) that subjects the entire Israeli population to incessant violence, colonization, and subordination with impunity? There simply is none.

Composed conversation between a Jewish Zionist and a Palestinian activist may seem impossible due to the bias when an emotional affiliation gets meshed with politics. Emotions are complicated. So are individual senses of personal identity and security. And so when they are (or are even perceived to be) under threat, it’s easy for the mind to go into survival mode.

But thousands of Palestinians are still being robbed of their property by illegal settlements, and then being subjected to violence by the newcomers; the Separation Wall and checkpoint system makes it impossible for them to live and move freely. For Palestinians in Israel, daily life means constant subjugation and second-class citizenship. The status quo, wherein the Israeli government receives billions in military aid as well as unconditional diplomatic support from the United States, makes it impossible for Palestinians to maintain a legitimate political leadership that is stable and independent. Even using the term “conflict”’ to describe the issue is problematic: It implies a disagreement between two equals, when the reality is a struggle against systematic and all-encompassing settler-colonialism.

For many Palestinians, BDS is the only hope for liberation. Peace will only be achieved through justice: Without it, ‘peace’ just means pacification. There is no denying that McGill, with its heavy investments in companies profiting from these crimes, has a role in the occupation and the systematic oppression of Palestinians. Three decades ago, McGill boycotted South Africa for its apartheid policies, a ‘complication’ that was overcome because students decided to be on the right side of history. Let’s not fall astray this time around.

Zahra Habib is a member of the McGill BDS Action Network, but the views expressed here are her own.

"Co-opting my community's struggle doesn't futher another's" by Haviva Yesgat

It should be clarified that this letter is not anti-Black Students’ Network (BSN), nor does it condemn the BSN for endorsing McGill’s Boycott, Divest, and Sanction (BDS) Action Network in light of the upcoming General Assembly. Such discussions should be encouraged on campus. This letter does, however, express great disappointment with BSN’s use of incorrect information, specifically regarding the racial hardships of Ethiopian-Israelis, as a justification for its endorsement of BDS. As one of the only Ethiopian Jews at McGill, and as one that is heavily involved in my community, it is my responsibility to be the voice of a people whose hardships would otherwise be misrepresented.

Ethiopian Jews living in Israel are not refugees, as is presented in BSN’s endorsement. Ethiopian Jews are Israeli citizens, who have the right to exercise freedom of speech, petition, and assembly. Thus, it is within the rights of these citizens to protest grievances as Israeli citizens. This is not to say that racism and the integration of Ethiopian Jews is not an issue within the country. Publicized protests in Israel represent the frustration that Ethiopians feel about discrimination and their socio-economic struggles. These conflicts, however, can be easily misrepresented within a false ‘us versus them’ narrative. To the contrary, discussing this particular issue, while simultaneously calling for the “dismantling of a Zionist settler-colonial framework” showcases a great misunderstanding of the objective of Ethiopian-Israeli protesters. Protesters want to drive discussions with government and policy-makers so as to encourage policy that would alleviate the socio-economic hardships of a community that has struggled to integrate. Using their difficulties to fuel an anti-Israel agenda is not only unfair to their initiative, it is unfair to a student body that may not have enough information to develop an opinion on the matter.

As a black woman, I strongly support BSN’s stances for racial equality; however, in order to remain fair to the cause, to Ethiopian-Israelis protestors, and to the student body, McGill students should not be put in a situation where they must question the integrity of information being presented. Students should also question the inclusion of the particular issue within the context of Monday’s vote. Though much must be done within Israel in order to reverse the effects of bad policy, using this particular racial issue in order to further the BDS movement, an initiative that Ethiopian Jewish communities do not support, is not for the best interest of Ethiopian Jewish citizens.

"BDS: A campaign to divide campus" by Itai Wine

In light of the unnerving vote on Feb. 22 pertaining to the Boycott, Divest, and Sanction (BDS) motion, I wanted to try to raise awareness as to why it is so ridiculous to contemplate such political nonsense. BDS is a movement that attempts to demonize and isolate Israel on the front that it is denying and essentially abusing the rights of Palestinians. Although this argument is a simplified falsity, the main issue with the movement is that it causes an irreconcilable division on campus. The one-sided motion is one that polarizes our student population and creates a divide among us.

If this motion were to pass the Students’ Society of McGill University (SSMU) would be called on to act in a way that disregards the serious implications of systematically boycotting the Israeli state. Why should SSMU take a stance on an issue that is so politically polarized? There is no need for an organization that is supposed to represent the voices of undergraduate students at McGill to be involved in contentious conflicts that are thousands of kilometres away and in a region of the world that they simply do not understand.

I am voting “No” to the BDS movement because I think that such a black-and-white perspective has no place in our student life and, therefore, should not be upheld by our student government. BDS should not be actively interfering in our lives here at McGill. Voters should realize just how much damage a resolution as inane and out-of-touch with reality as this one is would do. Furthermore, these provisions, if passed, may pose a burden on SSMU, which recently called on students to increase its budget in order for it to sustain its programming.  SSMU should be focused on solving issues here at McGill before they go looking to solve crises across the world. It should be noted as well, that apart from some cosmetic changes in wording and branding, a proposal of the same nature was proposed twice in the previous year and the students of McGill rejected it loudly and clearly on both occasions. Even Prime Minister Justin Trudeau vocally believes that BDS has “no place on Canadian campuses.” This BDS motion is nothing but political banter that places McGill students at odds with one another and takes away from the real focus of university: Education and friendship.

"Why I support BDS" by Sophie Heisler

I am in support of the motion calling for SSMU to support the BDS movement.While this movement does not claim to be a foolproof or all-encompassing solution to the conflict, it is a powerful way for those who live outside Palestine and Israel to effect change by placing economic pressure on Israel to comply with its core demands: The end of the occupation, the recognition of Palestinian human rights, and the right of return for Palestinian refugees. Being students at an academic institution that holds global financial influence through its investments provides us with a position of power that many people our age do not occupy. In instances like the SSMU GA, we are given the opportunity to influence whether or not our institution will continue to be complicit in human rights violations. Israel, as an apartheid state, to its core is a state that undermines the basic human rights of the Palestinian peoples. Be it through land seizure, devastating bombings, or limiting caloric levels of those in the Gaza Strip to just above starvation, Palestinians are continually dispossessed, marginalized, and made subject to senseless violence at the hands of Israel. These actions are severely unethical and abhorrent, and it is imperative that we make it clear to our administration that we will not tolerate McGill’s involvement in them in any way, shape, or form.

Simply put, I support the BDS movement because I support basic human rights. It is my responsibility to use my position in this institution to do what I can for those who are being oppressed. Palestinians are being oppressed, and we must respond to their call. The illegal occupation of Palestine is a human rights issue, and I refuse to support my university’s complicity in it.  I strongly encourage McGill students to vote in support of this motion at the GA. Now is the time to exercise our rights as students and show our solidarity with those whose voices are being institutionally silenced and whose lives and freedoms are always under threat.

"Why I do not support BDS" by Noah Lew

The situation in the Middle East is the result of a lengthy and multifaceted territorial conflict in which neither Israel nor its neighbours have been without blame. The narrative upon which the Boycott, Divest, and Sanction (BDS) motion is based is inherently flawed because it ignores this fact. That is why I will be voting “No” at the SSMU GA.  Specifically, this motion does not account for the historical context of the present day situation in Israel-Palestine, and propagates the fact that it is only Israel obscuring the prospect of peace.

This motion intentionally fails to address that prior to 1967 the West Bank was occupied by Jordan and the Gaza strip by Egypt. Israel only seized control of these territories as a result of a defensive operation it launched in response to the unprovoked war of aggression waged against it by several Arab countries. After Israel amassed the Territories, before any Israeli settlement was laid on the ground, the Arab League unequivocally rejected United Nations Security Council Resolution 242 at its 1967 summit. The Resolution called for the “acknowledgment of the sovereignty, territorial integrity and political independence of every state in the area and their right to live in peace within secure and recognized boundaries free from threats or acts of force.” Instead, they passed the Khartoum Resolution, which called for “no peace with Israel, no recognition of Israel, and no negotiations with it.”

One of the motion’s demands is for Israel to relinquish control of “all Arab lands captured.” However, on many occasions, Israel has disengaged from areas under its control, developments which did not bring about peace. In 2005, thousands of Israeli citizens were uprooted from Gaza in an attempt to forge peace, an act which was reciprocated by Hamas' re-engagement in terrorism and belligerency. Further, Israel offered to withdraw from the West Bank in both 2000 and 2008. The Palestinian Authority categorically spurned these proposals and articulated its intention to abstain from any further dialogue.

To solely blame Israel for the conflict, or to solicit concessions from Israel and Israel alone, is to observe historical realities through a warped lens. There are ways to engage in meaningful discussions, there are ways to promote an atmosphere of coexistence, and there are ways to justly advance the cause of humanity. BDS, by placing blame on one actor, and not even considering the actions of others, is not one of them.