July 11, 2016
Dear Board of Directors and Student Association Executive members at Durham College and UOIT,
I am writing to you on behalf of Independent Jewish Voices Canada (IJV). IJV is a national human rights organization with ten chapters across Canada, from Victoria to Halifax. We believe strongly that a just and lasting peace in Israel and Palestine must be based on the application of international law, and respect for the human rights of all parties.
IJV’s focus is predominantly on Israel’s nearly 50-year military occupation of land it acquired through war, as well as its ongoing colonization of this territory in direct violation of the Fourth Geneva Convention (which the Canadian government is also opposed to in its official policy). We take serious issue with Israel’s claim that it represents all the world’s Jews, and we refuse to allow Israel to operate in our name. We actively work to promote the values within Jewish tradition that we hold dear, including both social justice and treating others as one would want to be treated.
In 2009 we became the first national Jewish organization in the world to endorse the call from a significant segment of Palestinian civil society for Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS). Since then, numerous Jewish organizations around the world—including Jewish Voice for Peace in the U.S.—have followed suit.
It has recently been brought to our attention that there is a growing backlash against the Durham College and UOIT Student Association (SA) for their endorsement of BDS, and their calls for an ethical investment policy. We are not surprised that organizations and individuals wishing to shield Israel from accountability to international law have chosen to spread misinformation about the BDS movement while also defaming those who seek to promote it. This is a recurring tactic for such groups and individuals.
These organizations and individuals have, sadly, chosen to defend the indefensible, i.e. the State of Israel’s oppressive and discriminatory treatment of Palestinians. Their only response, therefore, has been to attack Israel’s critics who are trying to hold Israel accountable, rather than address the substance of our concerns.
We therefore wish to correct some of the myths and falsehoods contained in both the statement from a student opposed to the BDS motion that was read at the last Durham College & UOIT Board of Directors meeting, as well as in the statement by the VP Equity of the SA.
The former statement asserts that the SA’s resolution “holds one ancestry more significant than the other.” It appears that this student is falsely, and dangerously, linking Israel’s human rights violations with anyone of Jewish or Israeli ancestry. The BDS movement focuses on violations of international law, and holding an oppressive regime accountable for these violations. It has nothing to do with anyone’s ancestry. We would argue that this conflation of all Jews or Israelis with the illegal actions of a state is itself anti-Semitic.
This statement goes on to declare that “Adopting the BDS motion means the Student Association has taken an active stance against students who identify as Israeli.” Again, to clarify, the BDS movement does not boycott individuals based on their background; rather, it targets Israeli government institutions, as well as corporations—Israeli or otherwise— that profit from Israel’s oppression of the Palestinians. And while the earlier movement to isolate apartheid South Africa boycotted all South African academics, the BDS movement targeting Israel focuses specifically on Israeli academic institutions.
Further, the author of the statement refers to the organization Hasbara as a “Jewish organization,” and then goes on to state that the BDS motion has “denied the rights of Israeli students to participate in events on campus”, citing as an example “their denial of Hasbara to participate in social justice week.”
Again to clarify, Hasbara is not a “Jewish organization.” It is an organization tasked with defending Israel’s public image through Israeli-government talking points, and has many non-Jewish students involved on campuses across North America. It was founded in 2001 by the pro-Occupation organization Aish HaTorah and the Israeli Foreign Ministry. The term hasbara is widely understood to be a euphemism for government propaganda.
The statement from the student continues, claiming that “Through its racist mandate, the BDS is against the spirit of the Freedom of Speech.” There is no substantiation for this claim. The BDS movement is headed by the Palestinians’ Boycott National Committee, which has clearly articulated the principles of the movement. The movement is unequivocally opposed to any form of bigotry or discrimination, including anti-Semitism, Islamophobia or any other type of hatred.
Ironically, it would be against the spirit of freedom of speech for the majority who voted in support of BDS at Durham Colleage and UOIT to have their vote overturned by a campaign of misinformation; a campaign based on unsubstantiated claims smearing those who advocate for equal rights and justice for Israelis and Palestinians alike.
The SA’s VP Equity’s statement argues that “In the case of the BDS campaign, we are shutting down the voice, opinion and identity of one group, to voice that of another….” The BDS campaign in no way shuts down anyone’s voice, opinion or identity. Is the VP Equity asserting here that all Jewish and/or Israeli students support Israel’s oppression of the Palestinians? Is it not anti-Semitic to assume that all individuals of Jewish descent think the same way on any political issue? In reality, there is a rich diversity of political opinions in the Jewish community regarding Israel, just as there is a diversity of opinions on political matters in every community.
If by “one group”, the VP Equity was referring to student supporters of the state of Israel’s policies and violent practices, then it becomes clear that challenging Israel’s behaviour through peaceful means in no way conflicts with the SA’s mandate of anti-oppression and anti-discrimination. In fact, the BDS motion fully embraces the mandate of anti-oppression and anti-discrimination that the SA espouses, as it strives towards these values in solidarity with an oppressed, occupied and besieged people.
We urge the Board of Directors to permit the SA to move forward with their plans regarding the resolution supporting the BDS movement. Furthermore, we wish for the Board of Directors and the SA to reassure students that attempts to smear and intimidate supporters of Palestinian rights be given no further legitimacy.
Independent Jewish Voices Canada