Waterloo students vote No to boycott of Israeli universities

Waterloo students vote No to boycott of Israeli universities

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Waterloo student Ilia Sucholutsky campaigns for the No side.
Waterloo student Ilia Sucholutsky campaigns for the No side COURTESY

University of Waterloo students have voted No in a referendum that called on the university to sever ties with Israeli academic institutions.

A two-week campaign to persuade students to vote either for or against the boycott followed, and on Jan. 28, Waterloo’s Federation of Students (Feds) said 4,216 students had voted, with 2,329 of them voting No. Waterloo has about 30,000 undergraduates.

In October, a student group called Ethical Collaboration UW submitted a petition with about 4,400 signatures to Feds. It claimed that Palestinian students and teachers are routinely prevented from reaching their schools because of military checkpoints and roadblocks, and that they face systematic discrimination at the Israeli institutions that Waterloo has academic partnerships with, including the University of Haifa, Hebrew University of Jerusalem, Technion-Israel Institute of Technology, Tel Aviv University and Weizmann Institute of Science.

After the submission, Feds was tasked with verifying the signatures to ensure they came from registered undergraduate students. In early January, a referendum was called when the minimum requirement of 10 per cent of undergraduate student signatures was met.

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“Following this result, the official stance of the Federation of Students is that we do not have a stance on the University of Waterloo severing ties with the institutions mentioned in the referendum question,” said Stéphane Hamade, Feds’ vice-president of education.

“This means Feds will not be advocating for this because of the results.”

Ilia Sucholutsky, an 18-year-old second-year mathematical science student who was part of the No campaign, recalled being approached last year while waiting for a bus on campus.

“A couple guys were going down the line approaching each person, saying, ‘Do you believe in human rights?’ Of course we all said we believe in human rights, so they said, ‘OK, sign this paper here.’ I was put off by that and asked them what I was signing. Then they started talking about Israeli institutions and Palestinian human rights violations,” Sucholutsky said.

After that encounter, he approached the student union and convinced them that part of the verification process should include a confirmation email to all the students who signed the petition to make sure they understood what they had signed.

“According to what I was told afterward, over 1,000 signatures were dropped from the petition based on those processes, so it came to about 3,000, which is just barely enough [to trigger a referendum],” Sucholutsky said.

Supporters of the No campaign drafted letters against the boycott that were signed by students and Waterloo faculty members, and they also took part in a public debate that was streamed live on the student union website.

Although students voted against severing ties with Israel, Sucholutsky said the result of the referendum likely would not have made a difference to the administration.

“The administration is very much committed to their relationship with Israel. The president of the university spent a month in Tel Aviv last semester building relationships with Technion, but for the student union, [if students had voted Yes] it would be binding on them to do something about it,” he explained.

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“For me, it’s never been about these ties actually getting severed. We know that it’s not going to happen, but it is more about how it is polarizing the student body. It is creating this toxic environment… There is a large population on campus that is very apathetic, but of those who do get interested, they tend to be very polarized,” he said.

He credited the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs (CIJA), Hillel Ontario and StandWithUs Canada for providing pro-Israel students with the guidance and resources they needed to put forth an organized response to the anti-Israel boycott movement on campus.

Friends of Simon Wiesenthal Center called the result “a stunning victory” and “another blow to the BDS movement on campuses across the country.”

Spokersperson Nick Manning said that the “University of Waterloo values free speech and freedom of expression and we believe that it is important that universities provide an environment where students can debate the issues that are important to them.

“Waterloo proactively engages with international research-intensive universities that share our values of academic freedom, freedom of expression and equity. Our academic partnerships seek to advance knowledge creation that will positively impact the world in which we live and are administered through processes that are open and transparent.”

Marc Newburgh, CEO of Hillel Ontario, lauded the results of the vote. “This decision is an important step toward building a campus community where all students, regardless of their background and identity, feel safe, welcome, and accepted,” he said.

Meryle Kates, executive director of StandWithUs Canada commented, “We applaud the students of Waterloo University who rejected bigotry on their campus, and all of the student leaders who worked together so admirably.”

Judy Zelikovitz, CIJA’s vice-president of university and local partner services, noted that Waterloo “is just the latest campus to reject BDS and reaffirm strong and mutually beneficial ties with Israelis. This would not have happened were it not for the hard work of students on campus who refused to be silent in the face of this discriminatory movement.”

 

  • Borukh

    I am pleased that the undergrad students at U Waterloo turned down the boycott proposal. I haven’t seen the original petition circulated for signatures by Ethical Collaboration UW last fall, but the CJN’s Nov. 10 story about it named several Israeli institutions of higher learning listed by the group claiming that Palestinian students attending them faced systemic discrimination. Some of these institutions have been attended by several cousins of mine who would NOT tolerate any kind of discrimination against Israeli citizens, including Arab Israelis. Apart from that, I disagree with general BDS action against academic institutions, where freedom of speech and to investigate, research and publish are paramount. I’m therefore happy that the proposal was turned down by 55% of those voting, but I wish it was higher, and that more than 4,216 students voted, out of a total undergrad population of almost 27,000 actually voted (ie. only 16%).

    • peepsqueek

      Just for balance, which Islamic Countries are being boycotted today for institutionalized apartheid, sectarian apartheid, religious apartheid, gender apartheid, etc?

      From 1948–67, the West Bank and Gaza were under Arab rule, and no Jewish settlements existed there, but the Arabs never set up a Palestinian State. Instead, Gaza was occupied by Egypt, and the West Bank by Jordan. No demands for a West Bank/Gaza independent state were heard until Israel, after much Arab terrorism, took control of these areas in the Six-Day War. The question is why was Israel a target before there were any settlement in the West Bank and Gaza. Ten years ago, every last Jew was removed from Gaza and within weeks, Hamas rockets began to rain down on Israel- lesson learned.

      If they really believe Israel to be a true apartheid state, they must explain: Which Israeli hospitals refuse to admit Israeli Arabs? Which Israeli restaurants refuse to serve Israeli Arabs? Which Israeli universities refuse to admit Israeli Arabs? Which Israeli buses refuse to board Israeli Arabs? In what elections are Israeli Arabs not allowed to vote? In what area of public life are Arab women not allowed to serve?

      • moosehorn

        Lol,peepsqueek is squeaking the usual bs.

        • peepsqueek

          If you have any contradictory evidence, please post it.

      • Borukh

        Let’s get a little clearer with what you’re saying. What you note about Gaza and the West Bank (WB) is somewhat true, but VERY much an incomplete history. First of all, you use the term “Arabs”. It was the Egyptians and Jordanians, respectively, NOT “the Arabs” who were in control.

        Secondly, you omit the fact that Jordan formally annexed the West Bank including East Jerusalem and the Old City in April, 1950, following a conference held in Jericho by Jordan’s King Abdullah with Palestinian leaders in Dec., 1949. This annexation was considered illegal under international law and was not accepted by any country except Iraq, Pakistan and the UK. The Arab League (excepting Jordan, of course) formally rejected it! Jordan also made all Palestinians living in the WB Jordanian citizens with full rights, could have Jordanian passports, etc.

        Thirdly, you completely ignore the historical fact that an “all-Palestine Government” (APG) was set up in Gaza in Sept.,1948 by the Arab League (opposed by Jordan). It was in effect an effort to set up a Palestinian state. But it had little actual power, and was under the direct control of Egypt. The APG re-located to Cairo following Israel’s declaration of independence in May, 1948. Egypt did not admit the numerous Palestinians living in the Gaza Strip (GS) – most were refugees from the war – to Egyptian citizenship and were very restrictive about allowing them to enter and live in Egypt. They had passports issued by the APG which were recognized by most Arab League members. Egypt controlled the GS from the start, but formally declared that it did not claim it as Egyptian territory. Egypt created an elected Legislative Council for GS in 1957 following Israel’s departure from Sinai and the GS. Finally, Nasser made the APG part of the UAR (United Arab Republic – a 1958 federation of Egypt and Syria) and dissolved it in 1959, though the Council’s function in passing laws for the GS continued and was constitutionally set by Egypt in 1962.

        The serious problem with Ariel Sharon’s planned withdrawal from the GS is that it was unilateral and so did not involve any negotiation with either the Gazan government under Hamas or that of the PA. It amazes me that a man of his experience and intelligence somehow thought there would be no negative consequences of cutting the GS loose from internal Israeli control without negotiated agreed to terms. So what happened afterwards cannot be held as any sort of example of what would happen if there were to be a negotiated withdrawal from the WB.

        As for the “apartheid” business, there is no doubt that Israel has created an apartheid system in the WB. Do you need to have it spelled out in detail? Within Israel “proper”, however, there is no apartheid – which is what you refer to in your list of questions. There most certainly is discrimination, racism and prejudice against Israeli Arab citizens (do you need to have all the relevant laws passed by the Knesset listed?), but it does not amount to apartheid as defined by the two international conventional definitions.

        Which brings me to the question of what will Israel wind up being if it continues to populate the WB and East Jerusalem (whose annexation is not recognized by ANY other country on earth, including Canada!)? It will become a de facto apartheid state controlling all of mandate Palestine from the Jordan to the Mediterranean and denying citizen status to the Palestinians living in the WB – for obvious reasons! This is what former president Jimmy Carter meant when he titled his 2006 book, “Palestine: Peace Not Apartheid”.