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Jewish groups dispute claims of BDS victories at Air Canada and York University

Air Canada Airbus A330-300
An Air Canada Airbus A330-300 WIKIPEDIA PHOTO

Two recent claims of success by advocates of the boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) campaign against Israel appear to be on shaky ground.

In the first instance, BDS proponents took partial credit for Air Canada terminating an aircraft maintenance contract with an Israeli company.

On Nov. 2, The Canadian BDS Coalition – which is comprised of about 40 labour, political, church, peace and pro-Palestinian groups – declared a “partial victory,” when it was informed by Air Canada in writing that the airline’s five-year contract with Israel Aerospace Industries’ (IAI) Bedek Aviation Group for the maintenance of its Boeing 767s had been terminated early.

The deal, reportedly worth tens of millions of dollars, was set to expire in March 2019.

The BDS coalition said Air Canada offered no reason for dropping the contract, other than to say that it reviews such contracts on a regular basis.

According to the pro-BDS group, Air Canada claimed that the contract was cancelled in early 2017 and transferred to another provider in North America.


“However, we need to point out that this new information was only released after our #AirCanadaComplicity campaign was taking off,” the group stated. It called Air Canada’s decision “a significant national victory.”

Air Canada cited “commercial reasons” for severing the contract with IAI.

The airline “regularly reviews the suppliers it uses for a variety of products and services, including for aircraft maintenance,” Air Canada spokesperson Peter Fitzpatrick told The CJN via email. “As part of this longstanding practice, certain work previously done by Bedek Group has been reallocated for commercial reasons following a competitive request for (a) proposal process earlier this year.”

Asked in a subsequent email whether the move had anything to do with BDS, Fitzpatrick replied: “All I can tell you is, it was a commercial decision.”

The BDS coalition said it first raised the matter with Air Canada last summer, but received no reply. In a follow-up letter sent to Air Canada president and CEO Calin Rovinescu on Oct. 16, the group alleged that IAI is the subject of boycotts across Europe, because it produces “deadly” drone technology. It also quoted a study by a professor in Gaza that said that drones have killed “hundreds” of Palestinians.

“By partnering with IAI, Air Canada becomes complicit in the war crimes of IAI,” the coalition charged.

‘It was a commercial decision.’

It also wants Air Canada to take action against Sabra, a company that produces the hummus and guacamole that’s served on some of its flights. In its Nov. 2 statement, the group said the airline had not addressed the snacks issue.

In the second instance, the president and vice-chancellor of York University denied claims that one of its faculties cut ties to an Israeli institute because of BDS.

In a statement on Nov. 6, Rhonda Lenton said Students Against Israeli Apartheid at York University (SAIA York) had “falsely” claimed that York’s faculty of environmental studies (FES) had voted to “boycott” the Arava Institute for Environmental Studies in Israel (AIES).

SAIA York said that on Oct. 26, the environmental studies’ faculty council voted 15-7, with one abstention, not to renew a long-standing relationship with the Arava Institute. In the same statement, the student group said that York faculty had “boycotted” the Israeli institute.

The group called the development “a major win” for the BDS movement. “FES has become the first faculty in Canada to honor Palestinian civil society’s call for an academic boycott of complicit Israeli academic institutions,” it said.

But in her rebuke, Lenton said that “no such academic boycott was considered or voted on, nor was the term ‘boycott’ included in the motion” brought to the FES faculty council.

York University
York University

York’s environmental studies faculty and the Arava Institute had an academic partnership from 1998 to September 2017, when the agreement “expired,” Lenton noted. She said the faculty council did pass a motion by a vote of 15-7, but it was to recommend to the dean that the faculty “not seek a new agreement” with Arava.

She said that no faculty council has the authority to boycott any academic institution. York “has for some time been clear that we do not support academic boycotts, and our position has not changed,” said Lenton.

The motion passed by the environmental studies faculty was only a suggestion, as it has no jurisdiction over inter-institutional partnerships, explained York spokesperson Barbara Joy.

The motion read: “That the FES faculty council recommend to the dean not to pursue or renew the agreement with AIES.”

The university “has not given notice to dissolve the agreement with AIES and it remains in effect at this time,” Joy told The CJN in an email. “We are proud of the collaboration with AIES.”

‘York does not live up to a standard that would warrant giving it the benefit of the doubt.’

Robert Walker, national director of Hasbara Fellowships Canada, said that while his group hopes Lenton is right, he thinks the environmental studies faculty should clarify its position.

Given “these types of damaging practices” at the university, “we believe York does not live up to a standard that would warrant giving (it) the benefit of the doubt,” Walker said in a statement.

The Friends of Simon Wiesenthal Centre (FSWC) said that both instances were “false claims.”

The FSWC said it has been “assured that neither York University nor Air Canada will allow the discriminatory BDS movement to dictate its contractual relationships.”

But it, too, seeks clarification of York’s motion.

“It is self-evident that this decision had nothing to do with BDS,” stated B’nai Brith Canada CEO Michael Mostyn. “The decision was made months before BDS groups began targeting Air Canada, while the airline maintains another contract with the same Israeli company flies to Israel and serves Israeli snacks on board its flights.
“The Canadian BDS Coalition press release is fake news, just like it’s false claim earlier this week about York University.”

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