Academic boycott of Israel takes off in Canada

Wednesday February 25, 2009 Saed Bannoura – IMEMC

Over 40 universities in Canada will be participating in activities to mark ‘Israeli Apartheid Week’, beginning on Sunday. Students from the participating universities are calling for a boycott of Israeli academic and cultural institutions until Israel ends, what they call, apartheid policies against the Palestinians.

In addition to the university groups, CUPE (Canadian Union of Public Employees), the largest trade union in the Canadian Province of Ontario, has called for a boycott of all Israeli institutions that engage in research for the Israeli military.

According to the organizers of Israeli Apartheid Week, the campaign was first launched in Toronto in 2005. In 2008, more than 25 cities around the world participated in the week’s activities, which also commemorated 60 years since the expulsion of the Palestinian people from their homes and land in 1947-1948. Israeli Apartheid Week 2008 was launched with a live broadcast from the South African township of Soweto by Palestinian leader and former member of the Israeli Knesset, Azmi Bishara.

The network organizing the week states, “This year, IAW occurs in the wake of Israel’s barbaric assault against the people of Gaza. Lectures, films, and actions will make the point that these latest massacres further confirm the true nature of Israeli Apartheid. IAW 2009 will continue to build and strengthen the growing Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) movement at a global level.”

The event is not without controversy, however. In Canada, Carleton University officials tried to ban a poster advertising the event, which displays a Palestinian child being targeted by an Israeli airforce missile. According to one supporter of the poster, “Many know the numbers: nearly 1400 Palestinians killed, over half civilian, the majority of those women and children. Fourteen Israelis were killed, four by their own misconduct. As well, it is well documented by Israeli, Palestinian and international human rights groups that the levels of force measured between rock-throwing Palestinian civilians and the [Israeli military]”s US-funded military machine are anything but equal. Yes, Hamas and other militant groups conduct suicide bombings and rocketing that target Israeli civilians. But the death and destruction of Palestinian land and people far exceeds that of Israel, many including [Jewish academic] Norman Finkelstein, citing the latest Israeli offensive on Gaza as a hundred-to-one ratio….This poster is an accurate representation of the political and conflictual realities of the two sides, with the [Israeli military] might on one side and the death of unarmed Palestinian civilians on the other.”

The Simon Wiesenthal Center raised objections to the event, saying it is “a worldwide campaign to demonize Israel and intimidate students and faculty who support the Jewish State. Israel Apartheid Week has only grown in scope and viciousness, sponsored by aggressive, well-funded organizations committed to demonize the Jewish state and de-legitimize the only democracy in the Middle East.”

The Wiesenthal Center failed to reconcile the mutual exclusivity of the claims that Israel is both a Jewish state and a democracy, a contradiction that has been brought up by both the left and right wing inside Israel.

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