HonestReporting Canada and Hasbara Fellowships Canada recently unveiled our Campus Media Fellowship which is designed to promote Israel’s image on Canadian universities and to monitor and engage with campus media outlets in support of fair and accurate Canadian campus news coverage of Israel.
At the following six universities throughout Canada (McGill University, University of Calgary, Ryerson University, Wilfred Laurier University, Queen’s University and York University) our fellows are working hard to stand Israel in high esteem.
We’re thrilled to report that two of our fellows, Tom Tyler at Mcgill and Alice Fischer at the University of Calgary, recently got published in the McGill Daily and the University of Calgary newspaper, the Gauntlet, on especially important topics such why BDS must be condemned, and another, which advocates for stronger academic ties between the University of Calgary and Israeli universities. Both commentaries can be found appended below.
McGill Daily: Tom Tyler: “Redefining anti-Israel: BDS could embolden anti-Semitic discourse on campus” (February 20, 2016)
Noam Chomsky, the polemically far-left academic, recently resurfaced as one of the more surprising critics of the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) movement – a grassroots anti-Israel movement with the stated aims of boycotting, divesting from, and sanctioning Israel. What followed was a predictable flurry of vitriol from some individuals claiming Chomsky had become an irrelevant Zionist sell-out, and others praising him as an unlikely defender of Israel.
Of course, both are incorrect; Chomsky’s anti-Israel track record is both substantial and well-publicized. There is something to be learned from this bizarre incident, however. The fact that Chomsky is even considered by some to be a defender of Israel is a testament to how much BDS has moved the goalposts when discussing the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in intellectual spheres. What we appear to have now is a situation in which anyone who disagrees with the premise of severing all ties with Israel – and purging its every mention save for use in political invective – becomes a defender of the country. As such, for disagreeing with some of the terms put forth by BDS, Noam Chomsky, a man who idolized the Venezuelan socialist and vocal Israel critic Hugo Chávez, is suddenly pro-Israel.
If that statement strikes you as absurd, it should, for it is an absurd situation. I cannot attest to being Chomsky’s greatest political disciple, but I have always regarded him as an admirably principled man. When he warns of a movement that ostracizes even those with no connection to the occupation or the actions of the Israeli government, I believe he describes something that is well underway.
I also believe that most Jewish students on university campuses in the West could attest to this as much as myself. I highly doubt that my Jewish compatriots to the right are particularly fazed by what progressive and left-wing groups think of them; many of them are already quite convinced that the Western left is inherently anti-Semitic. Rather, those that feel threatened more than any are progressive Jewish students, feeling increasing pressure from their political affiliations to be the token ‘good Jew’ that is obliged to cut their every association with Israel so as not to be ostracized by their political communities.
It is the prospect of a blanket academic and cultural boycott of Israel as a whole with which I feel uncomfortable.
Such a trend is plainly visible in the ongoing scandal regarding the allegations of “institutional anti-Semitism” at the University of Oxford Labour Club; among the grievances brought forward by the Oxford University Jewish Society was the proposition that Jews at Oxford should be expected to disavow the ideology of Zionism, or the UOLC would not associate with them. In an even more brazen display of ethnically motivated ideological purging, students recently interrupted a faculty meeting at Brooklyn College to demand the ejection of “Zionists” from campus, accosting a Jewish faculty member as a “Zionist pig.”
To expand upon my own stance, it is not divestment from organizations directly involved in the occupation or based in the occupied Palestinian territories with which I, along with many other progressive Jews, feel uncomfortable. Rather, similar to Chomsky’s concern, it is the prospect of a blanket academic and cultural boycott of Israel as a whole (which is what BDS explicitly advocates), one that ignores each Israeli’s political stance. Of course, I do not believe that the events described above are in any way representative of the BDS movement, which is an amorphous, grassroots movement with no centralized authority and thus has no spokespeople as such. Nonetheless, I do believe that, if BDS is officially adopted by a student government, those who desire to behave in such a way will be emboldened to do so. If any association with Israel, political or otherwise, is to be erased, then I fear that the natural result would be more such litmus tests of the ideological purity of Jews on campus, lest they reveal themselves to be undercover Zionists.
This kind of McCarthyism has shown potential to extend even further than campus. Matisyahu, an American Jewish singer who is neither a citizen nor a resident of Israel, was disinvited from a gig in Spain after he refused to issue a statement specifying his political position on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The organizers subsequently apologized for their decision following public outcry from Jewish organizations and invited Matisyahu back to perform, stating that their hand had been forced by a “campaign of pressure, coercion and threats” from BDS País Valencià.
BDS has not been endorsed by the Students’ Society of McGill University (SSMU), and no motions to adopt it have yet been passed at a General Assembly (GA). However, the newly formed McGill BDS Action Network will present a motion to endorse BDS at the forthcoming GA on February 22. I’m sure that the moral and political arguments for and against a boycott of Israel as a country will be debated ad nauseam in the coming days, but it is important to understand the ramifications that an endorsement of BDS would have within the student body, as opposed to merely pontificating on the minimal outward impact that a student union’s political stance will have.
I am acquainted with many activists who support BDS at McGill. I know them to be intelligent, astute, and intellectually honest individuals who I am sure would not sully themselves with the reactionary invective I speak of. But the legacy of BDS will outlast their time at McGill. If BDS opens the floodgates for Jewish students who associate in any way with Israel (that is, Israel proper, not just the occupied territories) to be openly ostracized, one wonders if this will embolden a newer, more reactionary contingent of activists – the kind who characterize the Holocaust as “white on white crime,” or tell Jews they cannot claim anti-Semitism due to apparently not being “of Semitic descent,” as an ethnic studies professor argued at the University of Washington – and how the discourse will shift when they take the helm.
Tom Tyler is a U1 Psychology and Neuroscience student.
The Gauntlet: Alice Fischer: “Partnering with Israel would benefit U of C’s research” (February 23, 2016)
Last year, the University of Calgary announced new funding and expanded opportunities to encourage international study, research and training. These opportunities include the 50th Anniversary International Undergraduate and Graduate Scholarships, which are granted to outstanding international students from 25 different countries. To my surprise, Israel is not on the list of designated countries.
Academic cooperation with Israeli universities would be a win-win situation for both countries. Israeli universities are among the top science and technology institutions in the QS Top University Rankings 2015. The Israel Institute of Technology is known for its computer science and electrical engineering departments, and already has relationships with other North American universities.
Israeli universities also specialize in areas important to the future of both the U of C and Canada. The Institute of Technology is a global leader in water conservation research, and the Weizmann Institute of Science is developing new methods of carbon capture to help reduce the environmental impact of industrial processes. Bringing in faculty and students from these schools would facilitate an exchange of ideas, giving the U of C more opportunities to develop clean, sustainable technology.
But it isn’t just the U of C that could benefit from these partnerships. Due to recent oil and gas discoveries in Israel, Israeli universities could learn from existing knowledge and expertise we have in Calgary. The Institute of Technology recently opened a natural gas and petroleum engineering program, mainly staffed by professors from Texas and Norway. Only one of the professors in this program comes from Canada, despite our wealth of knowledge in this field.
The lack of Israel’s inclusion in this student and faculty exchange is made even stranger by the fact that the U of C has in the past partnered with the Institute of Technology — the two schools collaborated on the Israel-Alberta Neuroscience Symposium just last year. There is no reason this already strong relationship couldn’t be expanded.
A student and faculty exchange between the U of C and Israeli universities would benefit everyone involved. The U of C would raise its reputation as a global intellectual hub, while also helping other schools learn from decades of knowledge and experience.
Alice Fischer, PhD in Israeli innovation.