In a recent article on demonstrations in Regina and Saskatoon against the bloodbath in the Gaza Strip I noted that demonstrators in both cities were touting the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions campaign.
BDS is modeled after a successful effort in the 1980s to persuade South Africa to end apartheid. With little likelihood of the current Canadian government doing anything constructive to help resolve the crisis in Gaza, where Palestinian casualties in the last two weeks have topped 900 (most of them civilian), the BDS movement is seen as a way to put grassroots political and economic pressure on Israel to stop enforcing what BDS proponents argue is apartheid in that country.
In Saskatoon, demonstrators rallied at the headquarters of the Potash Corporation of Saskatchewan to draw attention to ties it has with an Israeli mining company. In Regina, a possible partnership between the University of Regina and Hebrew University in Jerusalem on an MBA in public safety was the focal point.
On Wednesday, July 23, members of the university’s faculty, student body and the broader community held a press conference (photo above) to release documents obtained via a Freedom of Information request. Andrew Gaudes, Dean of the Faculty of Business Administration which includes the Paul J. Hill School of Business and Levene Graduate School of Business, has since denied that any partnership exists.
That’s perhaps true, but the documents released by the group show that extensive discussions were held between the U of R and the Policing and Homeland Security Studies department in the Faculty of Law at Hebrew University. The discussions included a trip by Gaudes and associate dean Ron Camp to Israel in November 2013 to visit Hebrew University and meet with faculty there. Proposals for a course syllabus, fee schedule, and other activities for U of R students to participate in while they were in Israel (such as trips to the Dead Sea and the ancient Jewish fortress of Masada) were subsequently developed.
During the press conference various speakers outlined their concerns with the idea. To begin with, Hebrew University is partly located on contested land in Jerusalem that Palestinians regard as being occupied illegally by Israel. As well, if a student with Palestinian roots enrolled at the U of R was to sign up for the course they would likely be denied the opportunity to take it as huge restrictions exist on the ability of Palestinians to participate in public life in Israel. That would run contrary to the University of Regina’s overall commitment to human rights and equality which is a core principle of the university.
The biggest concern, though, was the idea of students in the MBA program, which would be geared to providing training for police and other security work in Canada, taking lessons on tactics and strategies in one of the most volatile regions of the world where the human rights of an oppressed population are regularly trampled on. The speakers emphasized that Israeli academics have close ties with Israeli police, military and security forces and were an indispensable part of the overall enforcement of apartheid in the country.
It boggles the mind that the university would ever consider such a partnership. And when you consider the escalation of police tactics in Canada lately to control lawful demonstrations such as at the G8 summit in Toronto in 2010, not to mention the comparison that could be drawn between Palestinian activists/agitators in Israel and indigenous activists/agitators here in Canada and the oppression that could be visited on them, the potential impact on our democratic rights is pretty scary.
With the recent outcry, this partnership might be dead. Or maybe it will just lie dormant for a time. Regardless, concerned Reginans have submitted a second FOI to gather more information about the U of R’s involvement with other Israeli institutions with security mandates beyond Hebrew University. That likely won’t yield any results for a few months, but we’ll see what’s uncovered then.