The principal objective of the nefarious boycott-divestment-sanctions (BDS) campaign is to chip away at Israel’s legitimacy by dissolving existing partnerships with Israel and fomenting fear amongst institutions to prevent future ties with the Jewish State. Boycott efforts in civil society organizations, in world soccer, trade unions, and at universities are all part of the same antisemitic strategy to defame Israel abroad and cripple its capacity for growth at home. With stakes this high, we must be tireless, focused, and strategic in the fight against BDS.
Israel’s story as the “Start Up Nation” is one of our most powerful tools in countering BDS. Despite efforts by BDS activists (often at student councils) to pass largely symbolic resolutions boycotting Israel, this strategy has failed to rescind existing university and business ties or curtail the establishment of new ones. In leading the efforts of the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs – in cooperation with Hillels across Canada – to foster Canadian-Israeli ties at the academic level, I’ve seen firsthand how Canada’s top universities are working assiduously to build new partnerships with Israel’s world-leading scholars and innovators. Time and again, senior university administrators have shared with me their distaste for the BDS movement, which they view as contrary to academic freedom and the goals of their university.
While the onus was once on us to sell Israel to Canada’s world-leading researchers, the shoe is now on the other foot. Israel has been ranked the world’s fifth-most innovative country, has the fourth-most professionals working in research and development, and has more companies listed on the London Stock Exchange than any other foreign country. While Canada is still sought by Israel as a source for partnerships abroad, Canadians face stiff competition from the rest of the world for access to Israeli eco-systems. Israel is now the debutante to be courted.
“This has been an eye-opening experience,” said Christine Tausig Ford, former Vice President of Universities Canada, in the wake of a visit to Israel co-hosted by CIJA and the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs. “Canadian university presidents have been deeply impressed by Israel’s innovative spirit and its equally deep commitment to basic university research.”
Far from limiting Canada’s interest in Israeli partnership opportunities in recent years, BDS activism has coincided with a flowering of partnership activity between Canada and Israel. With our partner advocates, including Israeli Ambassador Rafi Barak, CIJA has been privileged to help facilitate several important exchanges. Recent delegations to Israel of university presidents and other senior administrators have led to joint conferences on nanotechnology and partnerships in the fields of neuroscience and agricultural technology. Indeed, in November alone, CIJA was pleased to help facilitate trade and innovation missions to Israel undertaken by the City of Montreal, the City of Toronto, and the Province of British Columbia – during which a recurring theme was the exceptional talent to be found in Israel’s university sector.
While all of this is intrinsically positive for Israelis and Jewish Canadians, these relationships are no less a powerful repudiation of BDS by Canada’s mayors, elected officials, and university leaders. In the words of CIJA CEO Shimon Koffler Fogel, “We must build the economic, academic, and civil society partnerships between Canada and Israel that will serve to benefit Canadians, while providing a growing safety net for Israelis targeted by BDS.”
Despite campaigns by the BDS movement, since 1997, there has been a tripling of value in merchandise exchange between Canada and Israel to $1.5 billion in 2014. With Canada’s renewed focus on innovation as the principal path to growth, the ground has become increasingly fertile for expanding Israeli-Canadian partnerships.
Israel is now one of the most sought-after countries for research and innovation partnerships. A handful of extreme activists simply cannot derail growing global interest in the open, creative, forward-thinking environment that has made Israel an innovative model for countries like Canada. The challenge now is to make Canada a desirable target for Israeli attention.
Matt Godwin is a PhD candidate and Associate Director, University and Provincial Government Relations, at the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs (CIJA).