Despite boisterous claims of mounting victories, BDS activists aren’t winning many friends. In fact, since 2012, pro-Israel students worked to defeat, reverse or nullify 18 BDS initiatives on campuses across Canada.
Perhaps even more telling though is the reaction of university administrators when they learn about efforts to boycott Israel and demonize Israelis. And, it ain’t pretty.
Like most Canadians, university administrators have no interest in BDS either.
Over the last few years, the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs (CIJA) has compiled statements by university officials from across Canada condemning BDS. These examples are from Ontario alone.
The most recent (though certainly not the first Canadian university to issue such a memorandum) is the statement from the University of Ontario Institute of Technology (UOIT), which is crystal clear on the issue of BDS: “UOIT does not support a boycott, divestment or sanctions against Israel.”
York University’s immediate past-President, Mamdouh Shoukri, has been equally blunt about the university’s rejection of Israeli boycotts: “York University has consistently opposed the call to boycott Israeli universities,” he declared in a 2009 statement posted on the school’s website. Shoukri went on to describe boycotts of Israeli academics as a “blacklist” and “antithetical to the very purpose of a university.”
In the wake of an ugly BDS referendum at the University of Windsor, President Alan Wildeman made clear that any actions taken by the student union do not represent the University itself: “The University of Windsor has not endorsed the BDS movement – and that only 798 students supported the referendum’s ‘yes’ result. Furthermore, the University will not allow the results of any referendum to compromise our values and our commitment to all who come here to study.”
Former Western University President Paul Davenport was no fan of the BDS movement either. In a statement, Davenport said: “scholars and students from Israel and all other countries will always be welcome on our campus.”
Same for the University of Waterloo, where former President David Johnston echoed his disdain for BDS. “We also strongly support internationalization and have academic relationships with sister institutions in Israel. We are committed to strengthening these relationships, just as we work to do so with other institutions globally.” In fact, following this 2007 statement, that’s exactly what happened – the University ramped up its partnerships with Israel, and the students voted to reject a student union attempt to endorse BDS.
At the University of Toronto, former President David Naylor went on record, stating: “the University of Toronto will be deepening, not diminishing, its institutional ties to Israeli universities and to other post-secondary and advanced research institutions around the world.” About the idea of a boycotting Israeli academics, Naylor went on to say that if one’s “goals are to support the Palestinians, we are at a loss to understand how isolating and alienating Israeli academics will advance that cause.”
Ryerson University’s past-President Sheldon Levy pulled no punches in 2014 when he declared: “Ryerson University does not support a boycott, divestment and sanctions against Israel. We have been consistent on this point… When there was a movement to boycott Israeli universities, we were clear in opposing it, and our position remains the same today.”
In 2007, when Britain’s University and College Union was debating BDS, Queens University’s Principal Karen Hitchcock argued: “The academic boycott of Israeli universities being considered by Britain’s University and College Union (UCU) is antithetical to the core value of academic freedom, which is cherished by Queen’s and other universities around the world.” She went on to say that “if the British UCU pursues this ill-advised course, we will have no choice but to add Queen’s University – and many other universities around the world – to its boycott list.”
In our nation’s capital, former University of Ottawa President said that boycotting Israelis “goes against the fundamental university values of freedom of expression and free circulation of ideas.”
And the list goes on.
Don’t get me wrong. Challenges exist on campus today, and there are real issues requiring our attention. But the sky is not falling, and Canadian university leaders are beginning to understand what Martin Luther King noted long ago, and what French President Emmanuel Macron articulated just this week: anti-Zionism is simply a reinvented form of antisemitism.