Let’s say you disagreed with the Canadian government’s policies during the War in Afghanistan.
Would you have boycotted the University of Saskatchewan?
That is the logic a group at the University of Regina is using to justify its opposition to a potential collaboration with the Hebrew University in Jerusalem, according to a legal expert at the University of Manitoba.
Are academics combatants?
“The thing about a liberal democracy like Israel, which is a shining exception to the general state of government in the Middle East, is that it’s a pluralistic society,” says professor Bryan Schwartz.
“It’s a society in which there’s an independent press, a society in which there’s a fiercely independent court system and it’s a society in which there are independent universities.”
But Andrew Stevens, a business professor at U of R, believes virtually every person and college in Israel is implicated in the crimes against humanity he says the Israel Defense Forces has committed against Palestinians.
“Academic institutions (in Israel) — like all citizens — have a close relationship with security in one form or another,” said Stevens.
There is mandatory army service in Israel.
Of course, said Schwartz, if everyone is guilty then Stevens should avoid a large number of modern technological advancements.
“Contributions of Israeli academics to medical innovations and to all kinds of humane areas are outstanding,” said Schwartz.
Occupation and apartheid
Amir Aboguddah, president of the Muslim Students Association and third-year political science major at the U of R, spoke during one of the group’s meetings on Wednesday, July 23.
He says that Hebrew University sits on occupied Palestinian territory, which is land seized during the 1967 Six-Day War.
“To send our students to such an institution that is built on illegally occupied land would be sort of giving legitimacy to this illegal action,” said Aboguddah.
Schwartz said this is wrong.
“Hebrew University was never on the other side of the green line,” he said, referring to the border that divides Israel from the West Bank.
The United Nations recognized Hebrew University’s Mount Scopus campus as an Israeli territory as far back as 1949.
Aboguddah also said Palestinian students from the U of R wouldn’t feel welcome at the Hebrew University in part because Israel has “apartheid” policies.
“If you have, for example, a Palestinian student or even generally an Arab student who wants to go, things will be very tough for them,” said Aboguddah.
According to a 2012 article in the Haaretz newspaper, around 11 per cent of students at the Hebrew University are Arab.
While this doesn’t mean that the minority Arab populations have all the same socioeconomic outcomes as the mainstream Jewish population in the country, said Schwartz, it is a far cry from South African-style apartheid.
“It would be the first apartheid state I know that not only ensures equal rights for minorities, but actually has affirmative action programs,” said Schwartz, adding that he leads an annual trip to Hebrew University from Winnipeg and those of many backgrounds have participated.
Both Aboguddah and Stevens pointed to Palestinian casualties in the current conflict in Gaza as evidence of Israel’s ongoing brutality.
When asked about Hamas, the Jihadist terrorist organization that runs Gaza, Stevens said that “this issue has nothing to do with Hamas, I would prefer to keep that separate.”
Stevens said there is no proposed partnership between the U of R and Hamas.
But Schwartz said it’s important to ask why Israel is fighting in Gaza to begin with.
“Hamas is attempting to engage in the destruction of the Jewish state,” said Schwartz.
No Jewish voice on campus
According to Aboguddah, there are about 600 Muslim students on campus and around 200 to 300 active members in the MSA.
The U of R has no official Hillel group or other active Jewish association.
Steve Wolfson, president of Regina’s Beth Jacob synagogue, estimated there are about 350 total Jews in the entire city, and only a handful of students at the university.
“It’s not a good, positive place for Jewish students to attend at this point,” said Wolfson.
Stevens said he doesn’t understand why wanting to boycott a program with the Hebrew University would alienate Jewish students.
“I don’t think any particular race would be more or less offended by this,” said Stevens. “This has to do with a partnership with institutions that we oppose on human rights grounds.”
To scrutinize the only Jewish state without paying close attention to other governments is discriminatory, said Schwartz.
“Applying a double standard to the state of Israel versus every other state in the world is a form of anti-Semitism,” he said.
Students at the U of R can study abroad in China, which imprisons political dissenters, and Turkey, which Al Jazeera has called “one of the world’s worst countries to be a woman.”
What will the Hebrew U program look like?
Andrew Gaudes, dean of the Levene Graduate School of Business at U of R, said the program would offer students the opportunity to obtain credits towards an MBA specializing in public safety through the Rothberg International School at Hebrew University.
“Hebrew University is ranked as one of the top 100 universities on the planet,” said Gaudes.
The plan would include tours of Jerusalem and the West Bank Palestinian city of Ramallah, which Gaudes said is to expose students to the personal experiences of managers in public safety “rather than having the political narrative or the media narrative.”
Gaudes said the program, which is not a full-blown partnership, has been approved by the faculty administration and the next step is the university’s executive committee and senate.
Activist Valerie Zink filed a freedom of information request to obtain correspondence between Gaudes and the Hebrew University, which the protesting group discussed this week.
Zink said the documents show that the program is not in early stages of development, as Gaudes indicated in a May letter to the group.
She also said that the word “partnership” is used, even though Gaudes has said that term doesn’t accurately reflect the program.
So did the dean try to hide anything in the obtained documents?
“Of course not,” said Gaudes.
:: Metro News