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Universities Canada turning a blind eye on Palestinian cases

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No one wants their mother to be a "case." But that is what happened to our friend Yafa Jarrar. Her mother, Palestinian legislator Khalida Jarrar, was arrested by a force of Israeli troops from her home in Ramallah. She has so far been denied bail or clear knowledge of the charges against her.

Sadly, the "case" of Khalida Jarrar is not unusual. There are 5,820 Palestinian political prisoners detained in Israeli jails, including student union heads, community organizers, members of the Palestinian National Council and children. For Palestinians, simply speaking up for basic rights is enough to bring Israeli troops to the door.

There is a lot for Palestinians to speak up about. The people of Gaza have been starved of the supplies that would allow them to rebuild after last summer's massive Israeli assault that, according the UN, killed 2,205 Palestinians including at least 1,483 civilians. There's also 47 years of illegal occupation of Gaza and the West Bank, the second-class status Palestinian citizens in this "Jewish" state, and the approximately 7 million refugees who have been denied their right to return their family homes and towns in Palestine since the initial Israeli expulsion over 60 years ago. Israeli military check-points, house demolitions, school closures, chronic water and electricity shortages, 8 year blockade on Gaza, the so-called "security-wall" –- the list is long.

Israel has silenced Palestinian activists, ignored international law and refused to comply with the decisions of the United Nations with impunity. Our friend Yafa's mother spoke up against these living conditions, and now she is a "case." Fortunately, Yafa is in a position to raise the international profile of her mother's case around the world because she went abroad to study at Canadian universities. But in Canada she finds herself threatened by another kind of silencing. Stephen Harper's government has made it clear that they want to go after activists who support the call for a campaign of boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) to pressure Israel to recognize basic Palestinian rights. Justin Trudeau has signaled that he is similarly hostile to BDS activists.

The Harper government is boosting Canada's support for these much-criticized violations, most recently by implying that hate speech laws could be used against people who trying to take a "zero tolerance" approach to BDS advocacy in Canada. This threat to Palestine solidarity activists is closely aligned with the Harper government's Bill C-51 which threatens to crack down on all kinds of political expression in the name of fighting "terrorism."

The case of Khalida Jarrar reminds us of the timeliness of the BDS campaign as a means to exert pressure on Israel to recognize basic Palestinian rights.  This is certainly no time to be increasing links to Israeli institutions. Yet that is precisely what Universities Canada, the umbrella group for universities in Canada, is now in the business of promoting. In July 2013, Universities Canada signed a framework agreement to this effect with the Israeli Association of Heads of Universities. Such institutional links make Canada complicit in the Israeli silencing of Palestinian activists such as Khalida Jarrar and in Israel's refusal to respect international law.

All Israeli academic institutions serve the occupation and silencing through activities like direct military research,  the architectural planning of settlements, and the development of Hebrew place names to replace those of destroyed Palestinian villages. Meanwhile, the educational rights and academic freedom of Palestinians are undermined by their experience of occupation, of second-class status in Israeli educational institutions, and of exile.

The troubling trend in recent years of increasing institutional links between Canadian and Israeli universities strengthen the complicity that is already expressed by the Harper government's unconditional support for Israel. These ties bind us to the Israeli regime that is making Yafa Jarrar's mother yet another Palestinian "case."

Yafa Jarrar asks us to try a different approach. "My sister and I are asking for international pressure to get my mother released on bail, and ultimately to have the case against her dismissed." International pressure is crucial to freeing Khalida Jarrar. But a case by case approach is not enough.  It is time to break the ties of international complicity. Universities Canada should rescind their memorandum of agreement with the Association of Heads of Universities (Israel) to promote institutional links as over 290 academics working in Canada have demanded in a petition circulated by Faculty for Palestine.


Alan Sears teaches at Ryerson University and Greg Shupak teaches at the University of Guelph. Both are members of Faculty for Palestine.

Image: Flickr/gloucester2gaza

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