SAIA York Statement on Gaza

Fellow students, faculty, alumni, workers, and staff,

We are writing to express our deep sadness, outrage, and condemnation at the massacres and collective punishment being wrought on the Palestinian people in the Gaza Strip since Israel’s “Operation Protective Edge” was launched on July 8.

At the time of writing, Gaza’s health ministry reports the death toll has reached 1,800 and the number wounded has surpassed 9,000. According to the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA), 270,000 displaced Palestinians have now taken refuge in 90 UNRWA shelters in Gaza. On July 20 alone, Israeli forces killed about 100 Palestinians, including 66 in the Shujaiyya neighbourhood of Gaza City—in what medical authorities called a “massacre.” They describe an unprecedented level of violence in the ongoing bloodshed, with UNRWA calling on Israeli forces to “end attacks against civilians and civilian infrastructure, which are contrary to international law.” This includes attacks on hospitals and on UN schools, such as one on July 24 that killed 15 people.

It should be noted that this latest war crime in Gaza follows on the heels of another assault in the occupied West Bank, in Jerusalem, and inside Israel proper that left 10 Palestinians dead, 130 injured, and 600 imprisoned in Israeli jails where about 6,000 Palestinian political prisoners already languish. Israeli forces have also killed 11 Palestinians during Gaza-solidarity protests across the West Bank.

We know that Palestinian students living under Israeli military rule are routinely denied the right to education; and we know that Palestinian schools and universities have been bombed, raided, ransacked, and obliterated over the years and during this latest onslaught, with hundreds of students and student leaders arrested, tortured, imprisoned, and killed. Moreover, Tel Aviv University has offered free tuition to students who serve in the attack on Gaza, and its administration announced disciplinary action against students and staff who post on social media against the attack.  

In the 2012/2013 academic year, we in SAIA York were successful in gathering 5,000 student signatures on a petition which demanded that the York Federation of Students (YFS) take a stance in favour of the Palestinian call for Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) against Israeli apartheid. Indeed, the YFS passed the motion in March 2013, and the Graduate Students’ Association (GSA) passed a BDS motion of its own in November 2012. These victories follow the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) local 3903’s own motion where teaching assistants and contract faculty committed to BDS.

We salute CUPE 3903’s Executive Committee for its July 18 statement of solidarity with the Palestinian people, its principled stance calling on “the Canadian government to demand that Israel cease its brutal aggression on the Gazan population,” and its ongoing solidarity and support for SAIA York, particularly when the York administration revoked our club status and banned a Palestinian alumnus and SAIA activist in the summer of 2013.

It’s time for the York administration to step out of its isolation and follow suit by adopting the call to BDS. This is our time to urge the broader York community to take a decisive stance against Israel’s war crimes and violations of international law.

We call on the York University Board of Governors to divest from companies involved in Israeli war crimes and military occupation. We demand that the York University Advisory Committee on Responsible Investment press for divestment from Israeli war crimes and occupation. We call on the YFS, GSA, CUPE 3903, the York University Faculty Association (YUFA) and all campus clubs and associations committed to social justice and human rights to join us in demanding that York’s endowment and pension funds are no longer tainted with the blood of Palestinians and others oppressed by military regimes, gangs, and militias around the world.   

We condemn the York administration’s ill-informed and aggressive position against the academic boycott of Israeli academic institutions, and we call on President Mamdouh Shoukri to stop the hypocrisy of affirming, on the one hand, a commitment to the protection of core values of academic freedom while, on the other hand, refusing to condemn the bombing of universities in Palestine by stating that his role as president is “not to take political positions or make foreign policy statements.”

We also condemn in the strongest terms the recent distasteful comments made by the dean of the Lassonde School of Engineering, Janusz Kozinski, who said that “there is always some place for nonsense in the world” when asked by the Canadian Jewish News if there were those at York who objected to joint programs with an Israeli school, in reference to the recent partnership between Lassonde and the Technion Israel Institute of Technology. We call on Lassonde School of Engineering to sever its ties with the Technion Israel Institute of Technology and respect the call to BDS until Israel meets its obligations under international law.   

Finally, we would like to announce to our friends, allies, and supporters that SAIA York will be back this Fall Term more determined than ever to continue our struggle for BDS, for freedom of expression, and the right to protest in Vari Hall. We will not be silent; and we will not be silenced. For as long as York University remains complicit in Israeli war crimes and apartheid, we will be here to organize, to educate, to dissent--and to resist.

Obediently Yours,

Students Against Israeli Apartheid at York University