Universities’ refusal to engage substantively with encampment protestors is racist

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2024-05-02-universitiesMontreal, May 2, 2024— The Anti-Racism Program of the CJPME Foundation (ARPCF) is urging Canadian universities to take seriously the calls from student protesters for a ceasefire and to stop investing in organizations linked with Israel. The universities’ complete dismissal of their students' divestment demands perpetuates a cycle of racism, as it involves both ignoring and funding human rights violations in the Occupied Palestinian territories.

Despite widespread student encampments in Canada, including at McGill University, the University of British Columbia and the University of Toronto, universities have largely dismissed these appeals. These student protests have been dismissed and sometimes criticized. Protestors have been accused of violating conduct codes and, at times, wrongly accused of antisemitism. For example, McGill University involved the police and sought legal action against a student protest, citing antisemitism. This appears to show a preference for maintaining financial and academic ties that support Israeli policies, ignoring student concerns. Such actions not only dismiss the legitimate issues raised by protesters but also divert attention from the moral and logical grounds of their demands. Other universities in Ontario, such as York University and the University of Toronto, have taken steps to prevent similar student protests.

“The consistent failure to engage with student protesters shows a broader reluctance to recognize and address the rights and stories of Palestinians. It also shows a total disregard of the Palestinian perspective by refusing to meet students' demands," said Jamila Ewais, a researcher at the ARPCF. She added, "A major part of this failure is the refusal to acknowledge anti-Palestinian racism (APR) on campuses, the demonization of Palestinians advocating for their human rights, and conflating the Palestinian freedom struggle with hate.”

Additionally, universities have not only ignored encampment protest demands but also condemned pro-Palestine statements by student unions, accusing them of promoting terrorism and hate. Some universities have forced students and faculty to delete social media posts showing support for Palestine or expressing their right to self-determination. There have been multiple incidents, such as the removal of Keffiyehs, student tribunals, and a denial of the genocide in Gaza, despite credible international legal opinions.

The Arab Canadian Lawyers Association's 2022 report “Anti-Palestinian Racism: Naming, Framing and Manifestations,” states that student organizers face repeated threats, accusations of antisemitism or accusations of being supportive of terrorism.  They also face intimidation, harassment, and disruption of their events by both pro-Israel groups and university administrations. The report called on universities to protect their students’ and faculties’ rights and freedoms, and resist interference from external groups demanding the silencing of Palestinian voices.

The ARPCF strongly supports the students' demands for transparent, ethical investment policies that oppose racism globally, and make conditions of occupation and apartheid less economically viable. The ARPCF calls on university leaders to engage in meaningful dialogue with the protesters, recognize the validity of their concerns, and adjust their policies to align with anti-racist and international human rights standards. Universities must acknowledge that anti-Palestinian racism exists and take steps to protect students and academic freedom in discussions about Palestine. As centers of higher learning and ethical leadership, universities have a duty to create an environment where all voices, particularly those advocating for justice and human rights, are heard and respected.

About the ARPCF – The mandate of the Anti-Racism Program of the CJPME Foundation (ARPCF) is to create public awareness about racism in Canada.  This mandate falls in line with the Foundation’s broader purpose of monitoring and combating manifestations of racism, xenophobia, and discrimination by increasing public awareness of such biases.

For more information, please contact Jamila Ewais, 514-389-8668
ARPCF, [email protected]  www.cjpmefoundation.org

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