Montreal activists launch campus boycott campaign

27 October 2010

As a boycott, divestment and sanctions conference was convened in Montreal last week, activists launched a boycott campaign at two city universities. A group of students, professors and staff from Concordia and McGill universities are calling on the schools cut ties with the Israeli Institute of Technology, more commonly referred to as Technion University.

A report compiled by the group says that the links between Concordia, McGill and Technion universities “serve to normalize the Israeli state’s policies of institutionalized oppression and should be of serious concern to students, faculty and all members of McGill and Concordia’s campus community.”

The 13-page report, entitled “Structures of Oppression: Why McGill and Concordia’s campus community must sever their links with the Technion University” [PDF], examines Technion’s links to military technologies and manufacturers and the militarization and repression of political dissent on the Israeli university’s campus. The report also details the nature of Concordia and McGill universities’ relationships with the Israeli institution.

Based primarily on news articles, websites of Israeli weapons and military technology manufacturers, Technion press releases and reports written by human rights organizations, the report highlights “Technion University’s involvement in the development of deadly military technologies and the intense militarization of an academic institution which directly and indirectly denies Palestinian citizens of Israel the same access to education as other students.”

“Technion is complicit in the violations of international law and human rights abuses committed by the Israeli military against Palestinians by providing new military technologies to defense manufacturers,” the report stated.

Technion University

Founded in 1924 in Haifa, Technion University is a science and technology research-focused university that today enrolls approximately 12,600 undergraduate, graduate and doctoral students.

The university boasts on its website that “Technion graduates comprise the majority of Israeli-educated scientists and engineers, constituting over 70 percent of the country’s founders and managers of high-tech industries.”

Technion University also prides itself on its deep and far-reaching links to Israeli military technology manufacturers and to the Israeli military itself.

According to a report released by the Alternative Information Center in October 2009, titled “Academic Boycott of Israel and the Complicity of Israeli Academic Institutions in Occupation of Palestinian Territories,” Technion University “has all but enlisted itself in the military.”

“The extent of cooperation between the Technion and Israeli military was demonstrated when the Technion opened a center for the development of electro-optics in complete partnership with Elbit, one of the biggest Israeli private weapons’ research companies which is also heavily involved in development for the Israeli military,” according to the AIC.

AIC reports that Technion University’s technological programs are directly linked to the many human rights abuses perpetrated by the Israeli army:

“The [Technion] students and professors who are working in these co-op programs are directly participating in the research, manufacturing and upgrading of weaponry of which the vast majority is used in the [Israeli] occupation, as well as acts of aggression like the 2008 attacks in Gaza which resulted in over 1,400 mostly civilian deaths.”

“But what most people don’t realize is how this militarization effects Palestinian students who are citizens of Israel; many programs are off limits to these students for not having (nor wanting) the military experience and security clearance required,” the report adds.

Institutional racism in Israeli academia

In the “Structures of Oppression” report by the Montreal campus activists, researchers outline Technion’s connection to Elbit Systems Ltd., which is “ ‘one of two main providers of the electronic detection fence’ in the West Bank, deemed to violate international law by the International Court of Justice.” In July 2004, the International Court of Justice issued an advisory opinion stating that Israel’s construction of a wall on occupied West Bank land was contrary to international law.

The Montreal activists’ report specifies that Elbit “also provides the Israeli army with unmanned aerial and ground vehicles that are routinely used in the occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip.”

Technion University’ connections to Rafael Advanced System Ltd., one of Israel’s largest military technologies companies, are also exposed in the report.

“Rafael technologies were … reportedly used in indiscriminate attacks on civilians during the Israeli offensive into Gaza in December 2008/January 2009. Spike-MR (medium range) missiles — built by Rafael — were used in attacks launched by unmanned combat aerial vehicles that killed at least 29 civilians,” the report states.

Today, while Palestinians make up 20 percent of the citizens of Israel, they are only 9.5 percent of undergraduate students. Less than 5 percent reach the MA degree level, only 3.2 percent earn a PhD, and only 1 percent of university staff is Palestinian.

According to “Structures of Oppression,” “these statistics are indicative of discrimination and the persistence of institutional racism against Palestinian Israelis in the academic realm.”

In addition, the report states that Arab students at Technion University “are prevented from practicing their basic rights of expression and from forming an Arab students union, for the freedom of speech right is limited to those who support the Israeli state project.”

During a police-approved demonstration earlier this year against the 31 May Israeli attack on the Gaza Freedom Flotilla, ten Palestinian Technion students were arrested while a right-wing counter-protest — which was not approved in advance by the university — went ahead without problems or arrests.

The report also outlines Technion University policies and programs that unfairly favor Israeli Jewish students over their Palestinian counterparts, including the Brakim academic reserve program.

The Brakim program gives 15 students the chance to complete bachelor’s and master’s degrees in the Faculty of Mechanical Engineering in four years.

“According to a brochure released by the Faculty of Mechanical Engineering, the ‘Brakim program [was] initiated to meet the request of the IDF [Israeli army] to create an elite group of mechanical engineers to become the future [research and development] leaders in [the] IDF,’” the report states.

The report adds, “an academic institution that not only places a major amount of its efforts in military technology, but also in promoting student/soldier cooperative programs, is therefore deeply implicated in the occupation and crimes committed by the military.”

Cutting off ties

Concordia University currently maintains a program called the Goldie and Joe Raymer Fellowship that enables “alternating yearlong visits for students between Concordia and the Technion” and covers students’ airfare, tuition and housing costs.

For its part, McGill University lists Technion as a partner institution in its student exchange program, and allocates two spots each year for students to study at the Israeli institution.

According to the authors of the report, these programs serve as a way to legitimize Technion’s complicity in human rights violations, just like the role North American universities had in maintaining the status quo did during the time of South African apartheid.

“There’s no question, North American universities that maintained institutional links to South African universities during the apartheid era were indirectly legitimizing institutions that openly oppressed a major section of the indigenous population. Israel is no different,” the report states.

The authors explain that this is why it is so crucial for McGill and Concordia to severe their ties to Technion University.

“So long as Concordia and McGill keep [these] institutional links, they are helping normalize a university which openly and flagrantly violates the human rights of the Palestinian people, whether in the Occupied Territories or [as] citizens of Israel, as well as people who openly speak out about against these policies. McGill and Concordia have to come clean and cancel these programs until the state of Israel complies with international law and basic human rights, as stipulated by the three demands of the [boycott, divestment and sanctions] movement.”

Originally from Montreal, Jillian Kestler-D’Amours is a reporter and documentary filmmaker based in occupied East Jerusalem. More of her work can be found at http://jilldamours.wordpress.com.