Letters

Re: On Etiquette and the BDS Campaign on Campus

written by Students Against Israeli Apartheid at Dalhousie University
April 6, 2016 10:57 am

This article is in response to previous pieces written by Leah Aubrecht and Mary MacDonald, particularly their article “On Etiquette and the BDS Campaign on Campus.”

As we made clear in our last piece, the aim of our response was to challenge the smear attempt that Aubrecht and MacDonald launched against a brave and well-respected professor. We felt that was more pressing at the time. Since then, they’ve reworded some past arguments that we’ve already debunked and published them once again. We are more than happy to debunk them in the public forum, for the second time.

On False Assertions about BDS

The comment that our campaign is being led by one singular spokesperson is incorrect. The BDS movement is made up of a global network of activists, and does not have a “leader.”

As a matter of fact, there is no shortage of high-ranking academics, like Dr. Mona Baker, celebrities, such as Roger Waters, and scientists, like Stephen Hawking, who have supported the BDS movement. This list even includes Israeli academics and writers, like Ilan Pappe and Gideon Levy, who have been very vocal in their support; South African figures that fought against Apartheid, like Archbishop Desmond Tutu and Nelson Mandela; African historians, like Achille Mbembe who has written impassioned pieces expressing African solidarity with Palestine; and, of course, let’s not forget Canada’s own Naomi Klein.

Any attempt to reduce the BDS movement to one figure should be seen for what it is: an obvious effort to implicate us with any controversy which may be associated with that figure.

We, Students Against Israeli Apartheid at Dalhousie, unlike Aubrecht and MacDonald, have understood what those esteemed figures whom we’ve named have: we must support oppressed and marginalized people and express solidarity with them, especially when they directly call upon us to help them by peacefully boycotting, divesting, and pushing for sanctions against the repressive system that brutalizes them.

On the Government’s Attitude

To their query about our alleged ‘touchiness’ surrounding the recent Canadian Government’s condemnation of the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions movement (BDS), we say: like any social justice advocates, we are used to dismissal and denial, and we shall overcome it as we always do.

If anything, the Government’s dismissal of BDS proves that our work is gaining traction. So, with that in mind, we echo the sentiments expressed by Canadians for Justice and Peace in the Middle East (CJPME) when they said they would “consider it a ‘badge of honor’ to be condemned by Canadian politicians who don’t have the courage to stand up for freedom of expression…and [we are against] their blatant display of moral laxity…apparent ignorance of, or complicit blindness to, Israeli military brutality towards innocent Palestinians, especially children.”

There is no denying that the Canadian Government’s support is motivated by political interests, and obviously not out of concern for the protection of human rights. Much like the response to pressure from groups advocating for the boycott of South Africa in the 1970s, 1980s, and 1990s, the Canadian government initially only supported those sanctions which were not a threat to their financial interests. It is important that we also point out that this vote does not reflect the interests of the NDP or the Bloc Quebecois, who argued that BDS, while not something they officially back, was a legitimate tactic that should not be censored.

As time goes on, and the pressure from the BDS movement increases, the Liberal government and the Conservative Party will be forced to acknowledge that they made a cowardly and morally questionable decision. With that in mind, we, in response to Aubrecht and MacDonald, also echo Dr. Amal Ghazal when she said that she does not care what the Canadian Government thinks. We welcome the struggle, and will continue to fight for what is right for as long as it may take.

On Denying Intersectionality

To the claims that the movements supporting Palestine have no links with the movements advocating justice for aboriginal people, and that there is “no parallel” between Israel’s treatment of Palestinians “with the longstanding mistreatment of aboriginal peoples in Canada or the Western Hemisphere,” we cannot help but raise our eyebrows at the outright denial of facts. Many indigenous associations and organizations, in Canada, the United States, South America, and in Palestine itself, work in solidarity with one another.

The group Indigenous Peoples Solidarity Movement Ottawa, for example, holds conferences, rallies, and film screenings to raise awareness to the overlap between the experiences of all oppressed groups living within a colonial state. The outspoken work of Families of Sisters in Spirit (FSIS), a group affiliated with IPSMO, stated that:

We see very clearly the parallels between the violence of settler colonialism—past and present—across Turtle Island (North America) and the occupation of Palestine via continuation of genocidal settler colonial policies. We view struggles to protect our homelands, identities, and lives as interconnected and inseparable from what is happening to our Indigenous brothers and sisters in Gaza.

Other organizations, such as the Native American and Indigenous Studies Association in the States issued a declaration of support, stating:

As the elected council of an international community of Indigenous and allied non-Indigenous scholars, students, and public intellectuals who have studied and resisted the colonization and domination of Indigenous lands via settler state structures throughout the world, we strongly protest the illegal occupation of Palestinian lands and the legal structures of the Israeli state that systematically discriminate against Palestinians and other Indigenous peoples.

From Ardoch Algonquin First Nation, former Chief Robert Lovelace, wrote:

We recognize that the people of Palestine have been subjected to colonization in the same way that Indigenous people here have lost their relationship with the land. Gaza has become an open-air prison for 1.4 million people. It is the largest ‘Reserve’ in the world.

On top of all of that, the United Nations declared 2014 the Year of Solidarity with the Palestinian People, with many Indigenous groups issuing their support. Through the Idle No More movement in Canada, many Palestinians, both in their homeland and in the Diaspora, have issued their reciprocal support for the struggle of aboriginal groups elsewhere. The claims ignoring the solidarity between Palestinians and indigenous peoples here are blatant lies, and only serve to perpetuate the legacy of colonialism, the denial of indigenous agency, and the erasure of indigenous rights.

In light of all of all of this, we can only conclude that Aubrecht and MacDonald’s articles are filled with presumptuousness and rash judgment. We urge them to do a little more research before they write their pieces. Should they do so, they’ll see that what we advocate for is justice for the Palestinians, and that many of our demands are not only supported by progressive groups across the globe, but that they also parallel both Palestinian and Israeli human rights groups’ demands too. It’s time we listen to those demands and take action. For those of us here in Canada, BDS offers us just that.