Concordia University Admin Visits Middle East

President Alan Shepard Signs Agreements With Universities in Israel and Jordan

Alan Shepard (right) signs the third of four academic agreements by Concordia in Israel. Courtesy Bram Freedman

Like President Barack Obama, who recently embarked on his final trip overseas, Concordia University President Alan Shepard had his own miniature tour of the Middle East two weeks ago.

Shepard visited four universities in Israel and Jordan as part of Montreal Mayor Denis Coderre’s trade mission to the region from Nov. 13 to Nov. 18. Concordia signed agreements with Tel Aviv University, Hebrew University, Ben-Gurion University and Jordan University of Science and Technology during the trip.

Concordia’s goal was to build on existing relationships, and launch new partnerships—most of which are academic, according to university spokesperson Chris Mota.

Concordia was one of 51 Montreal businesses involved with Mayor Coderre’s economic mission, which also included Hydro-Quebec, Air Canada, and Cirque du Soleil.

Bram Freedman, Concordia’s Vice President of Advancement and External Relations, accompanied Shepard on the trip. In an interview on Friday Nov. 25, Shepard said they already planned to visit the region later this year, but the timeline accelerated after Coderre asked Concordia to join his mission.

According to Mota, the partnership with the Jordan University of Science and Technology is worth $1.5 million in funding for PhD students to study at Concordia. As well, Mota said, Concordia and Tel Aviv University will co-host a conference in Montreal next year.

“Tel Aviv [University] is one of the top universities [in the world],” Shepard said in an interview with student media on Friday. “It’s very good for Concordia to be in company with them.”

The conference, Shepard explained, will focus on Montreal’s Expo 67, and will feature a perspective on the event from The David Azrieli School of Architecture at Tel Aviv University.

There are different groups on campus, both faculty and student-run, that have mandates to boycott such ties with Israeli institutions.

On Feb. 16, members of the Simone de Beauvoir Institute, which houses Concordia’s women’s studies program, voted unanimously to support the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions movement. BDS is a Palestinian-led, international, and non-violent resistance to the ongoing Israeli occupation of Palestine.

“We believe that BDS offers a reasoned and effective platform for realizing Palestinians’ human rights because it is committed to nonviolent action,” the Beauvoir Institute wrote in a press release announcing its support. A representative could not be reached for comment on Concordia’s trip to Israel by press time.

The press release further stated that the Institute would not formally collaborate with Israeli academic bodies or any representative that serves these bodies or the Israeli government.

The statement explained that the boycott does not extend to individual Israeli scholars and rather focuses on institution leaders. “The academic boycott does not prevent Israeli scholars and students from speaking, writing or publishing what they wish,” it said.

The Concordia Graduate Student Association also adopted a position in favour of BDS during a council session in October 2013. The Concordia Student Union, which represents undergrads, added BDS to its positions book after students voted for it in the 2014 CSU by-elections. Rami Yahia, the CSU Internal Affairs Coordinator, said the trip to Israel crossed the academic boycott line.

“We ask [Shepard] to respect this boycott which was a mandate given to us by our membership,” Yahia said. He added that he wants to personally meet with the Concordia President to explain the current issues that Palestine and Palestinian universities face because of the occupation.

In addition to the four universities, Shepard said he also went to Dubai and the West Bank, a Palestinian territory occupied by Israel. Shepard said that during this visit he and his companions spoke to the local start-up community.

When asked about how he feels that segments of the Concordia community oppose ties to Israeli institutions, Shepard reiterated the stance he’s taken since the CSU adopted BDS.

“Shutting down the conversation and boycotting is not what the university should be doing,” he said on Friday. “This is a place for dialogue […] I understand not everyone supports my view.”