Editorial: The case for BDS at Concordia University

Graphic Carl Bindman

Given the ongoing protests against the genocide in Gaza, and the university community’s increased calls for a ceasefire, The Link believes the Concordia Student Union (CSU) should readopt the Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions (BDS) movement. 

BDS is a call to use nonviolent means to pressure Israel into complying with international law and protecting Palestinian rights. This stance aims to end the occupation of Palestine and dismantle the apartheid system in Israel, the West Bank, Gaza and all other occupied Palestinian territories.

BDS also includes an academic boycott in regards to university communities. This includes Concordia, which is partnered with Israeli academic institutions and the state's policies of occupation, settler-colonialism and apartheid.

Israeli universities are actively involved in military research and weapons systems used by the Israeli military. For example, Tel Aviv University develops weapon systems as well as the creation of the “Dahiya doctrine,” which is a military strategy that advocates for the use of disproportionate force. 

The doctrine involves the destruction of civilian infrastructure and is a type of asymmetric warfare. 

This can be seen with the Israel Defense Forces’ (IDF) collective punishment and occupation of Palestinians without making a distinction between soldiers and civilians. The doctrine has been employed in conflicts and resulted in significant civilian casualties in Lebanon, Gaza and Syria

This direct involvement in military advancements links academic institutions with actions that have been condemned by various human rights organizations as war crimes.

A successful academic boycott was achieved at the University of Johannesburg in 2011 and resulted in the university severing its relationship with Ben Gurion University (BGU), which was undermining the rights of Palestinians through the misappropriation of Palestinian water resources.

BDS has also been successful at Concordia. In 2014, the Concordia Student Union (CSU) adopted a stance with a call to action to divest all its investments complicit in apartheid.

In 2016, the CSU withdrew $5.3 million in investments tied to Israeli companies. Not only did the CSU boycott Israeli products and investments, it also announced it was boycotting Canadian Tire for selling Israeli products. Home Depot also fell under the boycott.

However, in 2021, the CSU reversed course on its boycott of Israel. 

On March 13, 2024, the council unanimously voted on a motion to divest from Scotiabank, who had been accused of investing in Elbit systems which produce weapons for the IDF. Despite this specific action, the CSU has not readopted a BDS-aligned stance.

The university also continues to maintain relationships with Israeli universities.

This is obvious with Concordia President Graham Carr's trip to Israel in August 2022, which aimed to build stronger partnerships with Israeli universities. Additionally, in January 2023, Concordia received a donation of $1 million CAD, to be shared with BGU in Israel, by former Concordia Board of Governors member Miriam Roland.

The university’s neutral position, effectively upholding an anti-Palestinian status quo in the face of the ongoing genocide in Gaza—with a death toll exceeding 30,000 Palestinians—as well as its ongoing partnerships with Israeli universities involved in developing technology for military use, is inexcusable.

Concordia’s actions are a prime example of its unfair application of neutrality.

The revival of BDS by the CSU is necessary in order to combat institutional bias against Palestinian rights.

While Concordia has supposedly committed itself to decolonizing and Indigenizing its curriculum, The Link questions the university’s sincerity given its unabashed endorsement of Israeli institutions currently fueling a genocide.

Decolonization by nature requires dismantling systemic power structures and ideologies that perpetuate the oppression of settler-colonialism. This includes political Zionism.  

Decolonizing education means decolonizing all academia, not just some aspects of Concordia’s curriculum and business decisions. 

Supporting BDS is a strong step in this direction. We call on the CSU to reintroduce a clear and decisive stance in favour of divestment from the Israeli economy. 

Solidarity for Palestinian Human Rights Concordia is circulating petitions to pressure the arts and science and engineering student associations (ASFA and ECA) into putting BDS motions on the ballot in their next election cycles. We urge all eligible students to sign and let our student politicians know we will not support genocide.

This article originally appeared in Volume 44, Issue 13, published April 2, 2024.