Let’s Talk Academic Freedom

A Response to Concordia President Alan Shepard About the BDS Movement

Graphic Jennifer Aedy

I would like to pose a question in response to the Concordia University president’s message about the Boycott, Divest and Sanctions Against Israel Movement where he accused it of contradicting academic freedom on campus.

Does academic freedom at Concordia University entail Concordia’s adoption of a sole narrative of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict?

To give some context to this question, we should shed some light on Concordia’s infamous Azrieli Institute of Israel Studies, which is named after David Joshua Azrieli, a man who, according to the Financial Post, fought in the Arab-Israeli war in 1948 alongside the Jewish paramilitary organization Haganah.

Haganah played a significant role in killing and displacing hundreds of thousands of Palestinians, according to infamous Israeli historian Ilan Pappé.

This organization was also outlawed by the British authority who were governing the Mandate of Palestine at the time.

Concordia University has accepted five million dollars from Mr. Azrieli and named the sole institute at Concordia devoted to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict after him.

The story does not end here. Browsing the website of the Azrieli Institute of Israel Studies, you will never find the words “Palestine” or “Palestinian people.”

I searched the keyword “Palestine” multiple times in the website search engine, and nothing was retrieved.

The million-dollar question here is: how can the only institute at Concordia University that teaches about Israeli history neglect to mention Palestine even once?

This, to me, aligns with the far-right Israeli narrative, which is a total elimination of Palestinian history in an attempt to erase the concept of Palestine from the dictionary of the Middle East.

If Concordia university is interested in academic freedom, it would not close the door on any exchange programs with Palestinian universities (there are many good ones) while widely opening the door to Israeli universities, such as Technion-Israel Institute of Technology and Ben-Gurion University of the Negev, which have direct military projects with the Israeli Army.

This leads me to the last question: if we are ardent supporters of academic freedom, shouldn’t we have a stance against all of the countries that stifle academic freedom?

The Israeli Army has arrested thousands of Palestinian students and professors, bombarded hundreds of Palestinian schools and universities and deprived all Gaza and West Bank students from entering its educational system.

I am a huge supporter of academic freedom, but I think it will only be fully achieved when we ensure that both sides of the narrative are equally represented and portrayed.

Renowned universities like Concordia should aspire to offer their students a balanced story of world conflicts, instead of trying to create smokescreens and hollow justifications whenever the students protest the one narrative that they are being taught.