Montreal students join forces in protest for Palestine

SPHR Concordia holds student walk-out and march for Palestine, with McGill and UQAM

A speaker gives their speech to the crowd on McGill’s Roddick gates. Photo Andraé Lerone Lewis

On Feb. 2, Concordians took to the streets as part of a city-wide student walk-out for Palestine. Concordia’s initiative was organized by Solidarity for Palestinian Human Rights (SPHR) Concordia.

The walk-out began at 12:50 p.m. outside of the Henry F. Hall building and a march proceeded at around 1:30 p.m. Organizers led the crowd up Sherbrooke Street to McGill and later to the Université du Québec à Montréal (UQAM). Student protesters from the two other universities joined in along the way, amassing a total crowd of around 300 people. 

One of the walk-out’s organizers, who was granted anonymity for safety reasons, stated that the specific purpose of the event was to encourage student divestment from Israeli institutions, as well as educate the student body on concrete ways to “change what’s happening.” 

“I think now more than ever, the students are starting to realize the role that they play in terms of funding Israel through our tuition,” they said. “We’re becoming a lot more aware of how our universities are spending our money.”

Concordia is a university with a relationship with Israel. Its awards for Israeli institutions program provides funding to students to study at both Tel Aviv University and Technion—both institutions are located within Israel. Tel Aviv university has been known to have close ties with the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF), notably through their affiliation with The Institute of National Security Studies (INSS) which employs retired IDF officers and upholds contact with generals.

Additionally, Concordia’s Azrieli Institute of Israeli Studies offers grants and scholarships to students to “promote faculty-based projects, stimulate research and teaching, and contribute to the study of the state of Israel”, as stated on Concordia’s website. 

In August 2022, Concordia president Graham Carr embarked on a nearly $9,000 trip to Bar-Ilan University in Tel Aviv to build academic connections. The trip was funded by Concordia and included the expenses of business-class flights and luxury hotels. Following the events of Oct. 7, 2023, Carr was also widely criticized for what many students considered blatant partiality in the statement he released to the student body.

The student walk-out for Palestine intersected with the last day of the three-day Concordia student strike against the tuition hikes for international and out-of-province students. As a result, many protesters showed up to support both causes.

Theresa, a Concordia staff member whose last name concealed for her safety, was one of the protesters, who said that she was there in support of student solidarity against the tuition hike as well as to protest the bombings in Gaza.

“It’s our responsibility to tell our own governments to use the power of their purses to not fund civilian killing,” she said. 

Prior to Friday’s student walk-out for Palestine, SPHR Concordia hosted an on-campus teach-in on “Concordia’s complicity with genocide and how to push for divestment.” Hosted on Jan. 31, The workshop was the organization’s first event of the semester and was so well-attended that it ended up going over capacity, according to the anonymous organizer. 

“I think that students were waiting for us to give the green flag to start our campaign, and now a lot of people are joining and looking for ways to be involved which is really exciting,” they said. 

They also acknowledged their support in the combined student movement for Palestine and the tuition hike. 

“Already today we’ve had a massive turnout — it’s great to come together as well with students who are participating in other activist campaigns,” they stated.

Ultimately, they explained that — with events such as the walk-out — they’re looking for a transformation within Concordia in terms of its financial investments, and accountability on the side of Concordia’s leadership. 

“These people have made choices on our behalf that are compromising the safety of their students,” they said. “Not only Palestinian students, not only Arab students, but every single student who is giving tuition money is indirectly complicit in a genocide right now.”

The walk-out and subsequent march for Palestine ended in the atrium of the Judith Jasmin building at UQAM at around 4 p.m., and a vigil for Palestine was later held there at 6 p.m.