By Riley Hill, June. 5, 2014 —
Campus human-rights group Solidarity for Palestinian Human Rights ( SPHR) is looking at ways they can bring a global campaign to campus that would push the University of Calgary to cut economic ties with Israel.
Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions — often referred to as the BDS movement — asks groups to stop doing business with Israel until the country makes concessions in its conflict with Palestine, such as ending its occupation of Palestinian territory and offering full equality to Palestinians living in Israel. The movement also encourages academic boycotts of Israeli universities.
SPHR added a vice-president BDS position to their board this May. Stuart MacDonald filled the new position and is tasked with researching different ways the U of C can get involved in the movement.
SPHR president Ala’a Hamdan said her club doesn’t plan to take action for a while, as they are still mulling their options.
“We could do boycotts, for example, where we would want to pull a specific product off the shelves of stores,” Hamdan said. “Or we could divest the shares that this university has in Israeli companies.”
Founded in 2008, the Calgary chapter of SPHR regularly brings pro-Palestinian speakers to the U of C and hosts “Israeli Apartheid Week.” MacDonald said he sees BDS as a less-passive option to the club’s usual activism.
Calgary Hillel is a Jewish students organization with around 30 members on campus. Hillel president Kira Blumer, who opposes BDS, thinks it would be inappropriate for the university or the Students’ Union to take a stance take on a political cause.
“We have a lot of our own issues here that need to be tackled instead of picking and choosing causes that are trendy,” Blumer said. “It would send the message that now the SU is just a body for the most popular cause, rather than worrying about textbook prices or commuter-campus and how to foster new leadership among our students.”
Blumer added that she thinks it would be unfair to target Israel when the U of C has partnerships with other countries that have troubling human rights records.
“A lot of the members of SPHR are from countries that have much worse human rights violations than Israel, so they should also be advocating for those countries to be boycotted,” she said.
Student Legislative Council would have to approve SU participation in BDS. Though rare, the SU has held referendums on political issues in the past, including a vote to boycott South Africa during the apartheid era and a vote to establish the U of C as a nuclear-free zone.
BDS is endorsed by student unions across the world, including universities in Canada, the United States, Australia, England, Scotland and Denmark. The U of C has one of the few Israel Studies programs in North America.
A spokesperson for the U of C said the administration does not take positions on political issues.