Why did university presidents travel on a CIJA sponsored trip to Israel? Sept. 22, 2022
In August of this year (2022), approximately two dozen Canadian university presidents and university administrators traveled to Israel to meet with Israeli university administrators. The delegation was organized and led by the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs (CIJA) and funded or otherwise supported by several private foundations. The delegation included Presidents from Concordia University, Dalhousie University, University of Manitoba, McGill University, University of Ottawa, University of Waterloo, University of Western Ontario, and York University, among others. No Palestinian universities were included on the tour.
With this statement, we the Jewish Faculty Network (JFN), join the calls for accountability and transparency expressed by Palestinian Canadian Academics and Artists Network (PCAAN), Faculty for Palestine (F4P), Canadians for Justice and Peace in the Middle East (CPJME) and Independent Jewish Voices (IJV). In accordance with our commitment to all anti-racism struggles and in defense of academic freedom, we consider this trip – an overtly political act – an astonishing contravention of the impartiality expected of senior university administrators.
Palestinians have long named Israel as an apartheid state and multiple international human rights organizations have more recently agreed, concluding that the State of Israel is committing the crime of apartheid. Meanwhile, Israel has intensified its repression of Palestinian civil society: it declared six prominent human rights organizations as terrorist organizations, based on spurious allegations rejected by Israel’s closest allies, and imposed severe restrictions on the ability of Palestinian universities to extend invitations to visiting faculty, researchers, and students.
Palestinian academic freedom is curtailed both in Palestine and through the silencing of Palestinian academics and their allies in Canada. The decision of presidents of Canadian universities to participate in such a trip, while remaining silent about these violations of human rights and academic freedoms, sends a strong political message. A trip organized, led, and funded by CIJA, a political advocacy group with no scientific expertise or mandate and a long track record of being an apologist for Israeli policies, is intended to advance a political agenda: to normalize Israel’s continued violations of human rights. By virtue of their participation and their obliviousness to the continued violation of Palestinian human rights, the university presidents and administrators who participated in the delegation took a clear position in support of Israel’s policies and actions.
On the heels of CIJA’s recent interference in a hiring process at the University of Toronto, which culminated in the university being censured by the Canadian Association of University Teachers (CAUT), the CIJA sponsored delegation of university presidents is additionally disturbing. To accept participation on a trip sponsored by CIJA, is to accept alignment with an organization that has violated the very precepts that universities are built upon. Until CIJA acknowledges the harm caused by its interference, or is held accountable, any alliance with the organization is emblematic of blatant disregard for academic freedom.
Academic freedom is a fundamental value to which all Canadian universities are committed. It reflects the vital role of universities as custodians of the human right to radical, critical teaching and research, and of their ability to provide fora in which controversial questions can be carefully studied and vigorously debated. A commitment to academic freedom often entails that universities are reluctant to take sides in political debates because universities risk abandoning these roles when they are perceived to advance a specific political position. A trip to Israel sponsored by CIJA is not neutral, regardless of intent, but rather makes a resounding political statement.
Following on the questions raised by PCAAN, CJPME, F4P and IJV, we demand an explanation of the alignment with CIJA. We demand to know why there was a total lack of transparency regarding the trip. If such a venture is defensible in any way – why was it shrouded in secrecy? We demand that the university administrators involved explain how they will repair the damage to the independence of universities and to academic freedom caused by this trip. We demand that the university presidents acknowledge the harms caused by their participation, including how this impacts the rights of Palestinian students, scholars, and academics at Canadian universities.