Repression of Palestinian Solidarity on Campuses Must End

Following the deadly Hamas attacks, Israel has engaged in non-stop bombing in the last weeks on the 2.3 million people living in the Gaza strip. We are witnessing civilian Palestinian casualties in the thousands. Meanwhile, Israel has cut off electricity, water, humanitarian aid, and internet and phone service to the people of Gaza. These restrictions on vital utilities are considered war crimes. People have lost entire families and Palestinians and allies all over the world are watching the news in grief and rage.

As politicians like Justin Trudeau continue to pledge their support to Israel, more and more people are mobilising to show our governments that the people of Canada want a ceasefire now. Rallies have taken place from coast to coast, in large cities like Toronto, and Vancouver, smaller cities like Halifax, and across university campuses. Even high school students in Toronto are organising walk-outs to show solidarity with the Palestinian people.

Solidarity Groups on Campus

Speaking up for Palestinian human rights in Canada has often come with a cost, particularly within institutions of higher learning. In 2022, Independent Jewish Voices released a report documenting the repression of Palestinian solidarity that students and faculty are facing on campuses across Canada. Now, during the latest round of Israeli brutality against Gaza, the climate at universities has only grown more suppressive and punitive.

Student groups at McGill, University of British Columbia, University of Toronto, Toronto Metropolitan University, and York University have held rallies and released statements showing their support for the people of Palestine and calling for an end to the ongoing genocide in Gaza. In response, university administrations have condemned their students and threatened to decertify student unions.

Universities are meant to be places where young people learn and explore new ideas, and begin engaging in public discourse. It is therefore inappropriate for school administrators to threaten to intervene in and crush these students’ academic careers because of their political beliefs. If the University administration disagrees with a statement, it is fully within the right of the administration to publicly express its strong disapproval and disavowal of the positions therein – as has already been done. Similarly, if a student body disagrees with the actions of their union representatives, they may remove these student leaders from power through existing union mechanisms such as elections. For the university administration to aggressively interfere with these students’ academic careers, however, sets a precedent for an unjust and dangerous overreach.

Free Speech

Universities have a special obligation to protect free speech and diverse views on their campuses. Executives and administrators need not agree with all sentiments and statements that their students and faculty make. Indeed, this is the cornerstone of academic freedom enshrined in university protocols such as faculty tenure. While some may disagree with what is said, the right to speak up for Palestinian human, civil and political rights on campus is sacrosanct. The punitive precedent that the administration is setting will harm all equity-deserving groups at universities, including Jewish students who support Palestinian rights.

We call on these schools to cease their punitive response to students, staff, and faculty who speak up for Palestine. •

This article first published on the IJV-Canada website.