Boycotts have done great things for worthy causes in the past. Boycotting can communicate a message that unacceptable actions will not be tolerated, and that people participating in a boycott will have no part of it. However, boycotts can also be based upon misunderstanding and misinformation. These kinds of boycotts can at best, do nothing for the betterment of a cause, and can, at worst, end up being nothing more than expressions of racism and bigotry. York University’s Federation of Students decision to encourage their university to not allow Israeli academics on campus and for York to sell its shares in companies that operate in Israel is an idea fuelled by good intentions that wholly lacks good sense to back it up.
The first problem with the York Federation of Students decision is that it steps so far beyond their mandated area of responsibility that I am puzzled as to why this vote was even considered. Student unions should advocate for students and issues directly affecting them. Israeli-Palestinian conflict, while indeed tragic, directly affects very few Canadian students unless they happen to be from the region, which is an uncommon occurrence. While student unions waste their time lobbying in areas that do not directly affect students, other important areas of student life go ignored. I’ll be frank: the government of Israel does not care at all what the students of York University think, and why would they? The government of Israel listens to other governments, not the concerns of university students. Areas where York University’s Federation of Students could actually make a difference is what the organization should be focusing itself on. Yes, activism is important but it must be directed toward issues in which one can make a real difference. Why could York’s student union not have taken a bold step on an issue that directly affects students? They absolutely could have done so. The only barrier they faced was a misunderstanding of their proper role as York’s student representatives.
Secondly, this move may be designed to encourage an end to hostilities in the decades long Israeli-Palestinian conflict, but it does little to further that goal. In fact, it only hinders what little chance for peace there is in the region. Lasting peace, the kind that allows societies and people to grow and prosper over the long term, can only be brought about through communication and dialogue. There are three sides to every story: yours, mine and the truth. Only by speaking to those we disagree with can we reach any kind of agreement or peace. Endorsing a move that would stifle Israeli voices on York’s campus would only serve to create an environment dominated by ignorance and misinformation. If Israel is not allowed to voice its side of the argument, how can the truth ever be found? By not allowing Israeli academics on campus, York University would be denied an outlet to receive information from the region, and a means by which they could question the beliefs they hold on the issue of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Every good academic (and student for that matter) knows that questioning one’s beliefs is essential to learning. It would seem that York’s Federation of Students has no desire to learn, but wants only to wallow in their ignorance.
Finally, I find the idea of banning academics from a university campus based only on their nationality as bigoted and borderline racist. The Israelis have a vast amount of varying views on the wars and conflicts their nation has fought. It seems that York’s student union thinks that every single Israeli academic holds the same view, based solely on where they are from, and disregards any individual differences that might exist. Millions of people live in Israel and they have millions of independent views and voices. For York’s Federation of Students to lump Israelis into a single category displays ignorance on their part and does not reflect well on the education they have received at the university. Yes, the government of Israel has committed atrocities against the Palestinians, but the people of Israel are largely peaceful and not all that different from Canadians.
Students at York should be ashamed of their student union, which has chosen to paint all Israeli academics with the same brush. Just because I’m a Canadian does not mean that I support Canadian government policies, and the same goes for Israeli academics. The Israeli-Palestinian conflict will never be resolved if we choose to do what the York’s student union has done, and refuse to communicate.