Citizen Action Monitor

Zionist and right-wingers at Toronto’s York University fail to deligitimate and vilify on-campus BDS movement

Anti-BDS forces use classic McCarthy-like smear tactics in personal attacks on campus colleagues.

No 1688 Posted by fw, May 31. 2016

In the following 10-minute embedded video, David McNally, York University political science prof tells how one Zionist member of a campus union, egged on by the Simon Wiesenthal Centre, tried to subvert a powerful coalition of about 70 York U student organizations calling on the University for an across-the-board military divestment motion. For the pro-Israel group, this was all about BDS: their aim was to isolate and weaken the coalition of pro-Palestine, pro-BDS forces on campus by driving wedges among them.

There was a tendency on the part of a number of very good union activists to say “No! This is not BDS. It’s got nothing to do with BDS. It’s just divestment.” It was the first time in organizing by faculty on York campus that a public statement was made about the legitimacy of BDS. McNally emphasized this “because we have to avoid getting purely defensive under these attacks. And I think we need to find ways to bring more people into at least a supportive relationship with BDS.”

Professor McNally was one of four panellists who, on April 26, 2016 addressed a forum at York University on the recent anti-BDS offensive, including legal, campus-based, labour, and social movement reflections and analysis.

McNally’s presentation is featured in the embedded video below, along with my transcript. Alternatively, to access all four video-recorded presentations, without transcriptions, click on the following linked title.


Crackdown on BDS Criminalization of Dissent? by LeftStreamed, April 26, 2016

On February 18, 2016 Canadian parliament passed a motion condemning “any and all attempts by Canadian organizations, groups or individuals to promote the BDS [Boycott Divestment Sanctions against Israeli apartheid] movement, both here at home and abroad.”

  • What are the legal implications of this motion? Is BDS being criminalized?
  • What is the political and transnational context?
  • How have activists and university campuses been affected by the vilification of BDS?
  • What does this mean for the BDS movement?

This forum and discussion addresses the recent anti-BDS offensive including legal, campus-based, labour, and social movement reflections and analysis.

Moderated by Vannina Sztainbok. Presentations include:

  • Alan Sears: Faculty for Palestine (F4P).
  • Issam Yamani: Palestinian activist.
  • Faisal Bhabha: Associate Professor, Osgoode Hall Law School, and founding member of Arab Canadian Lawyers Association (ACLA).
  • Dania Majid: Founder, Executive Member Arab Canadian Lawyers Association (ACLA).
  • David McNally: Professor, York University and York University Faculty Association (YUFA) Steward.

Organized by Faculty for Palestine. Endorsed by: Coalition Against Israeli Apartheid (CAIA) and U of T Divest.



Let me start by thanking Faculty for Palestine for inviting me to be part of this. It’s terrific to join with the speakers on the podium tonight, and as Vannina said I am a union steward on the York University Faculty Association, I’m not speaking on behalf of YUFA, the faculty association tonight, but ten days from now I will walk into a union stewards’ council meeting to find that one of the items of business on the agenda is a motion to condemn BDS.

Now, that comes out of a victory that we have had on the campus, and I want to explain that and link this motion that we’re going to be facing to the ongoing fight to defend the legitimacy of Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions on campus, and the role that I think alliances between student organizations and faculty unions can play.

The backdrop to all of this is that about 18 months ago Students Against Israeli Apartheid at York decided that they were going to broaden out their divestment campaign. And approaching Amnesty International, the York Federation of Students, the Graduate Students Association, and others, they put forward a coalition to call for the University to divest from all weapons’ manufacturing, not just the Israelis [applause]. And they built a very powerful coalition of about 70 student organizations and then began approaching the campus unions. Our union executive very quickly endorsed the campaign, but one Zionist member, egged on by the Simon Wiesenthal Centre, then proceeded to turn the divestment debate into a specifically BDS debate. That is to say that they worked overtime to first demonize students against Israeli apartheid, to claim that Students Against Israeli Apartheid [at York] are anti-Semitic and so on, and then concocting all the great tactics from McCarthyism from the 1950s, started to show how this one evil organization managed to mastermind a cynical plot to bring other people behind divestment in a dishonest and disingenuous way.

In fact, at the heat of the debate they produced a flowchart that showed the Coalition Against Israeli Apartheid , Students Against Israeli Apartheid, Faculty for Palestine, and a whole series of network arrows linking into Amnesty International [laughter], the York Federation of Students. And in the debate in our Stewards’ Council they did the classic McCarthy-like thing of naming names. They took me, they took three other people and they knew when we had publicly signed statements on behalf of Palestinian Self-Determination. They knew when we had defended Students Against Israeli Apartheid. At one point they actually circulated a screen shot from my Facebook page from four years ago as part of this.

So I tell you all this to give you a picture of the fact that this was, as Rejean was saying, an across-the-board military divestment motion but for them it was about BDS because Students Against Israeli Apartheid had built a powerful coalition, and they [Zionists] wanted to isolate and weaken pro-Palestine, pro-BDS forces on campus. And so they were trying to drive a wedge. And, in some circles, initially it worked.

Now we responded in a variety of ways. But I think the most important thing was there was a tendency on the part of a number of very good union activists to say “No! This is not BDS. It’s got nothing to do with BDS. It’s just divestment.” Well, literally that was the case. And fair enough. It was a broad-based divestment campaign.

But a number of us felt it was crucial that in making that argument we also defend the legitimacy of BDS. And so, in the letter that we circulated to our union executive, which got signatures from 62 people and in about 28 hours or something like that – it was very, very successful – we said precisely this:

“Those of us signing this letter do not all agree on the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions campaign, lodged by hundreds of civil society organizations in Palestine. But we all understand that BDS is a legal non-violent strategy meant to pressure Israel to stop illegal settlements on Palestinian lands and to pursue a genuine peace process.”

Now that to me was a crucial part of it. It was the first time in organizing by faculty on York campus that we made a public statement about the legitimacy of BDS. And I emphasize this because we have to avoid getting purely defensive under these attacks. And I think we need to find ways to bring more people into at least a supportive relationship with BDS.

A number of colleagues in my department and others who signed the letter are not a hundred percent on board with BDS. But they absolutely are committed to the idea that it’s legitimate, and that the attacks on BDS are dangerous. And I’ll come back to this point in a moment.

It’s all so crucial that this work be linked along the lines that Rejean was talking about to the alliances between faculty unions and organizations and student groups. Our ability to mobilize and get five dozen or more names within 24 plus hours had to do with a history on the York campus. That is to say, York, as some of you will know, expelled a student for pro-Palestinian activism and lost the legal battle. York, as a few of you in the room know. Disciplined a faculty member – me – for speaking out publicly on Palestine on the campus. I won the union grievance and had this discipline rescinded. [applause].

When, a few years ago, they fined Students Against Israeli Apartheid [SAIA] $1000 for violating an alleged student code, we quickly sent out the message calling for 50 faculty to contribute $20 immediately. We got the $1000 and then we sent a message to the administration saying “Every time you penalize SAIA we will rise to the occasion and pay their fines. They haven’t fined them since. So there’s a backdrop that allowed us to mobilize and do so quickly.

When we go into our stewards’ council meeting, notwithstanding the charges of anti-Semitism and so on, the fact that the right-wing, in a whole series of departments, has deliberately targeted our stewards’ council, which is the highest decision-making policy body in our union through a very good clear debate that went on for hours, we won the pro-divestment motion by a vote of 22 to 10. [applause]. And, sure I would like it to have been more overwhelming but it was solid. And it represented, I think, a real victory.

Moreover, it represented a victory for BDS, not because the motion itself was about BDS, but because they turned it into a debate about BDS. Because they tried to use it to deligitimate and to vilify Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement and we were able to fight back on that.

The final point I want to address is that I think there is an opening in the climate that all the panellists have talked about: to really begin a lot of education work with faculty unions. One of the things that every collective agreement, every union contract that faculty have, involves an academic freedom clause. And some of them are very robust. Mine at York gives me the right to speak out on any social issue. Now, interestingly, university administrators at York and elsewhere are trying to rewrite these clauses to say I can speak out in areas of my professional responsibility. Okay. As opposed to, you know, I’m a political scientist. I can speak out on Palestine and call that my professional area. But my colleagues in mathematics or kinesiology may have a much more difficult time. And so I think there’s an opening here for Faculty for Palestine and allied organizations to really begin an outreach to campus unions around academic freedom and the righty to stand up and publicly defend BDS. And I think the situation at York is just one example of some openings for that kind of broad-based campaign,

Thank you.

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