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University Protests

Lisa Sygutek

May 29, 2024

Are these protests a potent force for change, or do they verge on fostering an environment of anarchy? 

The recurring waves of university protests across Canada against Israel’s actions in the Israel-Palestine conflict raise significant questions about their impact and underlying intentions. Are these protests a potent force for change, or do they verge on fostering an environment of anarchy? 

The Israel-Palestine conflict, with its deep-rooted historical and political dimensions, frequently prompt protests which many feel are necessary to raise awareness, apply pressure on policymakers, and foster a more just and equitable world.

However, these protests sometimes cross the line into disruptive or even anarchic behaviour. The fervour of these demonstrations can lead to clashes with university administration, disruption of academic activities, and, at times, marginalization of students with differing viewpoints. There is also the concern that such protests are devolving into anti-Semitic rhetoric, further polarizing an already sensitive issue.

Divestment from Israel, particularly in the context of the Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions (BDS) movement, is a key demand of many university protests. Activists call for institutions to withdraw investments from companies that support Israel’s actions, aiming to economically pressure Israel into changing its policies. The symbolism of divestment is powerful, signalling moral opposition and a call for justice.

However, the tangible impact of divestment on Israel’s economy and policies is debatable. Israel’s economy is robust and diversified, with significant trade relationships globally. The loss of investments from Canadian universities, while symbolically significant, is unlikely to cause substantial economic harm or compel a policy shift. Israel’s technological and economic advancements, coupled with strong international alliances, mitigate the financial impact of such divestments.

An important aspect often overlooked in the divestment discourse is the potential repercussions of isolating Israel technologically. Israel is a global leader in technology and innovation, particularly in sectors like cybersecurity, medical technology, and agricultural advancements. Canadian universities and industries benefit significantly from collaborations with Israeli institutions.

Should Israel decide to curtail technological sharing in response to divestment pressures, the ramifications could be profound. Canadian academia and industries could face setbacks in research and development, losing access to cutting-edge technologies and innovations that drive economic growth and societal progress. Such a scenario would highlight the interconnectedness of global innovation ecosystems and the unintended consequences of political actions.

The stance of alumni and donors is a critical factor in the divestment debate. Universities rely heavily on the financial support of their alumni and donors, whose contributions often sustain scholarships, research initiatives, and infrastructural developments. Many alumni and donors view divestment as a divisive and counterproductive approach.

For these stakeholders, the emphasis often lies on fostering dialogue and collaboration rather than punitive measures. They argue that engagement, not isolation, is the path to constructive change. The potential alienation of key supporters could have financial repercussions for universities, affecting their ability to support students and advance academic excellence.

The efficacy of university protests in Canada regarding the Israel-Palestine conflict is multifaceted. While these protests play a crucial role in raising awareness and advocating for justice, they also risk fostering division and disruption. The impact of divestment, both economically on Israel and strategically on Canadian academia, remains contentious and complex.

My thought is if these students are outside protesting, when are they going to school? I know it cost our family $60,000 per year to send my boys to university. If I find out they are skipping out of class to protest, I may just divest them of the money I provide towards their higher education!

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