Senators quash motion to cut academic ties with Israeli universities in private session

The UBC Vancouver Senate met June 1 to discuss cutting or suspending academic ties with Israeli public universities.

This comes after a May 15 Senate meeting where protesters from the Palestinian solidarity encampment read statements criticizing UBC for its alleged complicity during what human rights experts call a genocide in Gaza.

According to a report issued by a United Nations-appointed expert, there are “reasonable grounds” to believe Israel is committing genocide in Gaza.

On May 15, student senators Jasper Lorien and Kareem Hassib and 16 other senators submitted a letter to call a special meeting of the Senate to discuss “the ongoing violence in Israel and Palestine and discuss a motion regarding suspending academic ties with Israeli government entities, including public universities.”

“The violence that is unfolding in Israel in Gaza is evoking very complex, very raw emotions around the world on campuses, including UBC,” said UBC president and Senate chair Benoit-Antoine Bacon in his opening remarks on the June 1 Senate meeting.

In an Instagram post, encampment organizers People’s University UBC listed their demands for UBC. One demand included boycotting Israeli universities and institutions. Currently, UBC has partnerships with Tel Aviv University, Technion-Israel Institute of Technology and Hebrew University of Jerusalem. UBC also has an ANME class which is an excavation of the Horvat Midras site in Israel.

“Today, we're being asked to consider an issue that is complex and multifaceted,” said Bacon. “This is an emergency meeting that has been called on the basis that this is an emergency issue. Personally, I'm not completely convinced that that's the case but nonetheless, I'm glad that we’re tackling the issue.”

The motion calls on Senate to recommend to the Council of Senates and the Board of Governors to suspend academic agreements with “Israeli government entities, including public universities, for faculties of the Vancouver campus of UBC until further notice” and to condemn “actions committed by Hamas on October 7” and to support the subsequent ICC investigation and “peaceful efforts to advocate for the release of the remaining hostages.”

The motion was brought to Senate by UBC law professor and Senator Brenna Bhandar and Lorien.

Bhandar said this motion is not related to the boycott, divest and sanction (BDS) movement which advocates for removing economic support for Israel.

Bhandar said the BDS academic boycott “extends to a very wide range of academic activities, and applies across the board to all Israeli institutions of higher learning, as well as the Israeli Research Council's academic journals based at Israeli universities and other aspects of Israeli academia.”

She said the Senate motion does not extend to these “aspects of academic or student life, but focuses solely on the institutional affiliations and exchange programs that currently exist with three Israeli universities.”

This means that professors who are interested in inviting speakers from boycotted universities or conducting independent research or undergoing a visiting professorship at the identified universities would not violate the Senate motion.

Bhandar said this motion “follows closely the logic and rationale of the motion passed in relation to Russia in 2022” and “seeks to send a clear message that UBC does not support public institutions of state that are in grave breach of international law, international humanitarian law and human rights.”

In 2022, Senate passed a motion to cut academic ties with Russian entities, including post-secondary institutions, and increase support for Ukrainian members and scholars.

“Time and time again, when we look at the minutes of this academic Senate, senators have expressed the need for moral consistency when addressing such concerns,” said Bhandar. “This motion gives the Senate the opportunity to uphold the same standards for all when it comes to grave and serious breaches of international law.”

UBC Provost and VP Academic Gage Averill said UBC’s agreements with Technion-Israel Institute of Technology and Tel Aviv University have expired. UBC’s new agreement with Tel Aviv University is in active negotiations but no new agreement has been reached or signed, according to Averill.

UBC’s agreement with Hebrew University of Jerusalem is active until November 2027.

Tel Aviv University, Hebrew University of Jerusalem and Technion-Israel Institute of Technology all said it has “direct ties to the Israeli military, including joint centres, military technology development programs, and/or military training programs,” according to the motion.

Averill said UBC had no inbound or outbound students under the Technion-Israel Institute of Technology or Hebrew University of Jerusalem agreements. He also said there were no outbound students for the 2023 Winter Session to Tel Aviv University. Averill said 10 inbound students came from Tel Aviv University last year and UBC is expecting another 10 for the 2024 Winter Session.

UBC has plans to send no students to Tel Aviv University next year “due to the security situation,” according to Averill.

If the Senate motion passed, the 10 inbound students from Tel Aviv University would be prevented from attending UBC. Additionally, the ANME Midras excavation hinges on an agreement to move forward.

Bhandar moved a motion to close the public gallery. The motion passed with 41 in favour and 16 opposed and the meeting was continued privately.

The motion to cut academic ties with Israeli universities eventually failed, 16 votes in favour and 49 opposed.

A previous version of this story misspelled the name of Senator Brenna Bhandar. The Ubyssey regrets this error.