UBC president reaffirms university's anti-BDS stance on Parliament Hill

On May 28, Palestinian solidarity encampment organizers People’s University UBC released a response to the UBC president’s May 16 statement on the encampment’s demands and May 27 speech on Parliament Hill.

UBC President Benoit-Antoine Bacon joined university presidents from Concordia University, University of Toronto and McGill University at a House of Commons standing committee on Justice and Human Rights to discuss antisemitism on campus.

“UBC supports freedom of expression and demonstration, for however we do not condone ​​behaviors that affect the safety, security of our university community or threaten or interfere with our operations,” said Bacon at the meeting.

People’s University UBC wrote Bacon’s May 16 statement and May 27 speech show UBC is not “acting in good faith and … have cast doubt among students, faculty, and community members regarding the sincerity of his invitations to 'constructive' conversations.”

MP Anthony Housefather representing Montréal's Mount Royal riding asked the university administrators if their universities would support the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s (IHRA) definition of antisemitism, which has been adopted by the federal government, and the application of the IHRA’s handbook on campuses.

“​​This is one of the tools we consider going forward on cases of antisemitism,” said Bacon.

The IHRA’s definition includes any rhetorical and physical manifestations of antisemitism towards Jewish or non-Jewish individuals, their property, or Jewish community institutions and religious facilities.

The IHRA said examples of antisemitism include claiming “the existence of a State of Israel is a racist endeavour” or “denying the Jewish people their right to self-determination.”

People’s University UBC wrote the IHRA’s definition “has been widely criticized by scholars, academics and human rights groups globally for conflating legitimate criticism of the state of Israel with anti-semitism.”

In 2022, Independent Jewish Voices Canada released a statement opposing the IHRA’S definition.

Housefather also asked the presidents if their administrations oppose the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement.

Bacon said UBC does not support BDS.

“It is imperative for the administration to demonstrate its commitment to such dialogue by meaningfully addressing our demands instead of pre-emptively taking an anti-BDS stance,” wrote People’s University UBC.

In Bacon’s May 16 statement, he said universities “stand strong against all forms of violence, exploitation, intimidation, discrimination, harassment or any other form of harm directed at individuals or groups on the basis of race, gender, religion, sexual orientation or any other characteristic or label.”

People’s University UBC wrote UBC condemned Russia's invasion in Ukraine in February 2022, and that “this selective application of principles serves only to further the oppression of Palestinians rather than support free expression and academic inquiry.”

People’s University UBC also called on Bacon to release a statement on May 29 by 8 a.m. to “Publicly condemn Israel's genocide and ethnic cleansing of Palestinians by Israel … Denounce the invasion of refugee camps and protected zones in Rafah [and] Condemn the scholasticide, including the bombing and destruction of every university in Gaza.”

As of May 31 at 1 p.m., Bacon has not released a statement in response to this request.

“We believe our demands represent the minimum actions necessary in response to the ongoing genocide in Gaza,” wrote People’s University UBC. “We will not stop until Palestine is free.”

On May 30, People’s University released another statement reinstating their demands to Bacon and called on him to respond to their demands by 8 p.m. today.

The Ubyssey did not hear back from UBC Media Relations by press time.

This is a developing story and will be updated as more information becomes available.