McGill should divest from genocide to defuse student encampment standoff: CJPME

Montreal, April 30, 2024 Canadians for Justice and Peace in the Middle East (CJPME) is urging McGill University to respond to the student encampment by respecting their demands, and divesting from companies that are complicit in Israel’s genocide in Gaza. After only a few days of peaceful protest, CJPME is alarmed by the administration’s threats to dispel the students through force, which could result in a violent police crackdown and mass arrests. CJPME believes that the students’ demands reflect international legal and ethical imperatives that should be respected by the University.

“The easiest way for McGill to resolve the student encampment would be to divest from Israel, an apartheid state that is committing genocide in Gaza,” said Thomas Woodley, President of CJPME. “In Montreal and around the world, the student encampment movement is an inspiring example of non-violent political expression in support of Palestinian human rights. Universities should acknowledge the students’ leadership, and take action to remove their unjustifiable investments,” added Woodley.

McGill and Concordia students set up tents on the McGill campus on Saturday, following the widespread and rapid growth of the student encampment movement in the United States in recent weeks. The students plan to protest until their universities 1) divest from all companies complicit in Israel’s genocide of the Palestinian people and 2) cut academic ties with Israeli institutions. CJPME notes that other encampments have been formed at the University of Alberta and the University of British Columbia, and expects others to follow.

Today, McGill President Deep Saini sent an email to staff and students announcing that they have requested police assistance, raising concerns of possible police brutality and arbitrary arrests, as witnessed at many universities in the United States. Such action would also be counter to the advice issued today by the UN Human Rights Chief, who expressed concern about the heavy-handed and disproportional police responses to protests in the US.

CJPME is also concerned that the media is repeating unverified claims by McGill administration of protestors allegedly caught on video engaging in antisemitic behaviour. In response to inquiries from CJPME’s Media Accountability Team, some of these outlets have admitted that the university has not shared any evidence for these claims. “McGill needs to be transparent with the media. Unverified and slanderous reports against student activists should be examined critically, and not be weaponized as justification for police violence,” said Woodley.

Divestment is an important economic pressure tactic that has been promoted by many social movements in support of human rights, including the South African anti-apartheid movement in the mid-1980s. In 2005, Palestinian civil society asked the international community to adopt economic tactics such as divestment as a way to pressure Israel to comply with international law. In the last two months, at least four Canadian faculty associations and two student unions have voted in support of divestment from complicit companies, joining many other student, labour, and community organizations.