USACBI commends the important action of the Faculty of Environmental Studies at York University as a critical example for academic departments in the United States and internationally by putting the academic boycott of Israel into practice. We also salute the tireless and ongoing campaigning of Students Against Israeli Apartheid at York (SAIA York) for Palestinian freedom and accountability within the university. SAIA York’s press statement is reprinted below:
Toronto — Students Against Israeli Apartheid at York University (SAIA York) is proud to announce that the Faculty of Environmental Studies (FES) at the third largest university in Canada has boycotted the Israeli academic institution, the Arava Institute for Environmental Studies (AIES). This move is a major win for the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) Movement, as FES has become the first faculty in Canada to honour Palestinian civil society’s call for “an academic boycott of complicit Israeli academic institutions”.
On October 26, 2017, FES boycotted the institution after the FES Faculty Council passed a motion to not renew a long-standing partnership agreement between FES and AIES. The motion, which was presented by SAIA York, garnered 15 votes in favour, seven against, and one abstention. While AIES has branded itself as an institution that promoted peace and environmental cooperation, the motion condemned AIES as an institution that “has a history in greenwashing injustices and environmental harms” perpetuated by the Israeli government.
AIES is funded by the Jewish National Fund (JNF). AIES has also officially partnered with the JNF since 2002. As an Israeli quasi-governmental organization, the JNF has played an instrumental role in advancing Israel’s colonial project for over a 100 years. This project has not only devastated the indigenous Palestinian people, but also the environment. Still, AIES boasts of this partnership on its website, praising the JNF’s “heart and action” and its “green innovations”. Arava conveniently omits the JNF’s colonial legacy from its website, serving to normalize and greenwash the organization and, by extension, Israel’s colonial history.
AIES also opened in 1996 as one of the hundreds of people-to-people (P2P) programs that were established around that time. P2P programs were based on “cooperative activities between Israelis and Palestinians to promote peace”. However, such programs failed to create peace in the last 20 years, because they did not seek to end Israel’s oppression of the Palestinian people. Rather, they perpetuated Israel’s oppression by encouraging “coexistence” rather than “co-resistance” against Israel. By encouraging coexistence and environmental cooperation, without recognizing Israel’s oppressive role and the need to resist against this oppression, Arava has served to normalize and greenwash Israel’s oppression.
By boycotting AIES, FES has taken a courageous stance on the right side of history to pressure Israel and complicit Israeli organizations to end their injustices against the Palestinian people. It is even more inspiring that FES has taken this historic step in consideration of the recent government crackdowns on BDS in Canada and elsewhere. FES has chosen to stay true to the radical, human rights, and anti-colonial roots of environmentalism and to uphold York University’s commitment to social justice by implementing academic boycott against Israel. We hope that this victory will inspire other York faculties and other academic institutions to implement or endorse the academic boycott against Israel in the struggle for a world free of colonialism, apartheid, occupation, and war, and in the realization of peace, justice, and equality for all.