File photo: The Graduate Students' Union building. CAROLYN LEVETT/THE VARSITY

In a March 3 press release, over 125 University of Toronto faculty members have announced their support for the Graduate Students’ Union’s (GSU) campaign to divest from three companies that are directly profiting from the ongoing military occupation of Palestine territories.

“This is wonderful news for the BDS movement on campus,” said Omar Sirri, speaking on behalf of the GSU’s ad-hoc BDS committee, also known as U of T Divest. “This level of faculty support is hugely significant, especially at a time when political leaders in this country continue to attack student activist [and] mislead the public about what BDS stands for. This level of faculty support is further indication [that] support for the BDS movement is steadily growing.”

The campaign calls on the University of Toronto Asset Management Corporation (UTAM) to divest from companies that are directly profiting from the ongoing military occupation of Palestinian territories, namely: Northrop Grumman, Hewlett Packard, and Lockheed Martin. It also urges the Governing Council to form a committee to review and divest from all companies implicated in violations of international law.

With these investments, Sirri believes that U of T is complicit in war crimes.

“Rather than supporting blatant violations of international law, the University of Toronto should stand on the right side of history on this issue,” he said, adding that the campaign’s work “[shines] a light on the abhorrent policies of the University Administration: financially profiting from violations of international law and war crimes against the Palestinian people.”

Rebecca Comay, a professor of philosophy and comparative literature, told The Varsity that there is a “growing consensus among faculty about the urgent need for divestment from companies profiting from the military occupation of Palestine.”

“The GSU’s call for divestment opens up an important discussion on campus about our institution’s own complicity in the Israeli occupation,” said Natalie Rothman, an associate professor of history. “As faculty we have a responsibility to ask difficult questions about how our university upholds its own standards of ethical conduct.”

Critics have questioned the effectiveness of the movement and the feasibility of certain demands, such as the right of return for all Palestinian refugees. Some also argue that the movement unfairly singles out Israel amongst other countries with worse human rights records. In response to negative assessments of the movement’s effectiveness, Sirri commented “It is clear the movement is gaining momentum on university campuses across North America, for example with BDS resolutions passed at Stanford, UC Berkeley, and York Univesrity here in Toronto, to name just a few.” He added, “Israel singles itself out with a form of institutionalized apartheid unlike anything in the world today, a racist structure of governance and a colonial occupation that are gross violations of international law. The three demands of BDS are grounded in human rights that are guaranteed to all peoples. The demands will become ‘feasible’ when Israel meets its international legal obligations, and ends its system of apartheid, occupation, and discrimination of all Palestinians, including refugees.”

The BDS movement is fundamentally concerned with achieving three core goals: bringing about the end of Israeli military occupation and colonization of Palestinian land, ensuring equal legal status for Arab-Palestinians living in Israel, and enforcing Palestinian refugees established right of return.

This releases come two weeks after the House of Commons voted in favour of a motion to condemn the BDS movement.

“Imagine that: the governing party and the previous governing party are asking Canadians to disregard both international law and official state policy when making decisions about where to invest,” said Jens Hanssen, an associate professor in the Department of Near and Middle Eastern Civilizations. “Yes, the constantly expanding Israeli occupation is illegal, our government acknowledges, but no, you must not say this out loud or take this into account when making ethical investment decisions.”

Sirri told The Varsity that U of T Divest plans to continue building support for the movement and educating the U of T community on this issue.

Faculty members at U of T are not alone in their support of BDS; earlier this week the York Faculty Association endorsed the YUDivest campaign at York University. The YUDivest campaign is an effort to have York divest from arms companies and weapons manufacturers.

With files from Iris Robin and Alec Wilson.

Correction (Monday, March 7th, 2016): An earlier version of this article incorrectly stated that 125 faculty members had announced their support for the GSU’s Boycott, Divestment and Saction movement; in fact, they are supporting the divestment from three companies only. The Varsity regrets the error.

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