Solidarity with student encampments for Palestine!

PV staff  

As Israel has escalated its airstrikes of Rafah and confirmed its plan for a ground assault on the southern Gaza city to which some 1.3 million Palestinians from north Gaza have been displaced, students, faculty and workers on university campuses across Canada have set up encampments to force the institutions to divest from Israel.

The protests have been met with met with outrage and threats from state and institutional authorities – McGill University asked for Montreal police to clear the encampment, for example, while the University of Toronto has threatened to charge participants (students and staff) with trespassing.

At the same time, however, many labour and community organizations have responded to the encampments with statements of solidarity and by providing supplies.

As an example, USW Local 1998, which represents several thousand workers at University of Toronto, issued a statement which compared the encampments to civil disobedience campaigns against apartheid in South Africa, stated the union’s support for people’s right to protest, and rejected “the University’s weaponization of property rights in its effort to discredit the King’s College Circle protesters’ goals and actions.”

The Young Communist League – Ligue de la jeunesse communiste (YCL-LJC) released a statement extending its “solidarity and militant greetings to the students on campuses across the country fighting for freedom in Palestine.”

Noting that the people of the world are united in demanding a ceasefire and an end to the genocide in Gaza, the YCL-LJC took specific aim at the narrative of the governments of Canada and other Western imperialist countries, that the key issue is Israel’s right to defend itself. “Let us be clear, there is no right to occupation, let alone a right to commit genocide.”

The young communist organization also denounced the mainstream corporate media’s line that the conflict, which has killed 40,000 people including 20,000 children in Gaza, began on October 7. “They do [this] to obscure more than a century of struggle for national liberation. The ruling class tries to criminalize any expression of solidarity with the Palestinian people’s struggle. The YCL-LJC denounces the attempts by the bourgeois media to frame international solidarity by peace loving forces as anti-democratic and warmongering.”

While the Palestinian people’s struggle is often characterized as an ethnic or religious dispute, it is in fact a struggle for national liberation, peace and international solidarity. It is directed against the plans of Western imperialism in the region, which includes the drive by countries like Canada to sharply increase their military budgets.

The current widening wave of campus encampments is not a “new fad,” as much of the media suggests. There is a lengthy history of students, faculty and campus workers mobilizing in solidarity with the Palestinian people. This movement surged on campuses during the 2007-08 school year, when local assemblies at several university and Cégep campuses across Quebec voted to support the Boycott Divestment Sanction (BDS) campaign against Israel. This support took on a Quebec-wide character when the campaign was supported by Fédération nationale des enseignantes et enseignants du Québec (FNEEQ), Quebec’s largest college level teachers union, and the Association pour une solidarité syndicale étudiante (ASSÉ), the student union that led the historic 2005 and 2012 student strikes.

Following the lead from the Quebec student movement, between 2012 and 2017 at least 16 student unions in English-speaking Canada passed resolutions in support of the Palestinian people and some if not all aspects of the BDS movement.

This included the 300,000-strong Canadian Federation of Students-Ontario, which endorsed the BDS campaign at its 2014 assembly. Four years later, the Canadian Federation of Students did the same at its annual general meeting.

YCL-LJC General Secretary Ivan Byard told PV, “In 2022 alone students at Simon Fraser University, University of British Columbia, McGill, Concordia and University of Toronto passed resolutions in support of the struggle of the Palestinian people and against Israeli apartheid and occupation. This included motions calling for boycotts and/or divestments from Israel.”

Byard also noted that this year, the Université du Québec à Montréal became the first university in Canada to have all its student unions adopt BDS mandates.

Getting BDS resolutions passed requires a huge amount of organization. This is particularly so since they have often led to attacks from administrations on student democracy, including the withholding of dues. But as Byard says, “with the brutal war on Gaza and the increased drive for settlements in the West Bank, students across Canada have answered the call and once again began to mobilize for the liberation of the Palestinian people.”

Asked about the charge that groups calling for a ceasefire or embargo against Israel are simply supporting Hamas, Byard says this is a bogus claim made by the right wing in order to distort history and reality.

“The YCL-LJC said in October that we recognize ourselves in neither the ideology nor the methods of Hamas. However, we understand that its popular support is the result of decades of Zionist colonization, invasion, occupation and blockade, with the tacit support of Western governments, the manifest failure of the Oslo Accords and an ossified Palestinian Authority riddled with internal contradictions. We denounce all forces that try to shift the burden of these attacks onto the Palestinian resistance.”

“We support the creation as soon as possible of a viable – and I emphasize that word, ‘viable’ – Palestinian state within the 1967 borders, with East Jerusalem as its capital, with the right of return for all Palestinian refugees right back to 1948, and the dismantling of all Zionist settlements, which are illegal under international law. These demands may not solve the entire Palestinian problem, but they are the only ones that could pave the way for a lasting solution to this conflict.”

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