CUPE revises stance on Israel

Union takes aim at research aiding Israeli military

Tuesday, April 7th, 2009

In response to the situation in the Gaza Strip that reignited nearly two months ago, the Canadian Union of Public Employees has passed a motion urging Ontario universities not to collaborate on weapons research for the Israeli military.

Shortly following the conflict that began on Dec. 27, CUPE Ontario announced it was “considering a peaceful boycott of Israeli academic institutions.”

Having since revised their stance, CUPE Ontario decided on Monday at a conference in Windsor that it would commence a research process to investigate what ties its institutions may have with the Israeli military.

“I put out a press release indicating that we would be bringing a motion to the conference in Windsor debating the issue of academic boycotts,” said Sid Ryan, president of CUPE Ontario.

“The goal is to put pressure on the state of Israel by looking at the academic ties and connections between universities in Israel and here in Ontario from a weapons perspective. If there is [a connection] there will be an educational campaign and hopefully the university will sever those links.”

While the effect of a seemingly insignificant motion in Ontario regarding a major issue on the other side of the water might be questionable, Ryan remains confident this is a small stone with the potential to make a big splash.

“We are joining into a worldwide campaign in boycotts and sanctions against Israel,” Ryan argued. “We use these kinds of tactics all the time, and we know they are effective, so that’s what the goal is " to get Israel back to the bargaining table. Our people are quite good at putting pressure on administrations to ban or change their policies.”

While Ryan remains confident the sanction will influence a peaceful resolution to the conflict, Len Rudner, Ontario regional director for the Canadian Jewish Congress, doubts its effectiveness.

“It is not clear to me how these particular locals would have any ability to influence these universities in which they’re a part,” he explained. “I think that university presidents in this country have already clearly stated that academic boycotts are not on the table as far as they’re concerned.”

Rudner also called the attention put on these sanctions at a union meeting during the current economic turmoil counter-productive.

“It really does boggle the mind, anyone who has opened up a newspaper in the last three months has watched the global economy crash and burn,” he explained. “You have workers in Ontario and across this country whose focus is very much on paying their bills and keeping their jobs.

“This particular conference is taking place in Windsor " which is a union town most heavily impacted by the economic earthquake we are experiencing. In the midst of all this you are having a union meeting and this [situation in Gaza] is all they’re focusing on. I shake my head at the lack of leadership that we’re seeing.”

Though CUPE officials are pursuing the boycott, Mike Carroll, president of the University of Western Ontario Faculty Association, expressed no commencement of such action at Western.

“UWOFA has not passed any resolution to deal with this issue and we will not be passing a resolution to deal with this issue,” he explained.

“First of all, there is clearly a diversity of opinion among faculty on the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. But nobody, despite that diverse opinion, has suggested an academic boycott of anyone. CUPE has no way of forcing the administration or faculty [at Western] into participating in the boycott.”

While the extent of CUPE’s power will be a limiting factor in implementing the boycott, Ryan is convinced his tactic is the only one that can bring about peace in a hostile environment.

“There is no military solution to the problems in the Middle East, it’s going to have to be resolved through dialogue and a lot of people are missing this point,” he argued.

“What we are doing is engaging in peaceful means in pressuring the state of Israel " not [through] weapons of mass destruction or cluster bombs " that’s not how you come to a solution.”

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