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Source: Joe Howell, CUPE Ontario proposes to ban Israeli academics from campuses, The Strand, 15 January 2009

The Israeli-Palestinian conflict often spills over onto Canadian university campuses, but the Ontario branch of Canada's largest union is preparing to take it to a new level.

If the Union gets its way, Israeli scholars who do not "explicitly condemn" the acts of Israel in the Gaza Strip will not be able to work at any of the province's universities.

In a press release issued Monday, the Canadian Union of Public Employees Ontario announced that it would propose a resolution at its upcoming annual conference supporting a "ban on Israeli academics doing speaking, teaching or research work at Ontario universities as a protest against the December 29 bombing of the Islamic University in Gaza."

According to the Jerusalem Post, the Israeli Defense Force targeted wings of the university being used by Hamas for the development and storage of explosives. Other media outlets say the Islamic University's connection with Hamas has yet to be confirmed.

Still, CUPE Ontario is "ready to say Israeli academics should not be on our campuses unless they explicitly condemn the university bombing and the assault on Gaza in general," said CUPE Ontario President Sid Ryan in the release.

Ryan told Canadian University Press that the proposed resolution is "part of a broader campaign" by CUPE Ontario to put international pressure on Israel to leave occupied territories.

In 2006, the union passed a resolution calling for boycotts of, and divestments from, the Jewish state.

"Given the bombing of the university . . . perhaps we should get involved in the academic boycott," said Ryan.

"We find it to be very un-Canadian to promote such blatant censorship," said Jordan Kerbel, National Director of Public Affairs for the Canadian Jewish Congress. "Our universities must continue to promote exchanges with all academics."

Kerbel says Canada has "much to gain with further collaboration with Israel," and an eventual solution to the conflict in the Middle East "might very well come from an university campus."

But, Ryan says professors from the Islamic University "can not teach in areas outside of Gaza," and that "academic freedom is a two-way street."

"Not only should academic freedom be expressed, but so should that of trade unions," said Ryan.

University of Toronto student Dan Epstein disagrees with the union's action.

"It does not help the Palestinian people if university professors at Israeli institutions can not speak abroad," he said.

"I oppose Israel's action in Gaza, but it does not warrant censorship half a world away. . . . The efforts of CUPE and other Palestine-supporting organizations would be better spent finding professors from Palestinian universities and raising money to fly them here and have them speak."

CUPE Ontario member and University of Ottawa student Kristin Blais says she is "appalled and disgusted" by the union's proposal.

"Why should a union which represents thousands of people decide who gets to speak at universities? We are not just talking about full-time professors; we are talking about banning invited speakers from sharing their knowledge," said Blais.

"What ever happened to free speech and furthering the academic dialogue?"

CUPE Ontario's roughly 20,000 university staffers will vote on the resolution next month.

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