University of Regina Set to Endorse Israeli Occupation?

What would you do if the Canadian university you attended was planning to enter into a partnership with a university in another country whose persecution of your people meant you couldn’t speak out publicly – in Canada – for fear of reprisals against you and your family?

What if, further, the proposed partnership included course delivery for a degree in public safety management inside a country conducting a nearly 50-year-long occupation in contravention of international law? An occupation in which basic freedoms – of movement, speech, and self-determination – were denied your people, and in which security forces routinely imprisoned, shot, and killed civilians, including university students and children, with near total impunity.

Strange as it may sound, this is the reality facing Palestinian students at the University of Regina today. As part of a new MBA program in public safety management geared toward police service professionals, the Faculty of Business Administration is considering a partnership that would see students take optional courses at Israel’s Hebrew University in Jerusalem.

An open letter to administrators from University of Regina faculty highlights the kind of instruction on offer in the Policing and Homeland Security Studies program in the Faculty of Law at Hebrew University: “faculty expertise in this program includes ‘Policing terrorism, Political violence and protest policing, Minorities and law enforcement, Terrorism and crime, and Terror and society.’”

An article in the student newspaper The Carillon in late January alerted students to the proposed collaboration.

Speaking on condition of anonymity for fear of complications when returning to Palestine, a University of Regina alumnus and Regina resident says, “It’s a shame that the Board [of Governors] or the administration within the Faculty of Business kept it so low key. An educational institution is supposed to keep open channels of communication.”

According to the alumnus, “It says a lot about the nature of this co-operation [with Hebrew University] or even of the nature of this Faculty of Business. Maybe they know that this is bad publicity for them.”

Palestinians line up at an Israeli checkpoint near Bethlehem. Photo: Flickr/delayed gratification

The president and the dean

Following a 2012 trip to Israel as part of a delegation of Canadian academics, University President Vianne Timmons praised the work of Israeli academics in the fields of justice and police studies. “Israel is a leader in innovation,” she told the Canadian Jewish News.

President Timmons has declined interview requests regarding the potential MBA arrangement with Hebrew University, directing inquiries to the Dean of the Faculty of Business Administration, Andrew Gaudes.

When asked what Palestinian students on campus thought of the proposed partnership, Gaudes said in an interview, “I don’t know of any Palestinian students here on our campus.”

Asked if Palestinian students would be able to participate in courses delivered at Hebrew University, or if they could face unique travel restrictions, Gaudes said he had not looked into the matter: “There’s no point in me looking at something that’s not relevant to the program.”

But this rings hollow for Palestinian students. The Palestinian alumnus as well as a current Palestinian graduate student in the Faculty of Business Administration say that as Palestinians with dual (Palestinian-Canadian) citizenship they cannot enter Israel, nor can their Palestinian family and friends in the West Bank enter East Jerusalem, where Hebrew University is situated.

“They might approve [the visas] here, but that’s not what matters,” says the alumnus, stressing that it’s not Hebrew University but the Israeli military that has final say on travel and entry permits.

The current MBA student adds that millions of displaced Palestinians around the world are denied entry to their homeland. “So how is Dean Gaudes going to get them the visas to enter? It doesn’t make any sense,” she says.

Noting President Timmons’ remarks following her official visit to Israel in 2012, I asked the Dean which university administrators were behind the proposed partnership with Hebrew University. He said that the entire process was internal to the Faculty of Business. This account is not convincing for some.

The alumnus, who travels home to the West Bank annually, says, “The Faculty of Business does not make decisions for the university. [The President] knows exactly what’s going on.” He’s also skeptical of the Dean’s position that course content is the only consideration in such an arrangement.

“I’m taking courses in project management,” he says, “where they teach us that before entering into procurement agreements, it’s best practice to look at the firm’s history, to look at their policies, to look at their culture. You don’t just look at what you’re going to be getting from them, you look at everything in the background of that institution or corporation you’re going into a contract with. That’s important. If you’re skipping that step, you’re entering blindly.”

He points out that earlier this month, just days after my interview with the Dean, Israeli security forces stormed the campus of al-Quds Open University in the West Bank, firing at least 70 rounds of tear gas at students.

No ethics, no problem

When I sat down with the Dean in his office, I drew his attention to a recently published Amnesty International report called “Trigger-happy: Israel’s use of excessive force in the West Bank.” The report states, “Israel’s security forces have displayed a callous disregard for human life by killing scores of Palestinian civilians, including children, in the occupied West Bank over the past three years with near total impunity.”

I asked Gaudes how he reconciled this information with selecting an Israeli institution as an appropriate place for his students to learn public safety management and policing.

After an initial pause, Gaudes said he hoped that students from the program who “become mid to senior managers in the area of public safety” would be “more mindful of the impacts [of their decisions] at the ground level.” Referring to the Amnesty report, he said, “My hope is that if we’re educating managers [who] make decisions that can lead towards that possible outcome, they think twice.”

The irony of Gaudes’ remarks about mindfulness and the implications of decisions “at the ground level” is not lost on students. When reminded that undergraduates in the Faculty of Business must take courses in ethics and decision-making, Gaudes reiterated that his only consideration at this stage is the course content Hebrew University offers.

“It’s shocking that he would make that comment,” says the Palestinian alumnus.

“I’m worried about the content of what’s going to be delivered,” he says. “And not just the content. If it’s being conducted, where’s this research going to be put to test? Where’s it going to go? In decision-making in Canada or is it going to influence decision-making in Israel? That’s a big thing.”

It’s a chilling question for Palestinian students. “To me the content of what Hebrew University wants to do makes me think of a guinea pig experiment,” continues the University of Regina graduate. “From a Palestinian perspective, I look at myself right now as a guinea pig, because the policies that come out of Israeli universities inform the decision-making within the army. It serves the army that’s enforcing the occupation.”

Palestinian children stand in the rubble of a school in Gaza destroyed by Israeli shelling. Photo: Ashraf Amra/APA images

It is also of concern to Indigenous activists here in Canada, who are key targets of policing and surveillance operations. The website of the Office of the President at the University of Regina proudly incorporates Indigenization into the university’s mandate and vision. Yet, policies to impose Israeli curriculum on Palestinian students in East Jerusalem have resonances with Canada’s residential school system.

It’s part of an attempt “to slowly erase Palestinian identity,” says the former student. I asked the Dean how the partnership with Hebrew University would fit with the university’s commitment to Indigenization. He seemed confused by the question, before saying that he didn’t know.

The university’s reputation

The MBA student, meanwhile, is surprised by the Dean’s apparent lack of concern about the Faculty’s reputation and credibility. “I’ve been here a long time,” she says, “and all the instructors come into the class in the Faculty of Business Administration and say ‘we have to link all the courses together. What you learn in organizational behavior has to be linked to human resources, ethics has to be linked to statistics.’”

There is a sense of betrayal in her remarks: “Now if I’m sitting in the classroom and someone is standing in front of me lecturing from the Faculty of Business Administration about ethics? I would stand up and say that’s hypocrisy. You guys are teaching one thing and you’re doing something else. They will lose credibility with their students. It’s going to affect them really badly. I can’t believe they didn’t consider ethics in this way.”

Andrew Stevens, an assistant professor in the Faculty of Business Administration and a signatory of the open letter from faculty, has expressed similar concerns: “a partnership with Hebrew University, especially in the area of public safety and policing, could do damage to our reputation.”

Academic boycott

The MBA student says that had she known such a partnership might become reality, she never would have enrolled in the Faculty of Business at the University of Regina. She is likely not alone in this view, especially as the international campaign of boycott, divestment, and sanctions against Israel continues to build momentum on campuses worldwide.

Even in the U.S., where pro-Israel sentiment and propaganda is pervasive, the American Studies Association recently voted to endorse a boycott of Israeli academic institutions.

“The academic institutions and the [Israeli] army are interconnected and they influence one another. You cannot separate them,” says the MBA student, before underlining her central point: “The Faculty of Business Administration is actually supporting the occupation if it goes ahead with the partnership with Hebrew University.”

There has been no final decision on the proposed partnership, and it is not too late for administrators at the University of Regina to find more appropriate, more inclusive, and more respectable institutional partners abroad.

If you would like to join concerned students and faculty at the University of Regina and groups including Independent Jewish Voices (Canada), the Regina Peace Council, and the Regina Public Interest Research Group (RPIRG) in calling for this partnership to be abandoned, please write to:

Dean Andrew Gaudes: Andrew DOT Gaudes AT
Associate Dean Ron Camp: Ronald DOT Camp AT
President Vianne Timmons: the DOT president AT

  • First published at Briarpatch, an award-winning independent magazine of politics and culture magazine.
  • Andrew Loewen is an editor at Briarpatch Magazine. Read other articles by Andrew, or visit Andrew's website.