By: Olivia Visser, Staff Writer
On April 20, 2022, the Simon Fraser Student Society (SFSS) council passed a Palestinain Issues Policy with a unanimous vote.
The policy establishes systemic advocacy for Palestinians by denouncing the war crimes carried out against Palestine by the state of Israel. It also allows for the consolidation of SFSS resources to lobby the Canadian government for further action.
In an interview with The Peak, student organizer and Free Palestine Working Group member Parsa Alirezaei, and Free Palestine Working Group member Tuleen Awad discussed the importance of this policy.
Awad and Alirezaei said because of the Israeli occupation of Palestine, Palestinian students are “constantly met with collective punishment and incarceration.”
According to Alirezaei and Awad, SFU has been complicit in Israeli settler-colonial practices and noted that such practices would not be possible without the “support of other settler colonies’ institutions.
“Academic institutions, by their very nature, are part of an apparatus built to legitimize certain ideas that maintain the power structures of the status quo. This is constantly in conflict with their propensity for critical investigation and insistence on building a better world. By not supporting Palestinians, institutions like SFU risk betraying their socially conscious façade,” said Alirezaei and Awad.
Previous vice-president equity and sustainability Marie Haddad echoed similar intentions in the SFSS press release, stating solidarity with Palestinians is “essential to improve the conditions of Palestinian students within membership and Palestinians in the occupied territories who are drastically being impacted and silenced.”
According to their press release, the SFSS has previously passed issues policies to clarify their “approach to social justice” regarding “financial, socio-political, and academic advocacy.” Past initiatives include policies on climate justice, Indigenous inclusion and reconciliation, and Black History Month.
When asked about the importance of taking an official standpoint, current SFSS vice-president equity and sustainability Rea Chatterjee said, “70 universities have already passed these motions in solidarity.” SFU members must “understand that we are part of a larger movement.”
Establishing an official policy in support of Palestinians creates a safer space for conversations that have not always been protected on an institutional level. Alirezaei and Awad mentioned that “Canadian institutions, students, staff, and faculty are often targets of smear campaigns conducted by the Israel lobby. Canadian universities have often been complicit and rarely provide the necessary protection that their own members require.”
Locally and abroad, smear campaigns are a tactic used to control public opinion by damaging someone’s reputation. Palestinian Canadian writer Dr. Khaled Barakat was the victim of a smear campaign in April following an article published by the National Post.
The SFSS noted in their press release, “This policy serves as a framework to not only normalize and center Palestinian discourse and struggle but will serve as a catalyst for further actions that SFSS and many other student unions are able to take going forward.”
Activists recognize the policy is only one part of a global movement to support the plight of Palestinians. When asked about further action that SFU should take, Alirezaei and Awad said, “Cut off all ties with Israeli institutions and institutions complicit in upholding Israeli apartheid; and as stated previously, support students, staff, and faculty when they speak out against Israeli actions.”
Chatterjee said, “SFU can hold itself accountable to it’s commitments to decolonization by actively speaking out against the injustices that Palestinian students, staff and faculty face as well as publicly denounce Israeli acts of terror.”
Alirezaei and Awad encouraged students to join local movements supporting Palestinians, and pressure institutional powers to take supportive action.
“There are so many ways to become involved, Chatterjee commented, citing Samidoun and Students for Justice in Palestine among other organizations. “The student base is huge and willing and we can truly mobilize so we become a part of this larger movement.”