Students occupy library to demand SFU’s divestment from Israel

They protested during the Board of Governors meeting

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Interior lobby of the Belzberg Library at SFU’s Habour Centre campus.
PHOTO: Victoria Lo / The Peak

By: Hannah Fraser, News Writer

Content warning: mentions of genocide and violence.

On May 23, SFU students occupied the downtown campus’ Belzberg Library to demand the university divest from military assets supplied to Israel and call for an immediate ceasefire. A broad coalition of SFU groups organized the protest, which was intended to coincide with SFU’s Board of Governors meeting. A rally was also held outside campus for over four hours, and there was a teach-in about “building community resistance.” 

In March, students protested at the Board meeting in-person with the same demands. Since then, the Board has moved their monthly meetings online

In an open letter to the Board asking for “divestment and accountability from SFU’s administration,” the coalition explained how SFU owns shares in major war contractors Booz Allen Hamilton, BAE Systems, and CAE Inc.  

“BAE is the sixth largest war contractor globally, with 97% of its revenue coming from military equipment, Booz Allen Hamilton derives 64% of revenue from war-related products, and CAE is Canada’s fourth largest war contractor,” the letter said. “The weapons and services of these corporations have collectively facilitated the killing, maiming, or displacement of millions of individuals.

“We can see no good reason why SFU would invest in an industry that enables and profits from such destruction, which disproportionately harms the most vulnerable members of our societies,” the coalition continued. There are now over 900 members and organizations from the SFU community who have signed the open letter.

“We’re going to take back libraries, we’re going to take back buildings, we’re going to disrupt things, disrupt the normal process of the institution until our demands are met.” — Artin Safaei, student protestor 

The Peak spoke to Artin Safaei, a political science student who was at the protest. According to Safaei, the coalition anticipated the Board wasn’t planning to discuss divestment, based on the response from the March meeting, so they felt it was necessary to raise the pressure. The protest gathered people from the UBC encampment and SFU’s Faculty for Palestine, “a network of faculty who support the cause of Palestinian liberation.”

“Now that you are not listening to us, we’re going to make you listen. We’re going to force you to listen to us,” Safaei said. “We’re going to take back libraries, we’re going to take back buildings, we’re going to disrupt things, disrupt the normal process of the institution until our demands are met,” he continued.

As students protested inside the library, they watched live screening of the Board meeting. The Board did not discuss divestment or calling for a ceasefire. Safaei said “they actively ignored” any such discussion as students protested right outside the Board’s meeting room.

In a statement to The Peak, Michael Russell from SFU’s media relations said the university “respects the right to peaceful protest,” including the demonstration at the Belzberg Library.

The student coalition expressed they “refuse to sit quietly by and allow the Board of Governors to violate SFU’s commitments to reconciliation, community engagement, anti-racism, and anti-oppression” by investing in genocide.

Safaei expressed universities are supposed to educate future leaders not to repeat histories of genocide and colonialism, so their inaction is “hypocritical and destructive.”

He said that while SFU administration implies they are working towards reconciliation by doing land acknowledgements, their investments “support a settler colonialist state.” He called this a “charade, a facade.”

On May 30, president Joy Johnson released a statement saying SFU and the Board are “looking for ways to make a meaningful difference and seeking information about SFU’s investment practices,” and acknowledged calls for divestment.

Johnson added there will be a  review process for SFU’s investments that will include consultation with experts and the community. This is the first time the university has officially responded to the SFU community’s calls for divestment and action since late 2023. 

This is an ongoing story that The Peak will continue to cover. 

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