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Student protesters at McGill encampment say first talks with university administration not fruitful

Pro-Palestinian student protesters at McGill University say they have started talks with school administrators about their demands that the university cut all ties with Israeli companies and academic institutions.

Student protesters staying put after meeting McGill officials Monday

A group of people around microphones outdoors.

Pro-Palestinian student protesters at McGill University say school administrators failed to give a "clear timeline" in the first meeting about their demands that the university cut ties with Israeli academic institutions and pull all investments from companies that operate in the country.

In a news conference Monday afternoon, the student protesters said they would be staying put until further notice.

"We are waiting for actual divestments and are announcing that the encampment will continue as long as we don't have concrete news of divestment," said encampment protester and Concordia University student Ari Nahman.

Two McGill student protesters — one of them said they were a member of Independent Jewish Voices and the other said they were Palestinian — also spoke to reporters but refused to share their names because of past disciplinary actions the university has taken against students for protesting.

tents of many colour within a fence

The protesters set up an encampment 10 days ago on the front lawn of McGill's downtown campus on Sherbrooke Street. The camp began with about 20 tents and soon grew to cover a large area of the lawn, now operating like a "tiny city," Nahman told The Canadian Press over the weekend.

After a tumultuous first week where the camp faced pressure to dismantle from McGill president Deep Saini, who asked for "police assistance" on campus, as well as from a court injunction request that was ultimately rejected, things were calm at the encampment over the weekend and Monday.

Saini has offered to hold a forum "with members of the McGill community to discuss your various demands and any contrary views in a peaceful, respectful and civilized manner."

That offer was at first rebuffed. The university has not yet commented on Monday's talks with students.

The protesters said they will be having further meetings with McGill — but they say their demand for divestment if firm.

Daniel Schwartz, an assistant professor at McGill's faculty of languages, literatures and cultures, said he and a large group of professors from Montreal universities stand behind the students. "The students' demands are clear and have been for years as they have tried to access official channels to make themselves heard," Schwartz said.

"Over and over, they have been faced with intimidation, threats and attempts to repress this movement for freedom and justice. This is unacceptable and we stand with them today. We are optimistic with this first step that McGill will be acting in good faith."

On Sunday, the university said it was working "diligently and in good faith with all interested parties."

A professor speaks with reporters at the encampment.

4 demands

On a large piece of fabric hung on the fence surrounding the encampment, protesters listed four demands of McGill:

  • Disclose investments "in companies complicit in the genocide in Palestine."
  • Pull investments from such companies and "cut ties with Israeli academic institutions."
  • "Protect students' right to protest" and not take disciplinary action against them.
  • "Publicly condemn the ongoing genocide of Palestinians and call for the government to cease all arms deals with Israel."

In late January, the International Court of Justice (ICJ) in The Hague ordered Israel to do everything in its power to prevent acts of genocide in Gaza.

Hamas's attack on Israel last fall led to the capture of more than 250 hostages and killed around 1,200 people, according to Israeli officials. According to the Hamas-run Gaza Health Ministry, the retaliatory bombing campaign and ground offensive has killed more than 34,000 Palestinians.

Encampment protesters and supporters often reference McGill and Concordia University's investments in Lockheed Martin, a weapons manufacturer with direct ties to the Israel Defence Forces (IDF).

According to McGill's latest listed equity mandates dated March 31, 2024, the school has a $535,531 holding in the company. Recent estimates of McGill's endowment fund state it's worth about $1.8 billion.

Ali Salman, a Concordia student at the encampment, listed Tel Aviv University as an example of an Israeli school the protesters would like McGill and Concordia to cut ties with due to its "with research and development of weapons that are used on Palestinians."

Avishai Infeld, a former McGill student who is a member of Hillel Montreal, which helped organize a pro-Israel counter-protest on Thursday, said he took issue with that demand.

"It was one of the most integrated places I've actually seen in Israel. Arabs, Jews, people of all nationalities and backgrounds studying together," Infeld said Thursday of a semester he spent at The Hebrew University of Jerusalem.

"These arguments of divestment, especially from academic institutions — it just simply makes no sense to me."

People are setting up equipment on the encampment site.

Salman, the Concordia student, told The Canadian Press Friday that the encampment was "not growing" anymore and had turned down hundreds of offers from people wanting to join it.

Friday, Mayada Elsabbagh, a McGill professor at the school's medical faculty who has been supporting the students' encampment, said she felt hopeful McGill would do more than it has in the past in response to similar demands.

"I feel like this growth in the advocacy movement, not just in numbers, but in its diversity, in its understanding of several causes over the world, is really a huge asset to them. And for that, they give me a lot of hope that what we failed to do 20 years ago might still be possible," Elsabbagh said.

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Credit belongs to : www.cbc.ca

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