Defend Academic Freedom and Support a Free Palestine!

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May 19th, 2021

Jewish, Palestinian, Black, Indigenous and Racialized Faculty Defend Academic Freedom and Support a Free Palestine!

We, the undersigned, are deeply troubled by the repression of speech, cultural production and scholarly research on Palestine.  A recent example of particular concern is the rescinding by the University of Toronto of an employment offer to Dr. Valentina Azarova, a respected international Human Rights Scholar, following interference from a donor who complained to advancement personnel about Azarova’s research on Palestine. Beyond this incident, we know that scholars, including faculty, students, and staff, are explicitly and tacitly warned away from researching, writing, and speaking about state violence, settler colonialism, and dispossession undertaken by the Israeli State. Palestinian, Jewish, Black, Indigenous, and racialized faculty are especially surveilled in this regard.

Over the years, governments and academic institutions around the globe have clamped down on Palestinian free speech even as we witness Israel’s escalating attacks on Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza and inside 1948 territories (or Israel proper) have increased. The growing pressure on academic institutions to adopt the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) working definition, including its examples - a definition used to attack speech and research that criticizes Israel as anti-Semitic, has been chilling.  The IHRA definition fails to offer a robust definition of antisemitism within an anti-racist and decolonial framework.  We believe that all universities require vigorous policies to counter and deal with antisemitism, Islamophobia, anti-Black racism, anti-Indigenous racism, homophobia, transphobia, and all other forms of discrimination.

Last year we witnessed a revolt led by Black peoples and Indigenous peoples globally to end police killings and colonial and settler colonial violence. Because of the important organizing by Palestinian people, Black and Indigenous peoples, we are now witnessing a global shift around the world signalling a determined refusal to injustices, human rights abuses, human destruction and genocide.

We are bearing witness to an uprising in Palestine, including Jerusalem, where Palestinian women are standing up to the Israeli military.  Palestinians are experiencing ethnic cleansing and apartheid policies.  Here in Canada and around the world, thousands have taken to the streets to support a free Palestine and an end to the escalating Israeli attacks that have left 1,500 Palestinians from various neighbourhoods, including Sheikh Jarrah facing forced displacement.

As academics, artists, researchers and scholar-activists whose work focuses on justice, human rights, liberation, freedom, Indigenous self-determination, and abolition, we cannot and will not be silent.

A free Palestine is within reach. Our freedom as scholars to say this is imperative. 



• Call for the recognition of a Free Palestine and an immediate end to Israel’s attacks on the Palestinian people in the West Bank, Gaza and Sheik Jarrah. We also demand an end to the settlers’ violence against Arab/Palestinian cities, including Haifa, Yafa, al-Lid, Acca, alRamleh, the Triangle and the Galilee.

• Support the CAUT censure of U of T and demand that U of T immediately takes steps to end the censure.

• Demand that universities refuse to incorporate the IHRA working definition to penalize Palestinian free speech and undermine academic freedom.

• Call for universities to provide substantive funding to hire and support Palestinian scholars, both faculty and students, and Palestinian-led scholarship

• Call on our institutions to respect student activism on Palestinian issues on our campus and hold accountable universities that violate academic freedom

• Demand that universities clarify with advancement personnel and to donors that interference in hiring is not permitted, and that repression of academic freedom with regard to Israel and Palestine is not tolerated. 

• Demand that universities publicly affirm and protect the academic freedom of all university employees to research, write and speak in support of a free Palestine, including the endorsement of (Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions). 



Deb Cowen,  University of Toronto

Nahla Abdo, Carleton University

b.h.Yael,  OCAD University

Eve Tuck, University of Toronto

Rinaldo Walcott, University of Toronto

Anna Zalik, York University

Min Sook Lee, OCAD University/ Scholar Strike Canada

Beverly Bain, University of Toronto/ Scholar Strike Canada

Natalie Kouri-Towe, University of Concordia

Chandni Desai, University of Toronto

Abigail Bakan, University of Toronto

Sheryl Nestel, University of Toronto

Christina Sharpe, York University

Shahrzad Mojab, University of Toronto

Reuben Roth, Independent Scholar

Alan Sears, Ryerson University

Rebecca Comay, University of Toronto