Caption: Kevin Shimmin, Union Organizer at UFCW Canada (left) and Rima Najjar protesting Tel Aviv University’s “Changemakers” event at the Marriott Hotel in Toronto, May 7, 2023
At the Marriott Hotel in Toronto where my brother and I were staying on the 7th of May 2023, we noticed posters advertising an event called “The Changemakers Evening.” The “changemaker” turned out to be Tel Aviv University (TAU) in Canada, which was marketing its Center for Nanoscience and boasting of “advancing society” and “changing the world one discovery at a time.”
Caption: TAU “Changemakers” event announcements at the Marriott Hotel in Toronto
Tel Aviv University is oblivious to the changemaking the Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions (BDS) movement demands. On its academic boycott website, BDS describes Israeli universities as “major, willing and persistent accomplices in Israel’s regime of occupation, settler-colonialism and apartheid. They are involved in developing weapon systems and military doctrines deployed in Israel’s recent war crimes in Lebanon and Gaza, justifying the ongoing colonization of Palestinian land, rationalizing gradual ethnic cleansing of indigenous Palestinians, providing moral justification for extra-judicial killings, systematically discriminating against ‘non-Jewish’ students, and other implicit and explicit violations of human rights and international law.”
For all its vaunted technological discoveries, the Center for Nanoscience has yet to make the discovery that Zionism is a fascist, racist regime.
After noticing the advertised event at the hotel and with the help of my cousins Iman and Radi Annab with whom we were having lunch that day, I made a poster and paraded it in front of the hotel at the start of the event in the early evening. The poster said, “Tel Aviv University / Want to make change? / Boycott Israeli Apartheid / Israeli Universities are complicit in the ongoing ethnic cleansing of Palestine / Israel is a racist settler-colonial regime / Free Palestine.”
The conversation I had with three of the participants from Tel Aviv University who approached me pretty much echoed the conversation I had with an Israeli couple I met in Dubai last year (See Upon encountering Israeli Jews in Dubai.)
— What do you know about Tel Aviv University?
— I am Palestinian.
— Where are you from?
— Lifta and Ijzim. Where are you from?
— I mean originally.
— Tunisia, Bulgaria, Poland, Russia. Russia where there were pogroms, have you heard of pogroms?
— Yes I have and also of the Nakba. The two have nothing to do with each other.
Caption: Rima Najjar (left) and Bar Levy
Bar Levy (Tunisia/Bulgaria) with whom I had the longest conversation proclaimed himself a proud Zionist who wanted peace: He was confident, patronizing (I see in your eyes you are a nice lady) and not moved at all by anything I said but consented to have his picture taken “without the poster.”
The highlight of my one-woman protest demonstration in front of the Marriott hotel in Toronto was the encounter with one passerby who turned out to be Kevin Shimmin, Union Organizer at UFCW Canada. He, of course, was in full sympathy and solidarity and it was a pleasure to talk to him. (Twitter account: @KevinShimmin)
Israel’s dynamic and extensive high-tech innovation, the kind of innovation Tel Aviv University in Canada is boasting about, is a result of decades-long colonial ventures and regional wars. My one-woman protest gesture today falls short in highlighting the “vicious nature” of these innovations, as well as “the complicity in global atrocities, and profitability of innovation to Israel’s war economy… [and] the ways in which Israeli military forces and security companies are jointly involved in experimentation, using new weapons and unmanned devices on the Palestinian civilians.”
But I had to try.
The fact is that TAU itself is not the source of innovation. It is the Israeli military that recruits graduates to do the work and pours money into it. Tel Aviv University is not only complicit; it is also a fig leaf for the Israeli military.
Note: First published on Medium
Rima Najjar is a Palestinian whose father’s side of the family comes from the forcibly depopulated village of Lifta on the western outskirts of Jerusalem and whose mother’s side of the family is from Ijzim, south of Haifa. She is an activist, researcher and retired professor of English literature, Al-Quds University, occupied West Bank.