The recent surge in violence between Israel and Palestine has attracted great attention from the media, world leaders, and global institutions alike. Like many other universities in Ontario, UW released a statement concerning “violence in the Middle East” on Oct. 9.
On Oct. 16, UW president Vivek Goel released a lengthier statement to students and faculty expressing sorrow for “those who are grieving unimaginable loss” of “innocent Israelis and Palestinians, Jews, Muslims and Christians.” He also expressed condemnation on behalf of the university for “the terrorist attack by Hamas” as well as “the worsening humanitarian conditions in Gaza.” At the time of the release, Israeli retaliation had left over 3,000 dead and 9,600 injured in Gaza.
In the following days, Goel’s statements received backlash from students and faculty members at UW. Criticism has been expressed through an open letter released by the community, which at the time of writing has gathered more than 200 student and faculty signatures. The letter criticized Goel’s lack of condemnation towards Israeli attacks on Palestinian civilians, as well as the failure to acknowledge the long history between Israel and Palestine. In particular, the letter cited Goel’s failure to acknowledge Palestinian casualties, Israel’s long history of committing war crimes, and the fact that the statement was released after a mass attack on Israel yet no comments had ever been made regarding the 17-year blockade on Gaza.
The UW club Voices for Palestine also wrote in an Instagram post that the university’s Oct. 16 statement “fell woefully short in addressing the heinous actions of the Israeli regime in its oppression and genocide of innocent Palestinian civilians in Gaza.” The club asked Goel to revise his statement and “present a consistent denouncement against the human rights breaches by the Israeli regime.”
On Reddit, one student wrote that “President Vivek Goel’s statement [on Oct. 16] was weak and frustrating.” Another student commented, saying the statement has “a clear bias.”
The comments made by UW students and faculty echo responses from other campus communities across Ontario. Students at universities including Concordia, Queen’s, and the University of Toronto have criticized their institutions’ statements for displaying “double-standards” and being “hypocritical”.
The collective response from both students and faculty led to the release of another statement on Oct. 24. Goel acknowledged that members of the UW community felt that his previous statement “fell short of what was needed.” He also tried to clarify that the university does not support “the decision by the Israeli government to cut off food and electricity from innocent civilians of Gaza.” He added that “all parties in such conflicts should abide by the rules of international law and Geneva convention[s].” While Goel did apologize for “statements that have been seen as hurtful for some members of [the UW] community,” he also stated that “academic institutions don’t take stand on issues beyond their scope.”