Open Letter: UBC faculty response to Interim President and Vice-Chancellor Deborah Buszard’s October 11 statement

Editor's Note: At time of publication, this letter has been endorsed by over 125 faculty members and over 1,030 students and community members. Its contents are current to October 19.

As members of the UBC academic community and educators committed to principles of social justice and equality, we are troubled by the statement that UBC Interim President Deborah Buszard issued on October 11 titled “Supporting the UBC Community.”

The statement explicitly refers to “the atrocities from the terrorist attacks on Israel” but remains silent regarding the ongoing state terror committed by Israel against Palestinians.

At the time of this writing, and as reported by UN bodies, human rights organizations and news agencies, Israel has:

  • Killed more than 3,500 Palestinians including over 1,000 children
  • Displaced over 260,000 civilians and ordered the forcible population transfer of over 1 million
  • Cut off supplies of food, water, medicine, fuel and electricity, along with humanitarian aid
  • Bombed schools, media offices, universities, ambulances, hospitals, houses of worship, and civilian residences
  • Used white phosphorous in its bombing of Gaza and southern Lebanon
  • Called for hospitals in Gaza to rapidly evacuate, which as the WHO states is a death sentence to the sick and injured.

These actions are a clear violation of international humanitarian law and amount to crimes against humanity. They are taking place while Israeli officials continuously dehumanize Palestinians. Israel’s defence minister called Palestinians “human animals.” Members of Israel’s House of Representatives, the Knesset, and apologists abroad openly advocate for slaughter, ethnic cleansing and collective punishment, amounting to another Nakba, or catastrophe, when over 750,000 Palestinians were expelled from their homes in 1948.

President Buszard’s statement also makes no reference to Palestine or Palestinians, choosing to refer instead to “Israel, Gaza and elsewhere." The erasure of Palestine as a geography, Palestinians as a people, and their plight as a nation dehumanizes Palestinians and denies them the fundamental right to safety, security, freedom and liberation. It runs contrary to the claim that UBC is committed to “providing a safe, inclusive environment, with a shared value of peaceful relations.” UBC’s declared support for decolonization and practices of equity, diversity and inclusion ring hollow in light of this partisan approach.

Such dehumanization comes in the wake of similarly lopsided statements by UBC’s Faculty Association and other university administrations across Canada, the US, and the UK. Statements that erase or dehumanize Palestinians may have a dire impact in Palestine and in the diaspora, as made evident by the hate-driven murder of Wadea Al Fayoume, a six-year-old Palestinian-American child in Chicago.

In light of all of the above,

We send a message of support to all Palestinian colleagues and academic communities across North America and Europe that are facing a hostile climate of intimidation from their governments, media, and university administrations.

We affirm the right of the Palestinian people to freedom and sovereignty from Israeli occupation, settler colonialism, and apartheid.

We renew our commitment to the safety and well-being of UBC’s Palestinian students, faculty, staff and their allied colleagues. 

We demand that the UBC’s President’s office:

  1. Rectify the statement and condemn Israeli state violence and violations of international humanitarian law.
  2. Publicly denounce and actively prevent attempts to silence, demonize, or harass any student, staff or faculty member for expressing their solidarity or support for justice in Palestine.
  3. Reiterate UBC’s full commitment to protect academic freedom and freedom of speech, including the right to teach on Palestine and criticize any state or group’s crimes and violations of international humanitarian law
  4. Provide meaningful support to all faculty, staff and students who are subject to bullying or harassment in class or on campus as a result of their support for justice in Palestine.

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