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By Roman Khazin

Ontario’s largest university workers’ union is threatening to boycott Israeli universities and profs who don’t condemn Israel’s military action in Gaza.

But Ryerson President Sheldon Levy is having none of it.

“It doesn’t have any legal binding,” Levy said. “It tries to persuade you, it won’t persuade me.

“It has no impact at all about anything.”

The Canadian Union of Public Employees’ Ontario branch’s proposal was made to protest the Israeli bombing of the Islamic University during the ongoing Gaza Strip conflict. Sid Ryan, president of CUPE’s Ontario branch, said it would apply to Israeli educational institutions, like universities, rather than individual academics.

Marina Milner-Bolotin, a physics teacher at Ryerson, said that a boycott is counterproductive in attempting to resolve the conflict.

“(Israelis and Palestinians) need help right now in building bridges, and not throwing stones at each other,” said Milner-Bolotin.

She taught and conducted research at Israel’s Weizmann Institute of Science before immigrating to Canada in 2001. She would not be affected by the boycott since she is a Canadian resident.

Ryan stands by CUPE’s proposal.

“The message trying to be sent here is that it’s not acceptable to occupy a nation for 40 years,” Ryan said.

Ryan maintains that the boycott would still allow individuals to retain their academic freedom.

Ryan considers missing input from Israeli institutions less important than an attempt to achieve human rights goals, which he said the proposal will promote.

Avner Levin, chair of the law and business department at Ryerson’s business program, said the boycott is Ryan’s attempt to gain publicity.

“The story here is not of Israeli academics, the real issue is Sid Ryan,” said Levin. He received two bachelor’s degrees from Israel’s Tel-Aviv University before coming to Canada in 1994. He began teaching at Ryerson in 2002.

Levin also condemned Ryan’s comparison of the Islamic University bombing to Nazi book burning as an opportunity to exploit a serious situation. He said that Ryan should instead focus on resolving the strike at York University.

Like Milner-Bolotin, Levin said that Ryan’s proposal does not work towards creating dialogue about the Middle East conflict.

“(Ryan) doesn’t contribute to having a real debate,” he said. “He’s just a distraction.”

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