At its May 2024 meeting, the Living Skies Regional Council Executive carefully considered a request that it sign on to a letter to the University of Saskatchewan-affiliated Global Institute for Food Security regarding its working partnership with a number of Israeli institutions with connections to the Israeli military. It then approved adding the Regional Council’s name to the letter, in keeping with United Church of Canada’s longstanding policies and beliefs related to Israel’s military occupation of the Palestinian territories.

In turn, these policies are guided by Israeli and Palestinian global partners who for generations have lived with and under the Occupation; and by longstanding Christian commitments to non-violent economic measures that can be used to bring about negotiation and social change. The United Church supports the 2009 Kairos Palestine call for non violent economic measures, just as it supported the boycott, divestment, and sanctions tools that contributed to South Africa’s transition from apartheid to democracy.

The letter to the GIFS is here; this version does not have our signature added.

Context for the letter

The letter was initiated by citizens and groups concerned the GIFS, which receives substantial  provincial public money, and is in partnership with a number of Israeli groups which have ties to the Israeli military. The signatories also point out that starvation of Palestinians is being used a deliberate tactic in the war, which is hardly in keeping with the mandate of a group concerned with food security.

The letter notes, “Each of the Israeli institutions currently collaborating with GIFS has deep ties with the Israeli government and military, ranging from research and development of weapons and military doctrine used by Israeli forces to hosting an army base on campus and providing financial incentives to students who participate in military incursions. Some Israeli GIFS collaborators also have direct connections with the Israeli government through agricultural research or other mechanisms, raising concerns amid the ongoing war on Gaza.”

It further notes, “GIFS’s guiding values of integrity, excellence, and innovation should not be compromised. Using starvation as a weapon of war is a war crime under International Humanitarian Law and Geneva Convention Protocols, and certainly violates GIFS’s guiding values.”

Update on response to the letter

The coordinating group sent the letter to GIFS on April 15th,  received a response from them, and then had a meeting with GIFS on June 19th. Living Skies Region did not have a representative at that meeting, as the Regional meeting took place June 13-16 and the Executive and staff were heavily involved.

The group reported, “From our discussion with GIFS, we concluded that their collaboration with Israeli institutions is researcher-to-researcher rather than institutional. This collaboration is scheduled to conclude in September 2024. We understand that there are no plans to extend the collaboration beyond this date. We believe our communication with GIFS leadership and science leads effectively conveyed our opposition to any future collaboration with Israeli institutions, and that GIFS’ response suggests they are concerned about the possibility of public opposition drawing attention to connections with Israel. We are hopeful that this will deter GIFS from pursuing any formal collaborations with these institutions in the future.

Given these developments, and because joint research between individual academics is outside the scope of the academic boycott as defined by the Palestinian BDS National Committee (BNC), we have decided not to make the letter public at this stage and will revisit the situation in September. While this represents an adjustment to our initial plan, we feel that our engagement with GIFS has been effective in serving our ultimate goal of encouraging institutions in Saskatchewan to reconsider their collaborations with Israeli organizations on their own terms.”

The link to the original letter is included here, despite our Regional Council website being public, so that our membership and delegates have access to it. As the terrible violence across the occupied Palestinian Territories grinds on, and the death, injury, and trauma toll of civilians and captives continues to grow, there will no doubt continue to be conversations and requests related to non-violent responses such as boycott, divestment, and sanctions. Canada, and the United Church, are implicated in this crisis whether we want to be or not, and our membership is encouraged to learn more about the Occupation and BDS.