This article was originally published on August 8, 2017 on Canada Talks Israel Palestine.
On July 20 an Israel lobby organization named UN Watch wrote to Amit Chakma, President of the University of Western Ontario saying it was “shocked” to discover that Western has been providing Professor Michael Lynk with support for his “prejudicial mandate.” (According to the UN that mandate is “to assess the human rights situation in the Occupied Palestinian Territory (and) report publicly about it”.)
UN Watch is a Geneva based organization which describes itself as “concerned with the just application of UN Charter principles”. It is specially focussed on Israel and what it calls “the disproportionate attention and unfair treatment applied by the UN toward Israel.” Former Canadian Minister of Justice Irwin Cotler, a strong advocate of Israel, is on the UN Watch board of directors.
The letter demanded that Western “cease and desist providing (i) research assistants; (ii) office space, (iii) administrative assistance, and (iv) any other form of support, for Mr. Lynk’s discriminatory mandate.” Oddly, most of the letter was a personal attack on Lynk and on his UN mandate over which neither Lynk nor Western have any control.
In a reply the next day, the University President rejected these demands. He told UN Watch that, as a full-time member of Western’s law faculty, Lynk is entitled to office space and access to a shared research assistant.
Chakma also pointed out that provision of space by universities to professors who work on UN mandates is a common practice. At least 10 UN special rapporteurs receive in kind support from their universities.
After the issue came to the attention of the media, other voices chimed in to defend the actions of the University and the right of Professor Lynk to carry out his mandate without interference.
Lawyer’s Rights Watch Canada (LRWC) wrote directly to Global Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland condemning the attempted intimidation of Professor Lynk in the fulfilment of a mandate of the United Nations and demanding the minister provide protection to Special Rapporteur Lynk. LRWC reminded her that the UN “Calls upon states to ensure adequate protection from intimidation or reprisals for individuals and members of groups who seek to cooperate (…) with the United Nations, its representatives and mechanisms in the field of human rights”.
It’s not clear what UN Watch hopes to achieve with this attack on academic freedom, Professor Lynk and the office of the Special Rapporteur on the Occupied Palestinian territories. Perhaps it hopes some of Western’s donors will try to use financial pressure on the university to help shield Israel from public scrutiny. That might happen. But so far it seems to have run into strong opposition from both the academic and legal communities.