May 1, 2013

Activist speaks out against SAIA ban at the University of Manitoba

Rebel Youth is reprinting the below letter from an activist and alumni of the University of Manitoba, against the latest attempt to muzzle speech exposing US-Israeli war crimes and atrocities in occupied Palestine on Canadian campuses. 

Zionists at the University of Manitoba in the university’s Student Union (UMSU) reciently passed a resolution {read the motion here} to ban the Student Against Israeli Apartheid (SAIA) and its activities from campus on April 11, in a 19-16 divided vote, against the legal advice of the student union’s lawyer.

As the website reported, "the ill-worded resolution claims that most 'Jewish and Israeli members of the UMSU are Zionists which … are supporters of Zionism, international movement for the support of Israel.' It further claimed that “Zionists are a "group of persons" who have national characteristics, Israel being a nation-state.'"

This happened shortly after a student union elections campaign focused on silencing supporters of Palestine. Many Jews and Israelis – students at the University of Manitoba or otherwise – are not Zionist, and this statement attempts to conflate religious identity and national origin with a specific, and racist, political ideology.

As Amy Darwish, a U of M student of Jewish and Palestinian ancestry, wrote:
progressive Jewish students like me are part of Israeli Apartheid Week in many campuses. We believe Palestinians and Jews should have equal rights, and are not afraid to criticize Israel’s actions. 
This year, Israeli Apartheid Week was held in more than 100 cities, featuring workshops, film screenings, conferences and cultural events aiming to build momentum around the global boycott, divestment, and sanctions campaign against Israeli racial discrimination which we call apartheid. During these events, IAW activists maintain firm anti-harassment policies, and opposition to all forms of discrimination, including anti-Semitism and Islamophobia.
Sign a letter to support U of M SAIA here:

Statement from Paul Burrows:

I am an alumnus of the U of M, a former UMSU Council member, and former member of the GSA executive. All I can say is that the recent motion to ban a student group for its political perspective is unprecedented, appalling, and a clear violation of core elements of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

Furthermore, to do so based on the "feelings" of Council members who clearly have their own, diametrically-opposed, viewpoint on the Israel-Palestine conflict (i.e., they are not exactly non-partisan voices, but in fact self-identified "Zionists"), suggests further that the motion's claims of "harassment" are disingenuous at best.

As someone who was also a member of the Manitoba Coalition Against Racism and Apartheid, as well as Students Against Apartheid [i.e., in South Africa] back in the 1980s, I can honestly say that this motion does a disservice to genuine anti-racist work. By falsely equating criticism of the State of Israel with criticism of Jews, and erasing a long and rich history of Jewish anti-Zionism (including the fact that many members of SAIA and similar groups across the continent are Jewish), this motion weakens, rather than strengthens, efforts to combat genuine anti-Semitism.

I can also say that if a similar motion had been raised in 1989 to ban the original Students Against Apartheid at U of M campus -- ostensibly because white people's "feelings" were being hurt, and they felt "discriminated" against by virtue of the simple fact that South Africa's white supremacist apartheid system was being criticized -- such a motion would have been laughed out of Council chambers, and seen for what it was: a pro-apartheid ruse.

This ban will not stand -- not just because we have a Charter in this country that magnanimously "grants" us things such as free expression, freedom of association, and so on. But more importantly, because most people today believe those rights to be innate and self-evident, regardless of what the "Law" is said to confer. I predict that this motion will, in fact, increase the membership of SAIA, provoke a lawsuit against UMSU, and ultimately blowback against the foolish architects of this obtuse, authoritarian gambit. In the future, I would suggest the self-described Zionists who drafted this motion stick to old-fashioned exercises, such as actually *debating* their adversaries. I realize that might require inconvenient things like: facts, arguments, logic, and even moral underpinnings. But these have never been the strong suit of those on the wrong side of social justice. No wonder, then, that they -- and their favoured State of Israel -- have typically resorted to more blunt instruments.

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