Thursday, February 28, 2008

The following is an appeal from the Ontario Coalition Against Poverty (OCAP) for solidarity and participation in a public forum to be held at McMaster University tomorrow. The issue is the banning of the term 'Israeli Apartheid' from use by student groups at that institution. The term is actually quite apt, but Molly has a few reservations about the whole climate in which this situation has developed. Please see the 'Molly Comments' at the end of this article.
Defend the Right to Organize on Campus!
Two weeks ago, the McMaster Provost office, second in authority to that of the President's office, announced that student clubs were banned from using the term "Israeli Apartheid" (see statement from McMaster students below). On Friday, 29th February, students at McMaster are holding a public forum to protest this unprecedented attack on the right to, academic freedom and the right to organize.
They need your support!
Free buses will be leaving to McMaster from University of Toronto, Ryerson University and York University to attend this important meeting. The forum will begin at 10am with a rally immediately afterwards, and buses will return to Toronto around 2pm.
All are welcome (you don't need to be a university student) and transportation is free. Please RSVP as below.
Two buses courtesy of CUPE 3903, OPIRG U of T and the University of Toronto Students Union (UTSU)
Buses Leaving: 8:30am
Place: Hart House, 7 Hart House Circle University of Toronto
Bus courtesy of York Federation of Students
Buses Leaving: 8:30am
Place: Meet at Vari Hall
Bus courtesy of Ryerson Student Union,Local 24 Canadian Federation of Students
Buses Leaving: 8:30am sharp
Place: Student Centre, 55 Gould street
*** To send a message of support to the students at Mac, email:
Coalition Against Israeli Apartheid statement available at
We request that you send letters to the following persons who are responsible for this infringement on the basic democratic rights of McMaster students,faculty and community members:
McMaster University Provost, Dr. Ilene Busch-Vishniac:
McMaster University President, Dr. Peter George:
McMaster Student Union President, Ryan Moran:
Human Rights and Equity Services:
17 February 2008 United for Student Rights (U4SR) is holding a Public Forum to discuss the recent shocking decision by McMaster Student Union (MSU) and administration to unequivocally ban on campus the usage of the phrase "Israeli Apartheid".This decision was first passed by the McMaster Provost office, which is second in authority only to that of the President's office. It has been accepted by McMaster Human Rights & Equity Services (HRES) and, in turn, the MSU. This information was communicated to Solidarity for Palestinian Human Rights(SPHR)and McMaster Muslims for Peace & Justice (MMPJ) early in February 2008 by the MSU and HRES.
Due to this decision, these MSU approved clubs have not been able to get approval for various initiatives related to Israeli Apartheid. It is the MSU that is directly enforcing this decision, as it is the only campus body with jurisdiction over student clubs. MSU President, Ryan Moran, explained that though the MSU is not bound by this decision, it has chosen to implement it none the less. U4SR is calling on the MSU to rescind this decision immediately as part of opening up the discussion for all to decide.
Statement of Human Rights & Equity Services: "The university has taken the position that literature which refers to "Israeli apartheid" and activities promoted under the banner, "Israeli Apartheid Week" are unacceptable. The university takes the position that this phrase is in violation of the university's efforts to ensure that all people will be treated with dignity and tolerance."
According to the statement of HRES, banning Israeli Apartheid organizing is a matter of dignity and tolerance. In the view of those who use the term,opposing Israeli Apartheid is a matter of dignity and tolerance for the peoples of the Middle East and world over who are fighting for justice and for human rights. Clearly, there is a contradiction of a political nature between these two views. U4SR considers this decision unacceptable especially given that the recent decision of the Provost is in keeping with consistent efforts by the McMaster administration, MSU and even Hamilton Police to repress Palestinian solidarity work over the last six years. At every point, Palestinian solidarity views have been presented as anti-Semitic and a matter of hate crimes. The most recent decision by the Provost is a ramping up of longstanding attempts to criminalize the views of students who oppose Zionist violations of the human and national rights of Palestinians. Such efforts overlook the importance of political engagement and discussion on university campuses, while making political issues a matter of policy and decisions taken behind closed doors by various offices of the university.
This history provides an important context for understanding that the banning of terms diverts from the violation of the political and human rights of students attempting to defend a just peace for Palestine. These are not simple matters to be decided arbitrarily and in private. They are related to profound questions of rights and responsibilities on campus and in society at large. It is unjust to require that the students most affected should submit to this decision or simply engage in an unequal private dialogue with the administration.
A Matter for All to Decide
It is important to note that the administration has an obligation to society to respect the basic legal and moral rights of the university community.Despite all its efforts to claim that the university can act like a private corporation, McMaster is a public institution that plays a central role in the development of youth and intellectual thought. In turn, Human Rights &Equity Services is mandated to defend and elaborate issues of human rights on campus, and this function has ramifications for all of society. Similarly, the MSU plays an important role in supporting and intervening in society, as the organized front of students. In sum, the functioning of all these parts of the McMaster University and their recent decision are a matter that concerns all students, faculty, and the general Hamilton and Canadian society. For this reason, U4SR is holding a public forum so that everyone's views can be heard. We are inviting the administration and MSU to be part of this discussion and no longer use their positions of power to impose their views on the conscience of students. We are also calling on all students, faculty, staff and members of the Hamilton community to join the discussion. Organisers will ensure that everyone's participation and comments are respected. We, as Canadian students, are taking up our responsibility to society. We are working to end the marginalization of the McMaster community and Canadian polity at large from the decision-making processes that affect their lives and the political orientation of our society. This struggle at one university campus is a converging point for all those who believe that Canadian society should decide political matters in a public and transparent way.
Join us!
United for Student Rights is an ad-hoc committee of McMaster University and Hamilton community members that was formed to facilitate public involvement in this issue.
For information please contact:
Molly Comments:
I have always had a certain amount of reservations about "solidarity work" where the issue is one of "nationalism" rather than class or community. The Palestinian-Israeli conflict is the classic case of this. The way in which such campaigns develop is that one side is demonized and the other is glorified. Even anarchists, who should obviously know better, get swept up in the dynamics of such "solidarity" and deny the obvious fact that both sides are bad. That's rather abstract as, despite the illusions and magical thinking of the participants, such solidarity campaigns have little or no effect on the reality on the ground of the part of the world that they complain about. What I object to is that the process of picking good guys (whose faults you studiously ignore) and bad guys (who never are justified in anything they do) spills over into the more immediate and vastly more important ways in which people organize themselves in the countries where they live.
Student movements in eastern Canada have a long and disgraceful history of attempting to prevent free speech on their campuses where the speaker is one who is "pro-Israel". No doubt the general public is usually rather forgiving, or at least forgetful, but the way in which the activists who are pro-Palestinian are presently being censored is a mere imitation of how such activists acted in the past. The very existence of a 'Human Rights and Equity Service' bureaucracy on an university campus is living testimony to the efforts of previous activists to enforce a "politically correct" silence on their institutions. In other words, your previous actions created the very tools that are now being used against you. It's not surprising to me.
Now I know how futile it is to argue with most in the "activist frame of mind" and try to suggest that maybe the side they choose is not all good and the "enemy" is not all evil. But from pure practicality this is merely one instance out of dozens where the tactics of over-enthusiastic campaigners have come back to haunt them. Maybe you should think about it before you try to disrupt any more lectures.
I hardly expect that the average "activist" should be firmly grounded enough in the thought of anarchism that they would realize that freedom of opinion is a value far in excess of the average fashionable issue of the hour. I would, however, urge them to consider how they are cutting their own throats by actions against such freedom, and how it may come back to haunt them in cases such as these. It would also be nice, but perhaps unrealistic, for such activists to be anarchic enough to refuse to try and score so-called "free money" off the putrid rotten boroughs that almost all student unions are. The lure of free money can overwhelm many ethical considerations.
Anarchism has many disadvantages in the struggle for public acceptance, some of them implicit in the ideology itself and some of them thrown gratuitously in by its crazier practitioners. It does, however, have one great advantage if properly practiced. Its standard of morality is far superior to that of any other political philosophy. Anarchists should think good and hard before they abandon this advantage for the lure of temporary "issues".
To sign off...the term "Israeli apartheid" is actually quite an accurate historical comparison, and one hopes that its use cannot be forbidden in a so-called institution of higher learning. But those who are presently on the sharp end of the stick should see how previous actions have sharpened the stick and not repeat previous mistakes.

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