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Joshua Morry and Maria Gluskin. Gluskin voted in favur of the motion moved by morry and passed by UMSU


by Josh Morry, May 13, 2013

[Joshua Morry is a member of UMSU Council, and the representative of the Commerce Students' Association who moved the UMSU resolution that removed SAIA's student group status and banned them from using UMSU spaces. The motion passed 19 to 16, with Councillors who are organizers or members of SAIA being allowed to vote.]


A lot has been said and written about the University of Manitoba Students' Union (UMSU)'s historic decision to strip Students Against Israeli Apartheid (SAIA) of its student group status and ban it from using UMSU spaces.

The Ottawa Citizen, for example, wrote that UMSU showed "courage and moral integrity in opposing ignorance and intolerance". Bnai B'rith Canada called the decision a "precedent-setting move that should be emulated by students" on campuses across the country. 


Member of Parliament Randy Hoback rose in Parliament to "congratulate" UMSU.


Some members of the media, on the other hand, were concerned that UMSU's resolution may unduly limit SAIA's right to free speech.


Most of the blogs and comments shed a lot of heat, but very little light on what the decision really means, going so far as to accuse UMSU of being anti-Palestinian, anti-Muslim and even anti-Semitic.


The only question that hasn't been answered is why a majority of Council was proud to vote for a resolution removing SAIA's student group status and banning it from UMSU spaces.


To understand why, it's important first to understand what SAIA is and what it is not.


SAIA is not "for" something. Unlike the Muslim Students Association, which describes itself as a place where Muslim students on campus can go to "meet, learn and have fun", members of Students Against Israel Apartheid are "against" something, in this case the State of Israel.


By their own admission, they are not alone. SAIA is part of an international network that targets Israel and its supporters as racists. This network draws its inspiration from the worldwide movement to "delegitimize" Israel, which can trace its roots back to the founding of Israel on May 14, 1948.


Israel has fought a war over its right to exist from 1948 to the present day. The fight over Israel's legitimacy has centered on "Zionism", the movement to establish a majority Jewish state in what most Jewish people consider to be their ancestral homeland.


Zionism was inspired by the nineteenth century national movement that created nation-states like Italy and Germany.


Zionist Jews saw themselves not just as members of a religion, but as a "people" or a "nation". And after almost two millennia living as an often unwelcome minority among other peoples, they believed that their future depended on having a state of their own - a safe haven from their enemies and a place where Jewish culture could be openly practiced.


Israel's enemies, and SAIA, call that vision racist.


The movement to delegitimize Israel and Zionism went international in 1975, when the United Nations, led by Arab and Muslim nations, declared Zionism to be a form of racism.


Daniel Patrick Moynihan, the US ambassador to the UN at the time, said that in doing so "the United Nations is (making) antisemitism international law."


The United Nations reversed its infamous declaration in 1991, but the worldwide effort to delegitimize Israel got a shot in the arm less than a decade later, when a UN-sponsored conference on racism in Durban, South Africa tried again to label Israel as racist.


It wasn't long after the conference in Durban that the global movement to delegitimize Israel rebranded itself, at least in the West, under the banner "Israel Apartheid", thereby comparing Israel to the most racist regime of the second-half of the twentieth century.


This canny rebranding also had a second benefit for Israel-haters - it came with a template to delegitimize Israel in an effort to bring down the "regime".


That template was established in the 1980’s, when the global movement to end apartheid South Africa set up groups on college campuses to delegitimize the odious South African regime. Their goal was to get universities and their student unions to boycott South Africa, and to divest from and promote sanctions against the apartheid regime.


The boycott, divestment and sanctions movement or "BDS" was born.


Does that sound familiar? Just change the name South Africa to Israel, draw some bigger noses on the posters (and they did) and presto, you have "Israel Apartheid" and of course, Students Against Israel Apartheid.


Seen in this light, Students Against Israel Apartheid is just another cog in the global machinery of the Israel Apartheid movement. SAIA registered itself as a student group with UMSU and then set up a website tied to the international movement to delegitimize Israel.


SAIA's goal wasn't to promote peace in the Middle East. If that's what they wanted, they would not have started by calling Israel and its supporters racist. That conversation would have ended before it began. But like its sister groups around the world, that's precisely what SAIA did.


There was only one problem with SAIA's strategy.


The freedom of Israel-haters to call Israel and its supporters "racist" on university campuses is limited by the policies and by-laws of student unions whose goal it is to protect students from harassment, discrimination and behaviour that is likely to undermine their dignity and self esteem.


These are the same rules that protect other vulnerable groups like LGBTs, disabled students, women and aboriginal students. The question that UMSU councillors faced, therefore, was a moral one as much as a legal one - Are supporters of Israel, who are mainly but by no means exclusively Jews on campus, entitled to the same protections as other vulnerable groups?


A petition was signed by over 60 students who said they felt that SAIA undermined their dignity and self-esteem by labelling them, and people like them, as racist. The truth is these students and many like them feel scared, and not just during "Israel Apartheid Week". It's simply not safe to be labelled a racist on campus, as students at the University of Manitoba and at other campuses have found out.


Members of UMSU Council presented examples of violent and abusive actions that could be directly traced to being labelled racist on Canadian campuses. It's not always clear whether the intimidation was carried out by members of these groups, or simply inspired by the group's message.


The result is the same - harassment, discrimination and fear.


The UMSU policy bans behaviour that is "likely" to undermine the dignity or self esteem of any student. After carefully considering the matter, the majority of UMSU Council believed that SAIA easily met that threshold.


The Council didn't say that SAIA's behaviour was antisemitic; but then again the UMSU policy does not require a finding that their behaviour be antisemitic. Having said that, in this case, SAIA's behaviour arguably did rise to that standard, even if individual members of SAIA never intended it to.


Countries around the world, including Canada, have signed a declaration that says among other things that "claiming that the existence of the state of Israel is a racist endeavour is antisemitic." And that's exactly what SAIA did.


Moreover, when Israel-haters are enraged, as they were after SAIA was stripped of its group status, they sometimes find it hard to distinguish between Zionists and Jews. There was more than one post on the UMSU Facebook page that tied the UMSU resolution to the Holocaust and concentration camps.


Now why would that be if all they're talking about is Israel?


Just because SAIA undermined the dignity or self esteem of students in contravention of UMSU policy doesn't mean that the members of SAIA are racist. In fact I'm sure that members of SAIA would be as appalled as I am to be called racist. Many, if not all, are well meaning students who want to stand up for human rights and advance peace and justice in the Middle East.


They just got caught in the wheels of the global anti-Israel machinery.


In fact, the members of SAIA have not even been deprived of their right to speak out for peace and against injustice, individually or in other groups on campus, as long as they do so within UMSU policies intended to protect students on campus.


The Arab-Israeli conflict is complex.


Israel's neighbours have never really accepted a Jewish state in the region, and some extremists, including Hamas, Hezbollah and Iran, deny Israel's right to exist at all.


At the same time, the Palestinian people living outside of Israel have been victims of the conflict, and they deserve a state of their own that allows them to live lives of dignity.


I would like to join with other students in forming a Dialogue on campus to learn more about the Arab-Israeli conflict together, in a respectful manner that allows us to build trust and understanding.


The ultimate goal is peace and justice, both in the Middle East and right here at home.


Who will join me?





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