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The door with a sign about the meeting of UMSU Board on April 11,2024

UMSU Board Does Not Proceed with Anti-Palestinian Racism (Nakba Denial) Motion-Five Complaints Against UMSU Filed by Jewish/Zionist Students with Human Rights Commission

by Rhonda Spivak, April 16, 2024



On April 11, 2024 the Board of Directors of the University of Manitoba Students Union [UMSU] made an important decision to indefinitely postpone motion 0604 on "anti-Palestinian racism" as defined by the Canadian Arab Lawyers Association. Instead UMSU decided to form an "ad hoc committee consisting of five anonymous members of the Board of Directors selected at random to “assume the responsibility of working in collaboration with interested parties to formulate a position that expresses UMSU's opposition to anti-Palestinian racism in the UMSU Position Statement Book". The UMSU Board of Directors also decided to recommend "that the ad hoc committee be struck again in the 2024-2025 Academic Year to advance the aforementioned mandate."


The decision by UMSU not to proceed with the above motion was made after a series of dramatic events.


On April 5, 2024 four individual Jewish Zionist students and one entity filed intake complaints with the Human Rights Commission against UMSU and certain individually names Board of Directors and Officers. The individuals names in the original Human Rights complaint included the law student and member of UMSU's Board of Director's who initially proposed the "anti-Palestinian racism" motion defined by the Arab Canadian Lawyers Association, UMSU as well as the Chair of UMSU’s Board, who has since resigned. The initial 5 complaints allege systemic discrimination against Jewish/Zionist students by UMSU, as well as outlining individual acts of discrimination, intimidation and harassment. 


Lawrence Pinsky K.C. of Taylor McCaffrey LLP, who is himself a former Human Rights Commission adjudicator, having served in that role for over a decade volunteered to help the students on campus as they claimed to have experienced what they describe as an alarmingly discriminatory environment.   Pinsky hopes that going forward, as the Complaints proceed through the Human Rights process, which will likely take years, an opportunity will be afforded to try and create a safer, more inclusive environment for Jewish Zionist students and their supporters.


"The complainants I act for are stakeholders in this matter and will work with UMSU to consider the issues at hand try to make and try to make UMSU a safer better place for Jewish Zionist students and all students on campus" Pinsky told the Winnipeg Jewish Review.


Lawyer Cindy Lazar, also of Taylor McCaffrey LLP, who volunteered to act for a different group of Jewish students took issue with the many problematic procedures employed by UMSU and took the position that the “anti-Palestinian racism motion” should accordingly be ruled out of order by the UMSU Board


Pinsky also volunteered to act for Students Supporting Israel [SSI] at the University of Manitoba. SSI was reinstated following the club's initial suspension by UMSU without a fair procedure due to unforeseeable comments made by Palestinian Bassam Eid at a lecture he gave at U of M in March. 


Lazar indicated the students she represents do not oppose the notion of a motion against "anti-Palestinian racism," but they opposed the wording of the proposed motion for a number of substantive reasons, including that it unduly violates free speech, academic freedom, discriminates against Jewish/Zionist students, and is incompatible with the IHRA definition of anti-semitism which UMSU has already adopted.


The initial Intake Complaints with the Human Rights Commission pursued by Pinsky and his colleague Ms. Reannah Hocken (of Tapper Cuddy LLP) contained an allegation of systematic discrimination which included what was described as  highly irregular, unfair, and inappropriate procedure/s adopted by UMSU in dealing with a variety of matters. These matters included the destruction of posters of Israeli hostages held by Hamas on UMSU premises, the allegedly improper procedure adopted by UMSU in dealing with Students Supporting Israel, the manner in which the proposed motion on anti-Palestinian racism was addressed, and the harassment of Jewish/Zionist students among other things.


The initial Human Rights intake complaints were filed about a week after the March 28, 2024 hearing by UMSU, which this writer attended. At that meeting the UMSU Board of Directors brought forward the "anti-Palestinian racism motion" following numerous procedural irregularities which violated UMSU's by-laws, policies and practice and prevented Jewish students from being given a fair opportunity to prepare, causing prejudice to their position. The Board Chair, (who is named as a Respondent in the initial Human Rights intake complaints) at this March 28 meeting decided to bring forth this controversial "anti-Palestinan racism" definition on an "emergency basis" which  allowed it to be discussed even though it was not on the agenda. This was the case notwithstanding that this definition has not been adopted by any other university student union in Canada, which in itself shows that the motion was not at all an emergency. Further, the UMSU Position Statements Book already takes a stand against Islamophobia, and discriminatory behaviour generally.


At the March 28 hearing, reference was made to an Instagram post of the UMSU Board Chair about the State of Israel. The post said in full: "Fuck your entire coming into existence. It's been 76 years and you STILL don't have the right to exist no matter how many countries you pressure to stand with you. Fuck all of that and fuck you". 


This post denies the Jewish people the right to self-determination, like any other people. A member of UMSU's Board of Directors cited UMSU's Conflict of Interest Policy and argued that the Board Chair had a perceived conflict of interest in that she was bias against the Jewish student community based on her social media post. 


The wording of the "anti-Palestinian racism" definition proposed which prevents "Nakba Denial" indicates that all of the State of Israel belongs to the Palestinians, unduly infringes free speech and academic freedom and discriminates against Jewish/Zionist students by making it virtually impossible for them to put forth their narrative and viewpoint on campus.  It would even prevent speech that is in favour of a two state solution. This comes at a time when Jewish/Zionist U of M students  have been experiencing what they describe as a climate of discrimination and intimidation on on campus. 


Two sources told the Winnipeg Jewish Review that the filing of complaints with the Human Rights Commission were pivotal in bringing about a decision by UMSU to change course dramatically, and decide to postpone this motion and set up an ad hoc committee to meet with interested parties to formulate a position on anti-Palestinian racism. 


The Chair of the UMSU Board resigned prior to the April 11,2024  meeting.The law student who initially moved the motion resigned from the Governance Committee of UMSU prior to the March 28 meeting. This student also resigned from the UMSU Board of Directors. 


A reliable source told the Winnipeg Jewish Review that after the human rights complaints were filed and notice was served, "there was a closed emergency meeting that lasted 3-4 hours of the UMSU Judicial Board, without the presence of the UMSU Executive, all of whom had been named in the complaints."  The Judicial Board, which "is the oversite board for all UMSU" then decided to put forth a motion to set up an ad hoc committee to work in collaboration with interested parties to formulate a position on this issue.  UMSU Board deliberated on this proposal by the Judicial Board on April 11, 2024  in closed session and it was passed, but not unanimously. 
The Winnipeg Jewish Review attended part of the April 11, 2024 UMSU Board of Directors meeting and saw that  just before  the meeting began UMSU's legal counsel was present as he had been meeting with them in a closed session prior to the Board Meeting commencing. 


There were three Jewish students who spoke in a very articulate manner at the March 28 meeting outlining procedural problems with the way the Jewish student community had been treated and made some preliminary remarks about the problems with the substance of the "anti-Palestinian racism" motion. That meeting was attended by well over 50 Jewish students and supporters. 


At a March 21 meeting of the UMSU Governance Committee, a Jewish student had  requested that the Governance Committee do its due diligence and consult with stakeholders, and research a 40 page document of the Arab Canadian Lawyers Association that went with the motion prior to moving the motion forward. But this was not done.

Editor's note: the Jewish community should be very grateful to the students who filed human rights complaints and the students who spoke diplomatically on behalf of the community at the UMSU Board meeting and at the Governance Committee meeting. Everything helped.


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Rhonda Spivak, Editor

Publisher: Spivak's Jewish Review Ltd.

Opinions expressed in letters to the editor or articles by contributing writers are not necessarily endorsed by Winnipeg Jewish Review.