The motion: Students Against Israeli Apartheid should be banned from campus (con)

UMSU’s recent decision to ban Students Against Israeli Apartheid (SAIA) from campus represents a failing on the part of the council to differentiate between racism and discrimination, and legitimate criticism of state policy.

Josh Morry, who tabled the motion to ban the group, argued that SAIA made him and several other Jewish students feel uncomfortable and unsafe on campus. His logic was that Zionists support Israel, and SAIA maintains that Israel is a racist and apartheid state; therefore, SAIA is accusing Zionists of racism, which, in his words, puts a “target” on their backs. He argued that this amounts to discrimination based on racial or national identity, and violates the UMSU constitution.

This logic, however, is flawed. Firstly, it is false and dangerous to equate Jewish people with Zionists; Judaism is a religion and an ethnicity while Zionism is a political ideology. Not all Jews are Zionists and not all Zionists are Jews. Therefore, to criticize Zionism is akin to criticizing, for example, liberalism or conservatism, not discriminating based on ethnicity. Many Jews, such as members of Independent Jewish Voices, are among the most outspoken activists against Israel’s policies.

Secondly, it is hardly debatable that by definition, Israel is an apartheid state. Apartheid can be defined as “a policy or practice of separating or segregating groups.” It is not hard to find examples of Israeli policies to which one can apply this definition.

Israel has illegally occupied the Palestinian territories, causing millions of Palestinians to flee their homeland. A person of Jewish descent with no family ties to Israel can immigrate as easily as if they were born there, while a Palestinian refugee cannot return to their home. Indeed, while Israel continues to pursue a policy of aggressive expansion of settlements on contested land, Palestinian homes are regularly demolished by the Israeli Defence Force; the United Nations and Amnesty International have both decried this practice as violating international human rights.

Palestinians living under the occupation have separate roads and are subject to military checkpoints that prevent them from travelling freely. They have separate laws and a separate military justice system; Israel currently holds around 4,700 Palestinian prisoners. Israel regularly uses disproportionate violence against Palestinian civilians to suppress dissent. The blockade of Gaza has crippled its economy and caused a shortage of basic necessities from clean water to medical supplies. The UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs has said that the blockade amounts to “collective punishment” of the Palestinian people.

The point is that criticism of the state of Israel and its policies is not only legitimate, but for those who value justice and human rights, it is necessary. And, to reiterate, it has nothing to do with discrimination against Jewish people. In fact, the decision to ban SAIA on the grounds of discrimination is ironic in two respects: first, it is ironic to accuse a group dedicated to eliminating discrimination of discrimination; second, it is ironic that, without adequate proof that SAIA has engaged in conduct that violates the UMSU constitution, its ban from campus essentially amounts to discrimination based on political belief.

Finally, there is a big difference between students being made to feel uncomfortable on campus and being made to feel unsafe. In order for students to legitimately claim that a student group violates their safety, there must be substantiated evidence of violence or harassment, and there was no such evidence presented in this case. While it may make one feel uncomfortable, being handed a flyer or seeing a poster that expresses a view with which one disagrees is not harassment.

Some members of UMSU pointed out that without sufficient evidence of violence, harassment, or discrimination, the legal grounds for banning SAIA are non-existent, as nothing in SAIA’s conduct or constitution violates the UMSU guidelines for student groups. In fact, SAIA’s own constitution expressly states that the group is anti-racist.

Throwing accusations of racism and discrimination whenever someone expresses an opinion critical of Israel is a tactic often employed by Zionists to silence and intimidate. No one wants to be accused of being anti-Semitic. But this false equation of criticism of Israel and anti-Semitism is transparent, and frankly, UMSU shouldn’t have fallen for it. For these reasons, the ban should be lifted immediately.

2 Comments on "Point/Counterpoint"

  1. Natalie Bjorklund | June 20, 2013 at 10:01 am |

    “This logic, however, is flawed. Firstly, it is false and dangerous to equate Jewish people with Zionists; Judaism is a religion and an ethnicity while Zionism is a political ideology.”

    This argument is itself fundamentally flawed because there is no one Zionist ideology among Jews. Zionism comes in multiple forms and many types with everything from a secular communist form to a fundamentalist religious form and because Israel IS the Jewish homeland, in that sense all Jews who ever say “Next Year in Jerusalem” are Zionists, even those who do not approve of specific Israeli government policies. It is also a fact that all over the world, attacks (be they verbal criticism of the state of Israel in an open polite debate to the use of bombs and knives for killing Jewish babies) that begin against “Zionists” frequently spill over to the attack of all Jews. Zionism is the polite code word used by Jew haters to claim their hatred of Jews isn’t really antiSemitism. This is also not to say all antiZionists are also Jew haters, just , in my personal experience, the majority of them are. It is really easy to spot a Jew hater masking as antiZionist. Just let them keep talking. And so because of this it is indeed threatening and intimidating to come up against the BDS group because all you have to do is read their literature and other related things they say and the raving Jew hate of the BDS soon finds it way to the surface. Even some of the harshest critics of Israel policy, such as Norman Finkelstein, have expressed reservations about the actual goal of the BDS movement. The goal of the BDS movement is not peaceful coexistence of Jews and Arabs in the middle east with resolution of the various issues but rather BDS seeks the absolute and complete destruction of Israel.

    The further points in this commentary simple rehash the same old tired arguments about the oppression of the Palestinians while completely ignoring the continuous and ongoing hostility and aggression of Palestinian terror groups like Hamas against Jews in Israel. (And frequently also against Christians and Muslims in Israel though apparently by accident, at least when Israeli Muslims are murdered while fighting “Zionism”.) Yes, there are walls and check points. The walls and check points went up in response to savagery and barbarism like suicide bombing of civilian public buses in places like Tel Aviv. And just in case anyone still wishes to posit that the terrorism is only an understandable response to Israeli oppression, I would advise carefully reading the Hamas charter which makes it very very clear it is JEWS that are the problem not just Zionism described as a particular ideaology. There is also a lot of the so called “background” as presented here by a BDS supporter that is hopelessly one-sided or just plain factually wrong. For example, Judea and Samaria/West Bank were originally illegally occupied by Jordon in 1948. Israel’s presence there today, being the response to a war of aggression started by Jordon, means Judea and Samaria/West Bank is actually “disputed” territory under international law. And do I really have to remind anyone that when Jordon illegally occupied Jerusalem, Jews, many who had been there from before Mohammed’s time, were expelled en masse from the entire region and no Jew could worship at our most sacred holy sites. (Israelis opened up Jerusalem and made it safe for all faiths to worship in peace.) I could on and on, but I won’t bore the reader. Suffice it to see the narrative here is totally one-sided and rife with just plain lies. To state ” hardly debatable that by definition, Israel is an apartheid state” is just plain obtuse. Excuse me, but it is exceedingly debatable that Israel is an apartheid state, especially when compared to biggest national supporters of BDS and perpetrators of religious and gender apartheid and Human Rights abuses, Iran and Saudi Arabia.

    There is a saying that the difference between nude art and pornography is sometimes hard to distinguish when debated but is nonetheless absolutely obvious to viewer experiencing it. The same thing can be applied to the BDS movement by those outside the situation. One can debate all ones like about how BDS is a political movement or BDS is not antiSemitic, but as a Jew I can easily say that I am absolutely certain when I face the talking points of individuals involved with BDS that I am facing pure, 100%, old fashioned and highly personal Jew hate for all the reasons I listed above. It makes me feel intimidated and afraid and makes the UM campus a very unhappy place to be when BDS is around. As a Jew I am so glad they have been “banned” (or whatever you call it). I recall the riots in Concordia and the banning of Jewish student groups and intimidation of Jews at York under the same “antiZionist” rubric. A campus is no place for hate.

  2. Curious. Under the article’s definition of “apartheid”, all Arab countries are guilty of apartheid since Jews are banned from the country (unlike israel where there is no such ban). Does this group protest the apartheid practices of any Arab country or is the alleged Israel actions the only worth discussing? And since we know that this writer and groups like him have no desire for justice or human rights for the Jews — as their silence indicates — so it comes back to the fact that these protests are against Jews and nothing related to human rights or Zionism.

    it is also disengenuous for the writer to fail to mention why there are separate roads and barriers: Israelis were tired of they and their children being blown up in buses, movie theatres; and pizza parlors or getting shot at while driving in one’s car. They were also tired of having their children’s throats cut in the night by those freedom loving Arabs who, when not trying to kill Jews,have no problem hanging other Arabs who disagree with them. The writer also intentionally fails to mention that the UN –hardly a pro-Israel institution — has said the blockade of Gaza to be legal. Plus, what is the proportionate force allowed against a country firing thousands of rockets against another from civilian territories hoping to kill thousands of Israelis (last year, Hamas tried to hit an oil refinery in Ashkelon which is in Israel proper)? Spitballs? A severe repremand form the Dean?

    And maybe I missed it when millions of Arabs fled from Israel. Can’t be before the 6 Day War since 1) there were not millions of Arabs in the West Bank and 2) nobody left at all. (In fact, had this writer read any history other than Mein Kampf or the Al Jazeerah website, he would know that israel begged King Hussein to not get involved in the war and he would not listen). So, the writer must be referring to the creation of the land of Israel itself and its War of Independence when it defeated the five Arab armies that attacked it in May, 1948. Problem is, Israel is not Arab occupied territory.It is recognized by even the UN as a member state in good standing so it could not be illegally occupying anything and, again, the thousands (not millions) who fled did so at the bequest of the invading Arab countries. So tell me again how it is not anti-semitism when you are protesting the jews having their own homeland.

    I also wonder if jews went protesting Islam whether this writer would be so sanguine about feeling uncomfortable of being threatened. I supect not. he is only mad that the Jews on campus used the same tactics as Arabs do on other campuses.

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