A tale of two student groups

AJDOC will move ahead with SGPAC approval; SAIA awaits final word

Two U of M student groups interested in examining the Arab-Israeli conflict were recently before the University of Manitoba Students’ Union’s (UMSU) Student Group Promotion and Affairs Committee (SGPAC) seeking official group status approval. They were met with opposite results.

Arab Jewish Dialogue on Campus (AJDOC), founded by co-chairs Josh Morry and Mohammed Abas, received the go-ahead from SGPAC. Students Against Israeli Apartheid (SAIA), ultimately, did not.

SAIA had their student group status revoked by UMSU last year after Morry and Maria Gluskin, who served on council as commerce reps at the time, were able to convince a majority of councillors that the group violated UMSU policy 2009, which forbids “behaviour that is likely to undermine the dignity, self-esteem or productivity of any of its members or employees and prohibits any form of discrimination or harassment.”

SAIA asked SGPAC to reconsider earlier this year, and on Nov. 1, Brian Latour, a founding member, was told that the group had been approved.

On Nov. 4, however, Thao Lam, UMSU vice-president student services and SGPAC chair, informed SAIA the committee required more time for “intensive research and deliberation” before his group could be approved.

“The committee has unanimously decided to withhold your group’s current status, pending further legal opinion,” wrote Lam in a correspondence with the group.

“I don’t know what else they need, or what else they’re looking for, especially considering they’ve already approved us and then went back on it,” Latour told the Manitoban.

“I’m not sure what the process is, but I’m trying to contact the committee and trying to contact the VP-SS [Lam] to see if we can get more information.”

Latour rejects the claim that SAIA has ever been in violation of policy 2009, pointing out that the group worked regularly with Independent Jewish Voices (IJV), and never received any official complaints.

“We are an anti-racist organization. We are dedicated to organizing against apartheid, and we’ve raised that issue on campus. We haven’t been engaging in any harassment or discrimination, and we’re opposed to all forms of racism, including Islamophobia and anti-Semitism,” he said.

Meanwhile, AJDOC is looking forward to its first meeting, which Morry expects will be held between late November and early December.

AJDOC is affiliated with Arab Jewish Dialogue (AJD), a Winnipeg-based group that shares almost the exact same “core values and beliefs” as outlined in AJDOC’s constitution.

The only difference is a ninth section tailored to the U of M campus and agreed upon by Morry and Abas, indicating that AJDOC “condemn[s] any student group on campus that undermines the dignity and self-respect of any student group on campus because of their views on Israel, Palestine, or any other Arab country.”

“It is blurry wording, but for good reason,” Morry told the Manitoban, making reference to the fact that the ninth section deliberately uses language taken from UMSU policy 2009.

“It is designed to protect students who feel unsafe or feel threatened by the actions of someone else [ . . . ] I think that the drafters of the UMSU policies wanted students to read into them what they will, because UMSU is very keen on protecting students who feel threatened.”

A key difference between SAIA and AJDOC is that while SAIA membership was open to “all University of Manitoba students, faculty, staff and members of the community,” AJDOC is a “‘closed group’ based on ethnicity or peoplehood.”

Morry says that the reason for this is that the conflict is fundamentally one between Jews and Arabs, and both sides will benefit from a one-on-one dialogue format.

“It gets back to our values [ . . . ] we want to make better living and working relationships between Arabs and Jews at the U of M and in Canada. In order to do that I think you really have to get the two sides sitting down and talking about the issues, while not having people talk for them and while not being clouded out by other groups,” said Morry.

AJDOC will consist of six Arab and six Jewish members, but will hold general meetings at which all are welcome.

Whether or not SAIA ultimately receives SGPAC’s blessing, both groups are doing their best to move forward with their plans for the remainder of the school year.

Christine Melnick, former minister of Immigration and Multiculturalism, has invited AJDOC to hold their first group meeting at the Manitoba Legislative Building. They are also considering inviting speakers from academia and elsewhere to address the group. Eventually, they would like to expand onto other campuses.

“Mohammed [Abas] and I have discussed how to expand, but before that, we first have to get our start. But our goal is to expand,” said Morry.

SAIA, for the time being, will continue to meet outside of UMSU spaces and attempt to find ways to operate without student group status.

“We’re going to work on reconstituting ourselves, whether we have student group status or not,” said Latour.

“We are going to look into holding public events on campus over the next few months without student group status; we want to look into booking other spaces on campus, for example.”

As of press time, there is no word on when—or if—SAIA will again be welcome in UMSU spaces.

Follow the Manitoban for further updates on the activities of both AJDOC and SAIA.

6 Comments on "A tale of two student groups"

  1. “We are an anti-racist organization. We are dedicated to organizing against apartheid, and we’ve raised that issue on campus. We haven’t been engaging in any harassment or discrimination, and we’re opposed to all forms of racism, including Islamophobia and anti-Semitism,” he said. …..When you make this statement are you referring to apartheid in general or only Israeli apartheid? Using as examples the fact that non-muslims cannot go to Mecca, Arabia bound airline flights regularly confiscate religious symbols and books, the stink going on about freedom for all to pray at the temple mount in Jerusalem, (there are more examples) it makes one question your intentions as the focus is so narrow. Perhaps you should broaden your outlook to world wide or middle eastern apartheid in general and/or with a group that allows dialogue as the other group had the insight to do. there are 2 sides to every story.

  2. I think these points actually make me question your intention. One thing I’ve learned is that people who say “if you are so concerned about X, why aren’t you concerned about Y” are never actually concerned about Y.

    If you want to start a student group to address these issues, you’re free to get some friends together and do so. The fact that you haven’t shows that you don’t really care about these issues and are only using them as some incoherent justification (seriously, there’s a big non-sequitur between the practices of a Saudi airline and SAIA) for an argument against SAIA.

    Oh, and by the way, I hear the Students for a Free Tibet is only concerned about Tibet and not so much about human rights abuses in Xinjiang or the Western Sahara! Scandalous!

  3. However undemocratic Saudi Arabia is, it doesn’t practice apartheid: there are no laws that distinguishes between its citizens as happens in Israel. According to the Supreme Court of Israel, there is no Israeli nationality distinct from a Jewish one: it “rejected a request by a group of Israelis to declare that they were members of the Israeli people and to allow them to change the ethnic registration on their identity cards from “Jewish” to “Israeli.” http://www.haaretz.com/news/national/.premium-1.550241 – Some 40 years ago, another court found that an Israeli nationality “would negate the very foundation upon which the State of Israel was formed” [as a Jewish state].
    Within Israel, there is discrimination in favour of the Jewish majority. Moreover, beyond the physical separation in the West Bank, different laws apply to Israelis (civil) and Palestinians (military). Isn’t this a definition of apartheid? Many foresaw this, including Lessing J. Rosenwald, president of the American Council for Judaism, 1944: “The concept of a racial state – the Hitlerian concept- is repugnant to the civilized world, as witness the fearful global war in which we are involved. . . , I urge that we do nothing to set us back on the road to the past. To project at this time the creation of a Jewish state or commonwealth is to launch a singular innovation in world affairs which might well have incalculable consequences.”
    So yes, Israel should expect the same treatment as South Africa until it treats all equally.

    • You’re entitled to your opinion but what the previous comments have failed to distinguish from the article, is that the issues are being presented on a university campus. Although universities are places that encourage students to express their world views it also ensures the safety of all its students. It is for this reason that UMSU, like other schools, groups, and institutions has rules and policies that regulate speech. It has been found that Jewish and Zionist students have been put in unsafe situations when labelled as apartheid supporters (which SAIA has stated is anyone who supports Israel) – see Concordia or York University. I think that if you are serious about having your opinion heard, you should try to contact the dialogue group mentioned in this article. It seems like they are prepared to discuss these complex issues in a safe manner.

      • I agree that universities are places where students learn and exchange ideas freely. I fail to see how supporting a boycott in a foreign state can be deemed “dangerous.” I understand that Students Against Israeli Apartheid (SAIA) has Jewish members and is supported by Independent Jewish Voices. They can hardly be deemed anti-Jewish. And while the Arab Jewish Dialogue on Campus (AJDOC) discusses issues dealing with relations between groups (Jews and Arabs) in Winnipeg and possibly Canada, SAIA deals with a specific issue: Israeli discrimination. In spite of all the twists and spins, Israel is not the democracy that you probably believe it to be, and I am not the one saying so: “Former cabinet minister Dan Meridor harshly criticized his past colleagues from the Likud faction for pushing legislation that discriminates against Israeli Arabs and the refugees, claiming they are trying to establish an apartheid state. “All they care about are the territories. Human rights, democracy and equality, it’s just not part of their way of thinking.” (http://www.haaretz.com/news/national/.premium-1.558945)
        It is a pity that SAIA has been given the same treatment as AJDOC. It does reflect poorly on the university. I hope that they will be treated equally and fairly in the future.

      • You can hear Meridor’s remarks about Likud here: http://news.walla.co.il/mahadura/?w=//2695820

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