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November 18, 2010

Bullying Palestinian students at Canadian universities should stop

At 2:00 PM on Monday November 15th, approximately 15 members (lower estimate) of the Israel Awareness Club (IAC) at the University of British Columbia attended the annual general meeting of the Social Justice Center (SJC). At this AGM, they demanded that the SJC revoke their decision to fund SPHR-UBC and the George Galloway event scheduled on Monday November 22nd.

Interestingly, a few of their spokespersons did not even know what SJC even stood for and had to be corrected by members of the SJC.

They falsely said that George Galloway funds groups like Hamas, and Hezbollah, supported Saddam Hussein and the Syrian occupation of Lebanon.

They asserted that the SJC is supposed to provide a positive space for all students, and supporting a speaker like George Galloway makes Jewish students uncomfortable (one of their spokespersons claimed that 75% of UBC students oppose this kind of event which, of course, is a false and unsupported assertion).

While these concerns do ipso facto look plausible; they are severely misguided and misplaced. As I have indicated in the AGM, none of the money the SJC donated to SPHR-UBC is going to fund George Galloway’s travel expenses, his honorarium, or anything directly or indirectly related to George Galloway (food, accommodation, etc...). In fact, I made it extremely clear that the entire amount was donated to fund the Canadian Boat to Gaza (a Canadian grass roots effort to lift the siege on Gaza).

Later during the meeting, it became clear to me that George Galloway was not really the issue.

After I made the announcement about where the money is going (and that was the last thing I said) the entire discussion shifted to the work of SPHR-UBC.

The club was described as a polemic club that raises awareness “with omission” because we do not address human rights violations of Palestinians in places outside of Palestine.

Of course, this is a false accusation, and the students who examined our material during Palestine week last week can attest to that.

However, even though the entire week focused on Palestinian refugees (me being one of them); we did dedicate two tables to advertise for George Galloway and for the Canadian Boat to Gaza.

One of the spokespersons of the IAC at the AGM meeting always comes to our tables and talks to members of SPHR.

During Palestine Week he said things along the line of “your actions are motivated by your Islamic ideology,” and insulted one of SPHR’s execs by calling him an Islamist (a term that the exec found a little absurd and responded by saying “I am Muslim not an Islamist whatever that means”).

He later said “I still cannot believe that people like him hold ‘these’ ideas, you should be scared of him.”

And following the AGM, he made a comment on his facebook wall that says “to be honest, I was very shocked after today’s meeting in the SJC. It was a collection of Commies, Hippies, and an Islamist. Also, that raging lesbian was very disrespectful to myself and other.”

It is worth noting that this student openly supports the Christian Phalange party which committed the Sabra and Shatila massacre (which was labelled by the International community as an act of genocide).

SPHR-UBC believes that the George Galloway was not the main target of the IAC. The main target is SPHR-UBC.

This is evident because both the IAC and Hillel openly endorsed and supported Alan Dershowitz’s talk in Vancouver. Members of Hillel (most of who were present at the AGM) were wearing the Hillel shirts at the Desrshowitz talk.

Dershowitz openly supports and defends Israel’s policy and did not hesitate to support and defend Operation Cast Lead, the 2006 invasion of Southern Lebanon and the illegal separation barrier being built in the West Bank.

IAC and Hillel hold a commemoration for Yitzhak Rabin every year. Yitzhak Rabin is also known for his violations of International Law and war crimes. He led Operation Danny which resulted in the ethnic cleansing of Palestinians from numerous villages including Ramle (~70,000 inhabitants).

The IAC also holds a soldier’s panel every year, and last year’s panel included a soldier who said “I was a pilot during Operation Cast Lead, and when I am ordered to clear the way, I have to follow orders and I have no way to distinguish between a militant and a civilian.”

Their members openly support the IDF and it operations; and some of their executive volunteered for the Israeli Army.

George Galloway never committed crimes, nor did he participate in any army, nor did he fund any terrorist organizations and the Canadian courts rule in his favour because of that.

It is extremely hypocritical for members of the IAC to claim the moral high ground, and make false accusations like the ones mentioned above; when at the same time they support, defend and endorse war criminals and their defenders and invite them to speak on or off campus.

Just recently, Hillel launched a campaign titled “Hillel thanks Harper” with the intention to thank Canada’s Prime Minister Stephen for his unconditional and uncritical support of Israel and Israel’s war crimes.

Mr. Harper’s government was the first to impose an illegal siege on the occupied Gaza Strip.

He is notorious for his pro-Israel advocacy, and in 2006 he called the invasion of Southern Lebanon a “measured response.”

He defended Israel’s slaughter of Palestinians during Operation Cast Lead and his government cut funds to the United Nations Refugees and Works Agency.

He is a politician who through a plagiarized speech insisted that Canada participate in the occupation of Iraq, and he is adamant on staying in Afghanistan disregarding Canadian calls for ending Canada’s mission there.

The fact that Hillel supports this man and launched a campaign to thank him is indicative of their hypocrisy and selectiveness. They accuse SPHR-UBC of endorsing Galloway for supporting Saddam; when at the same time they endorse a man that supports a criminal state.

SPHR-UBC believes that this was an act of intimidation.

The complaints that they have submitted are baseless and erroneous. If they truly are interested in engaging in constructive dialogue around the issue, then they will have to respond positively to the many invitations from SPHR-UBC including the one submitted through the Office of the Vice President for Legal, External and Community Affairs.

SPHR-UBC never opposed any of the work that the IAC does on campus. There was absolutely no action against IAC’s events, no protest, no ripping off of posters, and SPHR never sent any email to the university or the student union complaining about the events no matter how offensive they may be.

Whereas, the IAC always protests SPHR’s event, always rips off SPHR’s posters, and actively emails the university and the AMS to cancel SPHR events.

The IAC accused SPHR-UBC of creating an environment hostile to Jewish students.

This accusation is also baseless and I do not think I need to provide any evidence to support that.

In fact, right after the meeting, a Jewish student approached me and voiced her intention to form another Jewish organization because she strongly believes that the IAC and Hillel are misrepresenting Jewish students and that they themselves are creating a hostile environment for Jewish students. She said that she is very uncomfortable joining a group that resorts to intimidation to silence others.

Finally, what was extremely alarming is the presence of the Alma Mater Society (UBC’s student union) president Bijan Ahmadian.

It was insulting to the SJC as a club that appreciates its autonomy and was insulting to SPHR-UBC because this presence demonstrates bias against SPHR-UBC and his complicity in stifling free speech on UBC.

In fact, Mr. Ahmadian is notorious for his efforts to silence any sort of dissent on campus and prior to Israel Apartheid Week he attempted (and ultimately failed) to prevent SPHR-UBC from using the word Apartheid.

In fact, he also indicated that he wants to censor SPHR’s materials (which were nothing more than the Goldstone report and reports from Human Rights Watch).

It is worth noting the Mr. Ahmadian was endorsed by the Israel Awareness Club during his election campaign, and was labelled as a "friend of Israel." He actively participates in IAC events, and attended (shamelessly) the Dershowitz talk in Vancouver.

Following the AGM I invited the IAC to a public debate where their ‘concerns’ (as baseless as they may be) can be discussed in public.

If the IAC is truly concerned about George Galloway then they should not shy away from addressing these concern in pubic, and allow SPHR-UBC to respond to their false allegations instead of resorting to twisted and unethical methods to stifle free speech.

SPHR-UBC strongly believes that it has the right to advocate for Palestinian human rights and criticism Israel’s war crimes in Palestine with absolutely no restrictions.

SPHR-UBC also opposes and will fight any attempt to stifle its right to free speech.

Omar Shaban is a third generation Palestinian refugee from the Nahr El-Bared refugee camp in Lebanon. He is the president of the Solidarity for Palestinian Human Rights (SPHR) at UBC and a co-founder of Palestine Speaks (www.palestinespeaks.net). Omar is a fourth year student of International Relations and Political Science focusing on Middle Eastern politics, conflict resolution, and the Israel-Palestinian conflict.

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