The University of Manitoba Students Union (UMSU) has become the first in North America to vote to ban Israel Apartheid Week (IAW) on campus and strip the group Students Against Israel Apartheid (SAIA) of official student group status.
The motion bars SAIA from receiving student union funding or using activity space in student-union controlled buildings and is a stunning setback for proponents of Israel Apartheid Week. The motion passed by secret ballot 19 to 15.
The motion is the brain child of Josh Morry, a student with savvy debating skills who is graduating this year form the Asper School of Business. The motion relies on UMSU Policy 2009 which states that “UMSU does not condone behaviour that is likely to undermine the dignity [or] self-esteem… of any of its members.” It further states that “UMSU is committed to an inclusive and respectful work and learning environment free from discrimination or harassment as prohibited in the Manitoba Human Rights Code (the “Code).”
Morry argued that by referring to Israel as an apartheid and racist state, SAIA essentially labels Jews, (the vast majority of whom identify with the state as Zionists), as well as students who are Israeli on campus as “racists,” which is likely to undermine their dignity.
“It’s like saying that Jews and Zionists are “Nazis,” Morry said in an interview, such that it is likely to make the average student on campus want to hate Jews, and make them objects of contempt. He says IAW discriminates against Zionists by brandishing them as automatically being “racists,” which is a form of discrimination and harassment.
“According to the UMSU policy, I didn’t have to prove that IAW has actually incited hatred, but that it is likely to undermine the dignity or self- esteem of students on campus who are Zionists.” He noted that even though not every Jew is a Zionist,
Jews as a group overwhelmingly are Zionists, and thus SAIA targets Jews as being racist, which automatically lowers them in the estimation of other students on campus, thereby infringing on their dignity and self-respect.
“When a group is perceived as “racist” then it becomes socially acceptable to fight against them” or dehumanize them since they are racist,” Morry added.
Since the IAW website defines Zionism as a “racist” doctrine, then supporters of Zionism are “being labelled racist”, which is likely to hold them up to contempt among their peers. [The complete wording of the motion will appear at the end of this article].
Maria Gluskin, a 24 Israeli who moved to Winnipeg a number of years ago after living in Israel for 16 years, who supported Morry’s motion is also studying at the Asper School of Business. She told the Winnipeg Jewish Review that when she first encountered IAW on campus, “I felt hated since I was an Israeli and a Zionist,” and therefore “I was being labelled as a racist.”
Aside from Morry and Gluskin, there was only one other student on the student council who was Jewish, such that the motion was carried since Morry and Gluskin succeeded in convincing most of the non-Jews on the student council of the justice of their case. This occurred notwithstanding that the President of UMSU, Bilan Arte, and other executive members have been supporters of IAW and that they claimed to have a legal opinion that indicated that UMSU could be opening itself up to legal action if it were to ban SAIA (Note: In a follow-up story, this publication will be asking Arte to share the legal opinion, and once it is made available will comment further. Suffice it to say, that this case will lead end up in court in the event that SAIA decides to commence litigation to require their status to be re-instated).
Canada’s National Post has reported that according to Ms. Arte, the student union legal opinion indicated that that “the actions of SAIA were well within the grounds of legally protected and acceptable political discourse” and the motion could put the students union “at a significant risk of committing a breach of [their] legal obligations.”
Morry, whose father is prominent lawyer Howard Morry, who leads the Arab-Jewish Dialogue group in Winnipeg, has offered to lead an Arab-Jewish dialogue on campus, where the narratives of both sides can be heard, in a respectful manner, without promoting hatred.
Outspoken Canadian journalist, lawyer, and free speech advocate Ezra Levant disagrees with the decision to ban IAW and wrote in an email that he thinks in the end this ban could boomerang against the Jewish community:
“Although I find Israel Apartheid Week to be offensive, and untruthful, and abusive, and anti-Semitic, I don’t believe that the government should ban things that are offensive, etc. Because every one of the definitions used to ban Israel Apartheid Week here — e.g. it makes people feel “unwelcome”, etc. — can and will be used against Jews and non-Jewish Zionists in the future.
“The only question is whether or not the university and the students union are a government institution. I say that because private establishments ought to be able to discriminate against people, including on their political views. But given the amount of government money flowing through the university and students union, I think it’s more accurate to say it’s a state agency rather than a private institution.
“So, I’ve got to disagree with this decision.
“This is so similar to the idea of banning “hate speech” through human rights commissions — the idea that the Jewish community loved so much in the 1970s and 1980s when Jews were the ones doing the prosecuting, and anti-Semites were the ones being prosecuted.
“But the rule of law means what comes around goes around — “precedent”, as lawyers would say. So then the Canadian Islamic Congress used those same censorship laws against Mark Steyn. And the Islamic Supreme Council used them against me and my magazine.
“Do you really think that this precedent won’t be used to ban Jewish or pro-Israel clubs in the future? Not only has the legal precedent of giving a veto to “hurt feelings”, but the precedent of taking a show of hands to ban your opponents. Don’t you know that Muslims now outnumber Jews in Canada by three to one? If we can now put political censorship to a vote on campuses, expect Hillel, Chabad, etc., to be shut down at Concordia, York, McGill, University of Alberta, etc., etc.
“So mazel tov on temporarily shutting up your opponents — and making them look like victims, by the way.
“Enjoy the temporary glee of censoring someone you had trouble out-debating.
“And get ready for the wave of return fire, as Muslim extremists across the country copy this tactic.”
Mira Sucharov, Associate Professor of Political Science & Assistant Dean (Student Success),Faculty of Public Affairs, Carleton University, stated in regard to the motion:
“This continues the often polarized debate on the relationship between Zionism writ large, specific Israeli policies, and the issue of Jewish identity. In the marketplace of ideas, I suppose the student union has a right, through persuasive debate, to try to ban whatever events they deem unsavoury, but there is a cost. I fear that the result will be an increased collective silence with regard to the important conversations Jewish students should be having about Israel’s future. Israel Apartheid Week may have an unfortunate and alienating name, but there are very real human rights violations daily against Palestinians from which supporters of Israel should not hide. The alternative is an addiction to the status quo, something that’s bad for Israel, and unhelpful for fashioning a robust and mature Zionist conversation in the Diaspora.”
Gluskin said that she thought the “vote would hold for a year,” but indicated that this was her guess and she didn’t know for sure.
[Editor’s note: Since other universities across Canada may have similar respectful work and learning environment policies, the precedent here could be very far reaching and significant, and therefore I do believe it is within the realm of possibility that this case could ultimately become the subject of legal action, with a determination of whether IAW on its face (“prima facie”) by identifying Israel as an apartheid racist state is likely to undermine the dignity or self-esteem of students on campus who identify themselves as Jews and/or Zionists and/or Israelis (bearing in mind that Israel is defined in the UN partition plan as the “Jewish state”). In this regard it may be worth considering whether Palestinian students could use the UMSU policy as a reason to ban a group of students who formed a group on campus entitled Students Against Palestinian Terrorists, and put on a Palestinian Terrorist Week. Would Palestinians justifiably complain that this group out to be banned as infringing on their dignity by prima facie labelling them as terrorists, thereby subjecting them to hatred and contempt by other students on campus? And remember, when one strips away the legal jargon this case may boil down to the question of whether IAW fundamentally contributes to a “respectful” learning environment or does the opposite, in that it impedes one. And further remember that this is taking place on a University campus, where freedom of speech is a very strong value. It is also possible that in the near future UMSU will meet and will take a new vote and re-instate SAIA. Food for thought.
Wording of the Motion:
1. UMSU “prohibits any form of discrimination or harassment whether it occurs on UMSU property or in conjunction with UMSU-related activities,” and
2. “Therefore, UMSU is committed to an inclusive and respectful work and learning environment free from discrimination or harassment as prohibited in the Manitoba Human Rights Code (the “Code)”
1. Nationality or national origin;
2. Ethnic background or origin;
And Whereas The IAW official website describes the name “Israel Apartheid” as being “extremely provocative”, and Zionism as a “racist” doctrine, which has inexorably led to incidents of violence, and harassment in universities across Canada;
And Whereas most Jewish and Israeli members of UMSU are Zionists, which according to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary are supporters of Zionism, an international movement for the support of Israel;
And Whereas such UMSU members are “discriminated” against as a result of such national characteristics, and are subject to “ harassment”, being a course of abusive and unwelcome conduct or comment undertaken or made on the basis of such national characteristics;
And Whereas such treatment of UMSU members is “likely” to “undermine the dignity [and] self esteem of [such] members.”
And Whereas the UMSU Policies state that complaints of this nature are to be taken to the Executive Committee;
And Whereas because a number of Executive Committee members have a history of participation as organizers and strong supporters of IAW, this motion should be dealt with directly by UMSU Council without consideration by Executive Committee;