apartheid-week1Following the call for letters of support from Students Against Israeli Apartheid (SAIA), the Carleton administration has so far received about 200 messages from students, faculty and community members. The university felt it had to clarify some information for those writing to the university and used what follows in one of their various form letter responses. Below each quote is a ‘further clarification’ courtesy of SAIA Carleton.

“Fact: The university did NOT ban this event.”

This is correct. The University has not banned Israeli Apartheid Week, but we never claimed that they did. This clear attempt to misrepresent our position is simply a “straw man” argument.

It should be noted, however, that many who reacted to the Provost’s veiled e-mail to the Carleton community took derailment or banning of Israeli Apartheid Week at Carleton to be one of the implicit threats in the Provost’s letter. This underlines the dangers inherent in such a vague and threatening letter.

“Fact: The posters removed did not have the necessary approval for posting.”

A limited number of University boards require stamped approval by our student union before postering. All other postering on the University campus is done ad hoc, and no groups obtain approval beforehand. When we approached our student union to get our posters stamped, they sent us to Equity Services who said the poster had been banned. Nevertheless, not only were all of our posters taken down by University security but those on our pre-approved educational tables were summarily confiscated by University security as well. It should be noted that on each of the bulletin boards from which our posters were taken down, one could find dozens of unstamped posters which remained untouched.

“Fact: The posters removed did not contain information about any specific events planned at Carleton.”

The event is international and thus includes Carleton. As well, the reference information for SAIA Carleton was on the posters.

“Fact. The posters removed were deemed by Equity Services to incite hatred.”
“Fact: Carleton University’s Equity Services determined that the posters removed could incite infringements of the Ontario Human Rights Code.”

Equity Services made their decision about the International Israeli Apartheid Week posters without giving SAIA any opportunity to discuss the event it was sponsoring or defend the graphic it depicted. We find it astonishing that a University administration which refused the request of 56 Carleton professors to condemn the bombing of the Islamic University of Gaza, would be so offended by such a cartoon!

Equity Services gave the following rationale regarding why our posters were banned: the posters may “incite others to infringe rights protected in the Ontario Human Rights code” and they are “insensitive to the norms of civil discourse in a free and democratic society.” Equity Services refused our requests for further clarification.

Considering the fact that the poster itself did not violate the Ontario Human Rights Code, we find it quite bizarre that it would be banned on the grounds that another person may do something contrary to this code. Furthermore, we find the accusation that this poster “incites hatred” to be slanderous. There is nothing hateful about criticizing a government’s foreign policy. One can only imagine that such an analysis is based on blurring the line between Israel and world Jewry, as if an attack on the former’s policies is equivalent to an attack on the latter. This formulation indirectly makes all Jews responsible for the crimes committed by Israel, a clearly anti-Semitic concept itself. SAIA Carleton’s basis of unity clearly states “We oppose all forms of racism, including Islamophobia and anti-Semitism.”

“Fact: Should other posters be created, they can be submitted for approval and posting.”

The poster in question–chosen because it graphically conveys countless reports from Gaza–is being used for Israeli Apartheid Week in at least 45 cities around the world. We demand an immediate lifting of the ban on the Israeli Apartheid Week poster and a public apology. Furthermore, we would like a public explanation of why the decision to ban the poster was made and we want the administration to address how to prevent such violations from occurring in future.

“Fact: The Provost did not threaten students with expulsion. He said that offences would be treated within the parameters of the student code of conduct.”

Despite its carefully couched wording, the Provost’s widely-distributed letter to the Carleton community sent a chill on several fronts–as it was designed to do. It strongly implied or insinuated things which the administration knew were unwise or even slanderous to state openly. It made students question their rights to discuss, debate and dissent –free of Administration and external intimidation. It spuriously misused “human rights” to justify censorship and suppression of free speech. Though it did not mention SAIA Carleton activists by name, its targeting of them and of Israeli Apartheid Week was evident, even more so considering the recent banning of our posters. It attempted to marginalize, intimidate and threaten SAIA Carleton as well as send a message to others who might want to stand in solidarity with the Palestinian people

“Fact: The University promotes free speech and debate in a context of respect and dignity.”

We hope this is the case. It is on these grounds that SAIA Carleton and numerous faculty at Carleton have called for the administration to participate in a debate on its position on the institutional boycott of Israeli Universities. Despite the fact that our current and former Presidents have taken very clear stands on this issue–without consulting the Carleton community–we have been repeatedly rebuffed in our request for such a debate.

One also needs to consider what kind of respect Carleton University is showing to its Palestinian and Arab students by this determined unwillingness to acknowledge what is taking place in Gaza and to empathize with the suffering of their people.

A diverse cross-section of Carleton students who are passionate about social justice and want their university experience to be one that nurtures and facilitates this instinct for justice have been unsettled by the Carleton Administration’s attempts to intimidate and silence. If the Carleton administration continues to ban the Israeli Apartheid Week poster and refuses to debate its unilateral position on the institutional boycott of Israeli universities, one needs to consider just how welcoming and embracing of diversity Carleton really is.