All Posts Tagged With: "Middle East"
There’s enough to worry about right there on campus
Sean Wilson, a board member of the University of Regina Students’ Union, says that student leaders should be focused on things like tuition, residences and public transit. Recently, they’ve often been focused on the Middle East instead. Not on those killed by their own government in Syria, the sexual minorities mistreated by Iran or women subjugated by Saudi Arabia. No, they’ve been debating whether to join such international power brokers as Lenny Kravitz and the Teachers’ Union of Ireland in their commitments to not buy Israeli products or host Israeli academics.
Big deal right? I would argue yes, and not just because these student unions are taking sides.
Subculture declared “improper and deviant”
Authorities in the socially conservative Kingdom of Saudi Arabia have banned university students from partaking in the “emo” subculture, according to Al Arabiya, which quotes an Al Riyadh newspaper story that says emos have been officially labelled “improper and deviant.” The term emo is short for emotional and adherents often wear skinny black jeans, pile on heavy make-up, sport androgynous hairstyles and gather to listen to weepy music. Saudi Arabia isn’t the first place to target them. The chief of police in Yerevan, Armenia said in 2010 that the presence of emos could “damage our gene pool.” Human rights activists likened the comments to a modern-day witch hunt.
How UofMosaic is tackling tensions on campus
A group called Laurier 4 Palestine (L4P) tacked up illustrated posters in the atrium of Wilfrid Laurier University’s main building in Waterloo, Ont. during Israeli Apartheid Week, earlier this month.
One was of a gaunt and lifeless body beneath a barbed-wire fence with an Arab keffiyeh around his neck and wearing a striped uniform. The juxtaposition of the keffiyeh and the stripes ignited a war of words between Muslim L4P members and Jewish students from Hillel Waterloo. It was the type of uniform that Jews were forced to wear during the Holocaust, says Hillel Waterloo director Jessica Kronis. The poster implied that the occupation of Gaza is comparable to the genocide that killed six-million Jews. Kronis says it made Jewish students feel unsafe.
Students boycott Israel, but are blasé about Syria. Why?
March is upon us, which means the Oscars have been awarded, and that other harbinger of spring is around the corner: Israeli Apartheid Week.
Ordinarily, both events are masterpieces of predictability, with the Academy Awards ushering the usual suspects to the podium (Meryl Streep anyone?), and Israeli Apartheid Week featuring the usual anti-Zionist suspects on megaphones (among them the now famous IAW sub-group, Queers Against Israeli Apartheid, which I’d argue is largely composed of gay Jewish girls who didn’t have fun at summer camp.)
This year the Oscars have come through in predictability, but Israeli Apartheid Week is shaping up quite differently. It’s traditional at Passover seders for the youngest member of Jewish families to ask the “four questions,” which inquire why “this night is different from all other nights.” This year it might be prudent to ask a fifth: why is this Israeli Apartheid Week different from all the others?
Speaking for you, using your money
This weekend’s Pride Parade in Toronto was one of the most controversial in 30 years. The issue concerned a group called Queers Against Israeli Apartheid (QuAIA), and whether it would be allowed to march in the parade.
In late May, the answer was “no.” Fearing a loss of city funding and private sponsorship, Pride Toronto decided to play a game of semantics and ban the words “Israeli apartheid.” In a statement released June 7, Pride Toronto said “the use of the words ‘Israeli apartheid’ made participants feel unsafe.”
Then, just over a week ago, Pride flip-flopped, announcing it would “no longer restrict language in the Parade.” Either Pride Toronto suddenly decided that “Israeli apartheid” doesn’t make participants feel unsafe, or it capitulated to pressure. You decide.
If we can put the embarrassing flip-flop aside; should QuAIA (or the words “Israeli apartheid,” if you want to play that game) been banned in the first place? I still can’t make up my mind. (Sorry, I know that doesn’t make for quite as compelling a read.) On the one hand, public dollars are feeding the parade. It seems fishy to use tax money to fund a potentially ostracizing message, especially at an event centred around inclusiveness. On the other hand, free speech should be upheld as a cherished right. Censorship can be a slippery slope, especially when a selected few are given the authority to decide what is and is not appropriate. But despite my wavering in that respect, I have made up my mind on one aspect of the parade and it concerns how student union leaders chose to participate.
Though I am certainly no expert on issues in the Middle East, the irony of QuAIA did not escape me. QuAIA members marched along the parade route Sunday, proudly chanting, “Israeli Apartheid, you ain’t fine, you ain’t got no alibi, you ugly!” despite the fact that Israel is the only country in the Middle East that supports gay rights. Nevermind. Marchers boasted signs that read, “Israeli Apartheid is worse than South Africa” and “My Pride Includes Free Speech.” (Do you think that sign was recycled from the Ann Coulter event at University of Ottawa? No?) But all that didn’t irk me much. Indeed, QuAIA members aren’t speaking on my behalf, and though I didn’t agree with every poster board message, I watched placidly as they walked by. But then came the Ryerson/George Brown student float.
Yes, the music was pumping and the sun was just glorious, and there they were—students acting as my representatives—adorned in shirts boasting that their pride is “Against Israeli Apartheid.” Funny, I don’t think I’ve read enough on Israel to merit an opinion tee (I say that half joking). So why are my paid student representatives making a decision for me? And worse yet—why are they flaunting it on my behalf?
I have no problem with John Doe the individual advocating for whichever cause he desires. Nor do I have a problem with John Doe the public figure openly aligning himself with a position, however controversial it may be. I do, however, find issue with Mr. Doe, my representative, choosing a side on a polarizing issue, far removed from his mandate as a student advocate, and doing it on my dime.
I can already hear the response; “That’s government, kid. Get used to it.” Maybe so. And of course, this student union behaviour isn’t new. But when student fees are collected by a student union, I expect them to be spent on education issues. If nothing else, it seems careless from a strategic perspective for a student government to align itself, both fiscally and ideologically, on an issue that so severely divides its voting population, especially when the issue has little to do with education. City funding went to the Pride Parade as a whole, not specifically QuAIA. Student fees, on the other hand, seemed to be used to advocate a certain position.
At the very least, student leaders could have taken a sharpie to the “RSU” on their shirts. A city mayor advocating a certain position doesn’t speak for all municipal citizens in the same way a VP Student Life speaks for a university’s student body.
Here’s hoping the money for those student tees branded “Against Israeli Apartheid” was out of pocket, not out of student fees. Now, who’s up for a unicorn ride?
To avoid lawsuit, union leadership immediately voids vote
According to this story in the Guardian today, United Kingdom lecturers have overwhelmingly voted to boycott Israeli universities and colleges, saying that Israeli academics have been complicit in their government’s actions against Palestinians.
However, as soon as the vote passed it was declared void by the leadership of the University and College Union. Lawyers for the powerful union, which represents more than 120,000 academics, advised them to do so in order to avoid a lawsuit.
According to the Guardian, lecturers voted for a “boycott, disinvestment and sanctions campaign” against Israeli schools in protest against the country’s policies in the occupied territories, and also last January’s incursion into Gaza.
The vote was carried at the union’s annual congress, and was the ninth time the contentious issue has arisen at the meeting.
However, lecturers remain divided on the issue. The University of Brighton’s Tom Hickey, who put forward one of two motions, called on lecturers to “reflect on the moral and political appropriateness of collaboration with Israeli educational institutions”.
Whereas Sheffeld Hallam University’s Camilla Bassi said a boycott wouldn’t help anyone, and would be part of an “anti-Jewish movement” when what is really needed is more links between Israelis and Palestinians.