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.