Next week is Israeli Apartheid Week (IAW) in Winnipeg, with numerous events being held throughout the week, including a few scheduled to take place at the University of Manitoba.
Thao Lam, UMSU vice-president of student services, says that IAW events have not been given official UMSU space on the university.
“The issue is because they don’t have status from UMSU, a lot of places won’t approve them to have events in their space, including all UMSU spaces,” said Lam.
Last year, the U of M became the first university in Canada to ban the student group Students Against Israeli Apartheid (SAIA). Similar student groups exist on many other Canadian university campuses.
The group was banned under UMSU bylaw 2009, which states that “UMSU does not condone 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 whether it occurs on UMSU property or in conjunction with UMSU-related activities.”
Students Against Israeli Apartheid has reapplied for student group status, but the rules surrounding reapproval of a previously banned student group are unclear.
“Right now their status is pending, because our policies aren’t updated and there’s nothing in place to deal with a situation like this [ . . . ] the policy and bylaws committee is looking at UMSU policy 2009, and they’ve done some work on the policy, but it hasn’t come forward to council for approval yet,” said Lam.
Liz Carlyle is the co-chair of the group Winnipeg Coalition Against Israeli Apartheid (WCAIA), and says IAW events will go on, and that there are no problems between the group and the university administration.
“The university is not putting up any roadblocks to our events. They’ve never denied us space bookings, and we hope people from UMSU will come out and attend events, and see what this is really about,” she said.
Josh Morry, a law student at the U of M, brought forward the resolution to have the SAIA group banned last year.
He argued that by using strong language, notably the word “apartheid,” SAIA was creating an unsafe and hostile environment towards students who support Israel.
“SAIA calls that vision of Zionism—a Jewish state for the Jewish people—racist. They say that Zionism by definition creates an apartheid state, and that kind of language puts students at risk. It invokes hatred against a certain group of people.”
Carlyle said that the purpose of IAW events is to draw critical attention to the actions of the Israeli military in the occupied territories and the human rights abuses that happen there, and pointed to the many Jewish voices that take part in the events.
“WCAIA has never set out to attack anyone’s ethnicity or religion. We are a political organization. We are drawing attention to the abuses that Palestinians suffer under Israeli military occupation.”
Morry pointed out that most people do not understand the difference between Judaism and Zionism, and that when Zionism is criticized, Jews as a whole can feel threatened.
“There are non-Jewish Zionists, and there are Jews who aren’t Zionists. But when you make that connection, when you call a Jewish state for the Jewish people racist, you put Jews at risk, and I think it would only be a matter of time before we saw a serious incident here.”
Carlyle responded that IAW goes to lengths to educate people about the issues, in understanding what Zionism is, and that it is separate from Judaism.
“Our criticism has nothing to do with the Jewish religion or ethnicity. Anyone who feels that IAW is an attack on any religious or ethnic group should come to our events, and see that it is really not about that and it is a safe space.”
Israeli Apartheid Week runs from Mar. 17-23.