Pro-Israel Group Shocked by Exclusion From ‘Social Justice Week’ at Canadian Campus Due to Student Association’s BDS Endorsement
An organization that helps university students tell Israel’s side of the story was recently excluded from “Social Justice Week” at a Canadian campus, The Algemeiner has learned.
The same event, meanwhile, included a five-hour presentation called “Against Israeli Apartheid,” sponsored by the campus’s local chapter of Students for Justice in Palestine.
Robert Walker, Canadian Director of Hasbara Fellowships, told The Algemeiner that his organization applied for a table at the University of Ontario Institute of Technology’s (UOIT) Social Justice Week event after the university’s Student Association “invited external organizations to attend and share their expertise. As Hasbara Fellowships runs an initiative called ‘Israel Peace Week,’ it seemed like a no-brainer to offer this as part of a marketplace of ideas.”
He said he was quite surprised, then, to receive an email on March 3 informing him that his application had been denied.
According to the email, in January, “The Student Association passed a motion endorsing the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement. Your organization seems closely tied to the state of Israel and as such, it would be against the motion to provide any type of resources to your organization … Your application to table at the Social Justice Week fair has been denied.”
“Never,” Walker told The Algemeiner, “have I seen such explicit discrimination [against us] before. Frankly, I couldn’t believe what I read. Even in cases when a student association has passed BDS, pro-Israel groups are still allowed to have a table or book a room. But to be told point-blank we cannot share Israel Peace Week materials because we’re connected with Israel ….”
The Algemeiner obtained the text of the January 25 BDS resolution, but beyond calling for the Student Association to divest from certain companies and commit to “ethical purchasing policies that conform with the BDS movement,” and beyond a very general call to “endorse the 2005 call for BDS,” could find nothing suggesting that pro-Israel groups should be excluded from campus events.
The Algemeiner reached out to the campus chapter of Students for Justice in Palestine, the Student Association’s Acting President of University Affairs Siraj Syed and UOIT President Tim McTiernan, asking for clarification on whether the BDS resolution was being properly applied, but had received no responses by press time.
President McTiernan, according to Saturday’s National Post, stated, “I got a cursory overview from a board member [about the situation] on email. To be quite honest, I’m still trying to see what’s what.” While he noted that the Student Association is an independent organization, he added that “values of freedom of expression and inclusiveness are core to our institution.”
Late Monday UOIT put out a statement, reading, in part:
It’s important to note that the Student Association (SA) is a separate, independent and autonomous organization from the university, with its own governance. The university respects the SA’s independence and does not direct the programming or events that the association organizes for the student community.
Our university is a scholarly community whose academic mission is focused on building strength and capacity through research, innovation and partnerships. To this end, we support respectful dialogue, dissent and discourse. This includes supporting freedom of speech and encouraging an inclusive, diverse and safe environment on campus.
UOIT does not support a boycott, divestment and sanctions [campaign] against Israel.
Walker also told the National Post that he had “never seen a university in Canada where pro-Israel student leaders are denied a voice because of their affiliation.” He noted that the materials they would have showcased were mostly about peace and co-existence — “not right-wing stuff.”
Walker gave this statement to The Algemeiner:
Denying Hasbara Fellowships a table to showcase our Israel Peace Week materials solely because we are ‘connected to the state of Israel’ is akin to saying ‘no Jews allowed’ … When a pro-Israel group seeks a voice on campus just as pro-BDS groups have, liberal western values suddenly no longer apply. This double standard is contrary to the values that universities claim they foster. University administrations who permit or facilitate that double standard need to be called out for doing so. The fact that this happened only weeks after the Canadian Parliament passed a law condemning BDS shows just how out of step this student association is with the vast majority of Canadians.
Hasbara Fellowships was founded in 2001, according to Walker, to empower and train pro-Israel student activists to be “ambassadors” for Israel.