March 7, 2014: BDS referendum on University of Windsor campus with Independent Jewish Voices’ Tyler Levitan

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Click image for more on OPIRG Windsor

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The president of the University of Windsor appears set to to do anything he can to derail the successful  BDS referendum on campus which binds the University of Windsor Student Alliance to divest from companies which are located on occupied Palestinian land. In the following audio segment I spoke with Tyler Levitan, national campaigns co-ordinator for Independent Jewish Voices by telephone and in the studio were Mohamed Almoayad of the University of Windsor Palestinian Solidarity Group, and Ian Clough who hosts All in a Day’s Work Thursdays at 8PM on CJAM.

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Levitan described the work of IJV and explained that to label those who defend Palestinian rights as anti-Semitic does a huge injustice to those afflicted by real anti-Semitism past and present. Witness the rise of right-wing anti-Semites in Hungary. Leaders such as our own Prime Minister have equated criticism of Israel as the new anti-Semitism yet fail to speak out against the real thing:

Following is the president’s letter to the UWSA:

University of Windsor Student Alliance
March 4, 2014
CAW Student Centre
University of Windsor
To the UWSA,

The University of Windsor is one of the most important universities in Canada. We are recognized for the diversity of our student population, our welcoming of international students, and our location in a community and part of the world that is undergoing significant change in response to global forces. Collectively, our student population is a reflection of the diversity in our world.

As stated in your own constitution, the UWSA represents the voices of all full-time undergraduate students. You play a vital role in shaping the student experience at our University. In that regard, the goals of the UWSA and of the University of Windsor are the same – to make the University of Windsor a university that you will value while you are a student, and that will enrich you for a lifetime. As the voice of students, you are a partner with the University of Windsor in the desire to see a university be a place where you can learn about difficult challenges in the world and where hard and sometimes uncomfortable issues can be debated.

The referendum process that is now underway on the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanction (BDS) issue has raised serious questions about the operations of the UWSA. Specifically, I have received many well-documented and detailed complaints about the processes used by the UWSA throughout the referendum. It is the University’s expectation that complaints such as these are being taken seriously by the UWSA. The University has begun its own investigation, and the outcome of that investigation will be communicated to all students as part of the University of Windsor’s desire to ensure that every student’s rights and privileges are being respected.

I am aware that the UWSA Council will be meeting on Thursday, March 13, and that the report of the Chief Returning Officer (CRO) will be brought to the Council as a final step in the referendum process. I am requesting that you defer the receipt of that report and the finalization of the referendum process until the UWSA and the University have completed their investigations. Should you choose not to defer the tabling of the CRO report, and the complaints are proven to be valid, the University of Windsor will have to consider its options. While we fully respect the autonomy of student organizations, the University must insist that the actions of the UWSA are taken in accordance with appropriate processes. The University cannot allow student organizations to compromise the University’s commitment to provide a welcoming learning and living environment for each and every student on our campus.

I trust that you will be amenable to my request. I commit to working through our review of the complaints as quickly as we can, and to sharing our findings with the UWSA and with all students.
Sincerely,
Alan Wildeman
President and Vice-Chancellor

 

March 5 UWSA letter responding to UWindsor president:

The UWSA always has the best interests of its members in mind. We are obligated to continue to operate in accordance with our constitution, by-laws, and policies. This referendum and its results are not binding on the University of Windsor but on the University of Windsor Student Alliance (UWSA), which as Dr. Wildeman has noted, is an autonomous organization. However, if council would like to defer the report of the Chief Returning Officer (CRO) that is a decision for UWSA council to make at our next meeting. Under our by-laws (by-law 85 section 3.8) the CRO shall bring forward an official report at the first council meeting following the vote. It is not within the authority of any officer of our corporation to defer the report of the CRO. We are aware there have been complaints about the process for this referendum. All complaints are to be brought to our CRO, and then appeals are sent to our Electoral Monitoring Committee. EMC will then render a decision based on the evidence provided that will be brought forward to council in the form of a final report. The deadline to appeal the referendum was Monday at 9pm and the Electoral Monitoring Committee is currently reviewing those appeals. The UWSA will continue to work together with the University to work towards the best situation for all involved.

The sponsor of the referendum is the University of Windsor Palestinian Support Group which issued this statement:

March 04, 2014

Palestinian Solidarity Group BDS Referendum Statement

The University of Windsor Palestinian Solidarity Group (PSG) would like to clear up the misinformation that’s been spread by the media in regards to the BDS referendum which was recently passed, as well as respond to the recent statements by President Alan Wildeman.

Many have falsely claimed the referendum was on a “boycott of Israel” or of companies which “support or are from Israel.” Various other inaccuracies in the coverage show how easy it is to get away with complete fabrications when it comes to Palestinian human rights activism.

Almost nowhere in the media coverage has the actual referendum question been presented. In actuality, the referendum question asks the UWSA to participate in BDS by simply divesting from “companies that support or profit from Israeli war crimes, occupation and oppression,” which is following the BDS approach of the United Church of Canada, CUPE Ontario, and the many other student unions who have passed BDS.

“BDS” or “boycott, divestment, and sanctions,” are simply three tactics any individual or group can use, there is no official ‘BDS’ global group or organization: the Palestinian call for these tactics have led the vast majority of the groups willing to respond to use them specifically against companies enabling the cruel military occupation, oppression and war crimes imposed on the Palestinian territories.

Part of the campaigning for the referendum pointed out that normalizing economic relations with the illegal Israeli settlements built on the occupied Palestinian territories has been condemned by various UN officials and human rights organizations who demand companies not be complicit in such violations of international law. It is not only reasonable to boycott such companies but necessary if we wish to not be complicit in their breaches of the law. None of these facts have been reported by the media, but the PSG hopes that University of Windsor students who may be confused will have the opportunity to properly understand what was passed and see through all the misinformation.

So let us repeat this: there was no “boycott of Israel” or boycott of “companies from Israel” voted on last week. It was a very targeted proposal to divest from companies enabling the Israeli military occupation, which is why students voted in favour of the referendum.

Yet, it seems as though the administration has caved into pressure that’s resulted from the misinformation, as evident in President Wildeman’s letter to students on the topic. We naturally expect the administration to be against such social justice initiatives from students, as it also resisted the South African BDS movement when our campus was the first in Canada to join. Comments in his letter such as “only 798 students supported the referendum’s ‘yes’ result,” are being made to try and delegitimize the validity of this referendum’s results. 1393 students participated in the referendum, above the 10% required for quorum. Low voter turnout is the standard in UWSA and student elections in general; all students were still given the opportunity to vote in this referendum.

The PSG took the principled step of requiring this question to go to referendum specifically to allow students to make this choice themselves instead of just asking the UWSA Council, which has been the standard method of passing BDS-related motions on every other Canadian campus. We have been applauded as the first campus in Canada to join the movement through undergraduate referendum.

Our efforts leading up to this referendum were such that we were able to attain five-hundred student signatures in support of the referendum, and we then presented our question to the UWSA which approved it contingent on the UWSA’s lawyer’s approval. The question got the green light from the lawyer and so the referendum proceeded. The president of the PSG took the time to meet with President Alan Wildeman to inform him about the intentions and effects of the referendum before the campaigning began, and the UWSA Council also required leaders of both sides to have a meeting with the Office of Human Rights. There was no abuse of process here: there was actually extraordinary care taken during the entire process, with precautions that aren’t required for any other UWSA referendum.

The issue of student safety and discomfort is one that PSG took very seriously, which is why so much effort was made beforehand to prepare. The PSG, as stated in its constitution, is against all forms of hate speech, oppression and racism. However, claims that it is racist or discomforting to simply propose divestment from companies enabling war crimes would not be considered legitimate in any other context: our divestment from companies facilitating South African apartheid was not racist, for example.

The referendum is a condemnation of occupation, war crimes and oppression, not any ethnicity, religion, national group or country. The issue is the oppressive policies and breaches of international law. BDS has countless Jewish supporters, both within our own group, and outside of it (i.e. Independent Jewish Voices Canada, which has endorsed BDS). And of course there are many Israelis who support BDS, such as author and peace activist Miko Peled who PSG invited to our campus last semester. All of us are united in simply opposing the ongoing human rights violations that are being committed against millions of Palestinian people, and for Palestinian students, this includes their families.

The fact that Palestinians cannot simply ask a campus to divest from companies which contribute to their suffering without facing institutional backlash, harassment, and misrepresentation, speaks volumes about the depth of their oppression.

For more information, e-mail windsorpsg@gmail.com

FURTHER READING:

Al Jazeera’s “Is Zionism compatible with Democracy”

“Israeli teen activists say no to army draft”

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International Women’s Day

Ian Clough interviewed Barb MacQuarrie, Community Director of the Centre for Research & Education on Violence against Women & Children at Western University on his program, All in a Day’s Work, on Thursday March 6th. he graciously made it available on The ShakeUp on Friday. In the audio segment MacQuarrie describes her work. The Vision Statement of the centre states that “The Centre is committed to the development and application of knowledge for the prevention of violence against women and children through promoting innovation, collaboration and equality.” 

FURTHER READING:

Why do we need an International Women’s Day?

Parliamentary committee’s report on violence against Indigenous women ‘sanitized’

More on the music on the program

Click on image for more on CD

Click on image for more on CD

March 5 2014: Interference in BDS Referendum on University of Windsor Campus

Click image for more on OPIRG Windsor

Click image for more on OPIRG Windsor

By: Paul Chislett & Mireille Coral

During student elections begun Feb 27th at the University of Windsor, a referendum was put to the undergraduate student body to support the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) movement. Having a campus wide referendum on BDS was a first for a Canadian university. The question passed 798 in favour to 585 against, with 1,398 votes cast.

There was a stunningly low voter turnout on a campus of about 14,000 full and part time undergraduates. The University of Windsor Student Alliance (UWSA) has a by-law forbidding media contact by those involved in a referendum. If this anti-democratic practice weren’t in place perhaps voter turnout would have been greater.

The win for the Palestinian Solidarity Group (PSG), who worked to have the referendum placed on the ballot, was marred by an isolated break in of an office on campus setting off a firestorm of fear mongering and the threat from University of Windsor President Alan Wildeman to have the referendum quashed.

A UWSA office was broken into the evening before the voting period was to begin and the word ‘Zionist’ and a Star of David were spray painted on a “Support Our Troops” flag. The incident has been decreed a hate crime and is still under investigation.

Zionism is defined as a “…national movement for the return of the Jewish people to their homeland and the resumption of Jewish sovereignty in the Land of Israel.” Certainly and unequivocally the right of Israel to exist is without question. But does the condition of Israel’s existence have to mean the denial of the same right to a homeland for the Palestinian people? That’s a question fought over since 1948.

To claim someone is a Zionist without context and the opportunity for proper debate (for even Zionists disagree over their philosophy) is really just plain stupid. To do it by breaking into an office and spray painting it on a wall is criminal, but is it a hate crime? Can the PSG be blamed for the actions of someone’s behaviour? Is the PSG referendum responsible for creating an unsafe environment on campus? The university president and local media seem to think so, and published reports certainly imply it.

An early published report stated that “[d]espite the potentially explosive issue students are voting on … the university has no control over what referendums the student alliance conducts.” The issue is the referendum question and it is hardly “explosive.” In a later report, President Wildeman states, “The university cannot allow student organizations to compromise the university’s commitment to provide a welcoming learning and living environment to each and every student on our campus”. This astounding charge appears to be a heavy-handed attack leveled directly at the Palestinian Solidarity Group.

Let’s back up a bit and look at the referendum question:

Be it resolved that the University of Windsor Students’ Alliance:

 

Join student organizations around the globe by endorsing and participating in the 2005 call for Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions from Palestinian civil society; and

 

Commit to identifying and divesting from companies that support or profit from Israeli war crimes, occupation and oppression; and

 

Affirm that students have a vital role in supporting struggles for social justice, and stand in solidarity with Palestinians’ struggle for self-determination and freedom.

 

Let’s then ask what the Boycott Divestment and Sanctions campaign is:

 In 2005, as a response to Israel’s persistent violations of international law relating to its treatment of the Palestinian people, 108 organizations representing Palestinian refugees, Palestinians under occupation, and Palestinian citizens of Israel called for an end to Israel’s occupation of Gaza, the West Bank and other Arab territories through a non-violent campaign of Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS).

Israel has violated hundreds of UN resolutions since 1948 when Israel violently forced Palestinians from their land with the sanction of the international community. Today, also in violation of international law, Israel continues to build settlements on occupied lands, build a wall that separates Palestinians even from each other, and allows companies to profit while located in occupied territories.

Periodically, the Israeli military, one of the best armed in the world, has invaded Gaza killing hundreds of men, women and children. I have heard firsthand accounts of Palestinians in Windsor who endured the daily humiliation of Israeli checkpoints just to go to work, health clinics, school or shopping. Gaza has been described as the world’s largest open air prison. (And HERE)

click image to read report:  "Trigger-happy: Israel’s use of excessive force in the West Bank"

Click image to read report: “Trigger-happy: Israel’s use of excessive force in the West Bank”

For more on BDS listen to an interview with Electronic Intifada contributor David Cronin that Chislett conducted in February on CJAM 99.1 FM:

Even with this violent history, the referendum is seeking to boycott, divest from, and sanction Israeli companies that profit from work done on occupied Palestinian land. Not Israelis, not adherents of the Jewish religion, not individuals. The BDS campaign is a challenge to us all, and critically, to the University of Windsor Student Alliance not the University of Windsor, to boycott and divest from companies that profit in the occupied territories

Click Image for Book info

Click Image for Book info

How can it be that a group of University of Windsor students, concerned with the rights of Palestinians under Israeli occupation, have created a climate of fear at the university while following all the procedures for referendums?

The members of the Palestinian Solidarity Group on campus I know remind me of young adults in the past that fought oppression, war, and occupation. I have encountered from them nothing but humility and a sincere desire for justice and peace in the occupied territories.

There does need to be recognition of individuals who say they feel unsafe on campus, however; can that not be accomplished by creating a safe place for respectful dialogue to occur – an exchange in search of understanding about what justice means and how to attain it, and common ground around the right of all peoples to a homeland and autonomy? Could this not be a role the media and a university president could play in collaboration with the University of Windsor Student Alliance?

Instead, the local media and president Wildeman are playing their version of Fear Factor, and shame on them. Safety on campus, a stated concern of the President and the PSG, cannot be ensured by clamping down on legitimate debate and justice work.

Of course if a university president were only focused on devolving a university into a structure focused on neo-liberal economics and automotive technology, stripped of all semblance of humanist inquiry – arguably exactly what this president is all about – then stamping out justice work shouldn’t be a surprise move. Here many will recall last summer’s de-funding of the Centre for Studies in Social Justice on campus.

The fact is the PSG has NOT created a climate of fear at the university. The local media, notably the Windsor Star, and now picked up on by The Urbanite, the CBC, MP Jeff Watson, and international media appear to be using the isolated break-in and vandalization of property as an opportunity to smear the PSG and discredit the referendum and the BDS campaign on campus, thus fanning a climate of hostility on campus.

The members of the PSG are not willing to simply talk about a just world. They have taken the initiative for non-violent action against a serious injustice that does affect us here. Instead of praise for taking on a tough issue they are met with a hard line threat of censure. In contrast, students in sports, business, and technology programs are frequently celebrated for their work on and off campus.

The PSG is up against the entrenched belief that any criticism of Israel, especially in the post 9/11 world, is tantamount to racism. Our own Prime Minister, while in Israel in January, decreed criticism of Israel as the “new anti-Semitism”. As a result, the brutalization of Palestinians will continue unabated. Therefore, it is left to people of good conscience on campuses and communities the world over to take on the fight in the absence of such conscience on the part of our co-opted leaders and a compliant media.

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Click image for book info

 Gerald Caplan got it right with his response in the Globe and Mail during Harper’s January trip to Israel that he “…will not be instructed by [Harper] about the limits of our free speech, and we will not be silenced in the face of injustice.”

On March 4th, University president Alan Wildeman issued a threat to the University of Windsor Student Alliance. Here is a segment of Dr Wildman’s ultimatum (the full letter is hyper-linked near the beginning of this piece):

I am aware that the UWSA Council will be meeting on Thursday, March 13, and that the report of the Chief Returning Officer (CRO) will be brought to the Council as a final step in the referendum process. I am requesting that you defer the receipt of that report and the finalization of the referendum process until the UWSA and the University have completed their investigations. Should you choose not to defer the tabling of the CRO report, and the complaints are proven to be valid, the University of Windsor will have to consider its options.

Stifling the referendum and vilifying the PSG will prevent crucial work on the global BDS campaign on an important university campus in a city counted as the fourth most diverse city in Canada. What kind of message does that send about the University of Windsor campus?

The rights of the Palestinian people are not some far off problem to a substantial number of Windsor residents. Palestinian rights also tie into Canada’s history. The oppression of the Palestinian people is a result of the same colonial mentality that tore apart First Nations in what is now Canada. The proper resolution of land claims and a nations to nation relationship with First Peoples cannot be resolved until Canadians come to terms with our own colonial past and present.

Too many Canadians usually descend into paroxysms of anger and denial when faced with the above version of our history; however, if one can put aside the manufactured (by the state and school system) history of assimilationist European settlement in Canada, one cannot fail to see the similarities in experience between First Nations people in Canada and the Palestinian people.

Colonialism and oppression are hard matters to talk about, but they must be faced. Instead of censure it is courage that is required, like that displayed by the members of the PSG. And where else but on university campuses should this tough dialogue take place? President Wildeman and his supporters simply want to wish away the tough dialogue that is required to make the world a more humane place. In fact if one reflects on president Wildeman’s patriarchal language around creating a safe campus, it is clear that what he means is students can’t be trusted to manage dialogue around difficult ideas. What kind of university president is that?

We should all be fearful, not of the BDS campaign, not of students challenging world views, but of autocrats in the service of injustice and their compliant media practitioners who want to silence democratic dialogue.

While much of the rest of the world moves to pressure Israel to conform to international law through the non-violent BDS campaign, President Alan Wildeman can be seen to be abusing his position of power to de-legitimize the BDS referendum. He is willing to censure free speech and derail the BDS movement on campus to impose some Orwellian idea of order.

This is a blatant example of autocracy in action which is becoming all too common at all levels of Canadian politics. The growing movement, fueled by the local media, to censure and punish the Palestinian Solidarity Group and end the BDS campaign before it gets under way should be vigorously denounced.

Tell University of Windsor President Alan Wildeman to respect the student referendum results:

Phone: 519-253-3000, ext. 2000
E-mail: president@uwindsor.ca

Twitter: @UWin_President

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Paul Chislett is a Windsor, Ont. activist and host of OPIRG Windsor’s The ShakeUp on CJAM 99.1 FM Fridays at 4PM at the University of Windsor.

Mireille Coral is a Windsor Ont. Based adult educator and PhD candidate at the University of Windsor. Her research investigates the role of popular education in the context of a de-industrializing economy.

FURTHER READING:

ON FIRST NATIONS:

Click image for more on First Nations history

Click image for more on First Nations history

FOR MORE ON WHAT CANADA COULD BE IN RELATIONSHIP TO FIRST NATIONS:

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Click image for book info

FOR AN EXCELLENT BOOK ON THE LOSS OF MASS ACTION:

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Click image for book info