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Thursday, April 17, 2014

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U of T Scarborough students endorse IAW

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Looking west: Science Wing ahead, Bladen Building on the left, and the Arts and Administration Building on the right.

The students’ union at the University of Toronto’s Scarborough campus (UTSC) has voted in favour of a motion to officially endorse this year's Israeli Apartheid Week (IAW), an annual week of events in support of the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement against Israel that runs simultaneously on campuses around the world.

The motion passed at the Scarborough Campus Student Union (SCSU)’s annual general meeting on Nov. 13. The student union represents 10,000 undergraduate students at UTSC. At the AGM, any student can vote, and any student who cannot attend can have a student vote on their behalf.

In April, the same union passed an endorsement of the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement against Israel.

Although Toronto Students for Justice in Palestine (TSJP) have run events on the campus to coincide with IAW, this is the first time that it will run a week of events that is officially endorsed by the student union.

Josh Miller, a member of the Hillel-affiliated UTSC Jewish Student Life who was at the meeting, said he was frustrated with the result of the vote.

“It basically means that our student union is standing in solidarity… and that they agree there is an Israeli apartheid,” he said. “As much as they would want to say they support open dialogue, they at the same time are supporting a more disagreeable environment on campus.”

His group released a statement condemning the endorsement, saying that it takes no issue with TSJP running IAW, but draws the line at the student union’s endorsement, since choosing a side contradicts the union’s equity statement.

However, Mitra Fakhrashrafi, an executive member of the TSJP, said the group sought the endorsement to make sure IAW participants aren’t reprimanded for their actions as they have been on several Canadian campuses.

In March, for example, Students Against Israeli Apartheid at York University lost its status as an official campus group after organizing a rally that the university deemed disruptive to classes, and one alumnus, Hammam Farah, was banned from York’s campus following the event.

In a statement to The CJN, University of Toronto spokesperson Althea Blackburn-Evans said freedom of speech is a core value of the university, and it would not attempt to censor, control, or interfere with any group based on its beliefs or philosophies.

The university is a place where “ideas are exchanged, challenged and debated with mutual respect, tolerance and civility – even when those discussions challenge some of our views,” Blackburn-Evans said, noting that the SCSU is independent from the university and thus the motion does not reflect the university’s political position.

Friends of Simon Wiesenthal Center for Holocaust Studies (FSWC) condemned the motion.

“The passage of this racist resolution at the University of Toronto – Scarborough is a clear declaration of hate and intolerance for Jewish and Israeli students, and an effort to add to the voices calling for the destruction of the Jewish homeland,” said FSWC president and CEO Avi Benlolo.

However, Sabrine Azraq, another executive of the TSJP, said that isn’t the case.

“Would events aimed at raising awareness of Canada’s ethnic cleansing and systematic discrimination toward the indigenous peoples constitute as intolerance toward Canadian students? Of course not,” she said.

She added the goal of the week is to bring awareness to the actions of the Israeli government, not to rally against individual Israelis or Jews, and that TSJP has partnered with Jewish groups such Independent Jewish Voices in the past.

Miller said instead of an endorsement of IAW, however, he would have preferred to see the creation of an Israel-Palestine week that would include events that explain the intricacies of the issue.

Although the Jewish group has not yet approached the TSJP with that proposal, Azraq told The CJN she thought it was “a beautiful idea.”

Miller explained an event of that kind would allow for discussions of the issues in an environment that is welcoming to all students and supportive of both clubs.

“It would give a chance for all students to interact in a cause they believe in and become more informed on what they want to stand for,” he said.

SCSU representatives did not respond to The CJN’s requests for comment.

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