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Hasbara reaches settlement with UOIT student association

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Hasbara Fellowships' Canadian director Robert Walker

Hasbara Fellowships reached a settlement with the University of Ontario Institute of Technology (UOIT) student association last week after the Israel advocacy student group was excluded from participating in a social justice-themed campus event in 2016 because of the group’s “ties to Israel.”

“It’s been in the works for awhile, but a few days ago, we settled the case with the student association. We came to an agreement privately,” said Robert Walker, Hasbara Fellowships Canadian director.

The settlement was based on an incident in February 2016, when Walker  applied for a table at a Social Justice Week event that was being put on by the student association, in order to promote  Hasbara Fellowships’ Israel Peace Week program.

Walker said he received a rejection email from Denise Martins, executive assistant of UOIT’s faculty association, writing on behalf of the student association, which said that since the student association passed a motion endorsing the boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement in January, and because Hasbara Fellowships “seems closely tied to the State of Israel … it would be against the motion to provide any type of resources to your organization.”

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Walker said that in addition to being excluded from the event because of Hasbara’s pro-Israel mandate, “the president of the student association last year publicly compared Hasbara Fellowships to the KKK.”

Months later, Hasbara Fellowships filed a complaint with the Ontario Human Rights Tribunal against the Student Association at Durham College & UOIT for “blatant and remorseless discrimination … targeted at Jewish and Israeli people.”

Hasbara Fellowships sought $50,000 in compensation, a mandatory review of the association’s policies, training for all members to identify and eliminate anti-Semitism from its policies, a written apology to Hasbara Fellowships for the discrimination to be disseminated to campus media and be prominently displayed on their websites, an invitation to Hasbara Fellowships to make a public presentation on campus and a repeal of discriminatory policies against Israeli and Jewish people.

Last week, an agreement was reached and Walker said the human rights complaint was withdrawn. He said he couldn’t comment on the financial aspect of the settlement.

“Today, we have a formal apology from the student association.… They have acknowledged that wrongdoing took place and, notably, they identified Israelis specifically, and highlighted their opposition to anti-Israel discrimination specifically,” Walker said.

“Hasbara Fellowships is extremely satisfied with the settlement that has taken place.”

An apology that was published on the UOIT’s student association website said the decision to bar Hasbara Fellowships from the social justice event was “based on incorrect information; namely, that the 2015-2016 board of the SA (student association) had ratified a motion to support a boycott campaign against Israel under the banner BDS.

“The motion was never ratified by the 2015-2016 board. The SA deeply regrets the decision made to deny Mr. Walker and Hasbara the opportunity to participate in Social Justice Week. The SA sincerely apologizes to Mr. Walker and Hasbara. The SA aims to promote healthy debate on campus and rejects discrimination of any kind, including against Israeli students or community members. We welcome Mr. Walker and Hasbara’s participation at a future multicultural event on campus.”

Walker said he is satisfied with the terms of the settlement, as well as the apology.

“This is a major legal victory for Jewish students across Canada. When we filed (the human rights complaint) last year, it was the first time any Jewish or pro-Israel organization had taken such action and today we’ve shown that results happen,” he said.

“This is one of the biggest victories for Jewish students in recent memory.… We welcome the major change in tone that has taken place.”