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Students union tosses out Israeli Apartheid Week

Group's organizer mulls lawsuit

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The Winnipeg Coalition Against Israeli Apartheid is threatening to take legal action against the University of Manitoba Students Union for booting the controversial group's student branch off UMSU-controlled campus property.

"A lot of people are very upset about this," coalition spokeswoman Liz Carlyle said Sunday. "It's clearly an attempt to silence criticism of the (Israeli) government."

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On the other hand, B'nai Brith Canada has congratulated UMSU for what the national human rights organization is calling a "first victory" that should be emulated on every university campus in Canada.

The only group not talking, on a formal basis, was UMSU, whose president Bilan Arte has not responded to numerous interview requests since Friday.

Joshua Morry, the commerce students' rep on the UMSU council, said Sunday he moved the motion passed by a 19-16 margin Thursday night at the UMSU council.

It de-registers Students Against Israeli Apartheid as a student organization, denies it UMSU funding and denies it office and meeting space in UMSU-owned University Centre, Morry said.

Morry said there have been no major incidents at the U of M during annual Israeli Apartheid Week activities held largely in University Centre, but there have been problems elsewhere in Canada.

SAIA is a national organization whose website encourages "hatred" of Jews, he said.

"The language the group uses is quite concerning," Morry said. "It gives people the ammunition to hate Jewish students, it encourages people.

"During the (Israeli Apartheid) Week, a lot of Jewish students feel uncomfortable, a lot of Zionist students feel uncomfortable. As Jewish students, we feel uncomfortable on this campus during Israeli Apartheid Week," said Morry.

UMSU council member Stephen Stairs, who represents students with disabilities, opposed the ban. "They were banned based on rhetoric, not fact," said Stairs.

"It's an extremely petty motion," Carlyle said. "What it does is obstruct the group."

The U of M student members of the coalition have had no office space in University Centre, she said: "There's a shared student meeting space they have access to."

Carlyle said SAIA has been holding Israeli Apartheid Week events at the U of M for the past five years with no problems.

She emphasized the group is not anti-Semitic; it is a student group that is debating the actions in Palestine of Israel's democratically elected government. "It's obviously within the realm of fair political comment," she said. "We've never had problems with violence at events. There've been a few people yelling."

The U of M has been lobbied for years to ban the annual Israeli Apartheid Week activities on campus, but has refused to do so, although the university closely monitors events to ensure student safety and that no laws are broken.

U of M president David Barnard said in 2011 that, "We have an obligation to intervene in the event that there is a violation of any other right, the law, or our policy. Universities long have been places that promote free inquiry and debate, a value that is codified in the commitment they make to the concept of academic freedom.

"Allowing students to organize and hold events that explore controversial subjects may not always be comfortable, but is a reflection of what universities are about," he said in 2011.

B'nai Brith Canada lauded UMSU this weekend.

Said chief executive officer Frank Dimant: "This is a precedent-setting event that should be emulated by students on every campus where IAW events take place. What started as a week of events of harassment and discrimination has turned into events throughout the year that have created poisoned environments for pro-Israel and democracy-loving students."

nick.martin@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition April 15, 2013 B1

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