Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

UMSU's slope is slippery

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If the Winnipeg Coalition Against Israeli Apartheid wanted to encourage dialogue to promote the cause of Palestinians, it should have picked a better title, something like Justice for Palestine, Safety for Israel.

Instead, the organizers have adopted a moniker that is offensive and provocative, not to mention shallow and distorted. The group believes Israel is a racist state that discriminates against Palestinians in Israel and in the West Bank and Gaza.

Universities across Canada and around the world have allowed similar groups to stage Israeli Apartheid Week for the last several years on the grounds that post-secondary institutions must tolerate controversial subjects or lose their reputations as places for free thought and debate. Freedom of expression has trumped decency.

The University of Manitoba Students Union (UMSU), however, has cut the group's funding and banned it from the student building on campus because Apartheid Week made some Jews feel uncomfortable and unsafe.

The argument for restricting free speech was not very persuasive, particularly when universities over the years have broached many subjects that upset some people.

There was no evidence the group did anything more than criticize and distort Israeli policies, which is always a touchy matter, but hardly enough to summon the hate police.

Criticism of Israel does not automatically make someone an anti-Semite, but the problem today is that it can be difficult to differentiate between those who are motivated by honest disagreement and a desire to help Palestinians, and those who hate Jews. Many Israelis themselves, for example, are critical of their government, but they are not accused of being Jew haters.

The organizers of Israeli Apartheid Week defend their positions by noting many countries and the United Nations have condemned Israel's practices. It seems incredible, however, that the group again focused its outrage at Israel, the only beacon of democracy in the Middle East, rather than at the bloodshed in Syria.

Canada, by the way, has also been reprimanded for its treatment of aboriginals and because of its allegedly weak record on economic and social rights. Canada, too, has been called an Apartheid Nation.

The Coalition Against Israeli Apartheid doesn't deserve anyone's sympathy, but UMSU should be careful its bold action doesn't turn into a slippery slope for censorship.

Editorials are the consensus view of the Winnipeg Free Press’ editorial board, comprising Catherine Mitchell, David O’Brien and Paul Samyn.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition April 16, 2013 A8

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