Censoring the use of the term “Israeli Apartheid”

No matter one’s opinion about the nature of the illegal Israeli occupation of the Palestinian territories, there should be little controversy regarding the ability to discuss this situation on a University campus. Free speech is the life’s blood of any institution of higher learning (as it is of a functioning democracy). Apparently, there are instances when free speech can almost casually be set aside. Recently, at MacMaster University in Canada, the phrase “Israeli Apartheid” was banned from being used on campus. This decisions was made by the Provost office and endorsed (and enforced) by the student Union. The reasons for this are, unsurprisingly, weak. Further, such rabble rousers as noble prize winners Jimmy Carter and Bishop Desmund Tutu have used this phrase recently to describe the conditions Palestinians live under in the west bank. The following is from a MacMaster student group press release.

A Public Forum

Rights & Responsibilities in Political Discussion on Campus:
Who Speaks for McMaster?

Thursday, February 28, 2008 at 12:00pm
Details to be determined

United for Student Rights (U4SR) is holding a Public Forum to discuss
the recent shocking decision by McMaster Student Union (MSU) and
administration to unequivocally ban on campus the usage of the phrase
“Israeli Apartheid”. This decision was first passed by the McMaster
Provost office, which is second in authority only to that of the
President’s office. It has been accepted by McMaster Human Rights &
Equity Services (HRES) and, in turn, the MSU. This information was
communicated to Solidarity for Palestinian Human Rights (SPHR) and
McMaster Muslims for Peace & Justice (MMPJ) early in February 2008 by
the MSU and HRES. Due to this decision, these MSU approved clubs have
not been able to get approval for various initiatives related to Israeli
Apartheid. It is the MSU that is directly enforcing this decision, as it
is the only campus body with jurisdiction over student clubs. MSU
President, Ryan Moran, explained that though the MSU is not bound by
this decision, i! t has chosen to implement it none the less. U4SR is
calling on the MSU to rescind this decision immediately as part of
opening up the discussion for all to decide.

Statement of Human Rights & Equity Services: “The university has taken
the position that literature which refers to “Israeli apartheid” and
activities promoted under the banner, “Israeli Apartheid Week” are
unacceptable. The university takes the position that this phrase is in
violation of the university’s efforts to ensure that all people will be
treated with dignity and tolerance.”

According to the statement of HRES, banning Israeli Apartheid organizing
is a matter of dignity and tolerance. In the view of those who use the
term, opposing Israeli Apartheid is a matter of dignity and tolerance
for the peoples of the Middle East and world over who are fighting for
justice and for human rights. Clearly, there is a contradiction of a
political nature between these two views.

U4SR considers this decision unacceptable especially given that the
recent decision of the Provost is in keeping with consistent efforts by
the McMaster administration, MSU and even Hamilton Police to repress
Palestinian solidarity work over the last six years. At every point,
Palestinian solidarity views have been presented as anti-Semitic and a
matter of hate crimes. The most recent decision by the Provost is a
ramping up of longstanding attempts to criminalize the views of students
who oppose Zionist violations of the human and national rights of
Palestinians. Such efforts overlook the importance of political
engagement and discussion on university campuses, while making political
issues a matter of policy and decisions taken behind closed doors by
various offices of the university. This history provides an important
context for understanding that the banning of terms diverts from the
violation of the political and human rights of students attempting to
defend a just peace for ! ! Palestine.

These are not simple matters to be decided arbitrarily and in private.
They are related to profound questions of rights and responsibilities on
campus and in society at large. It is unjust to require that the
students most affected should submit to this decision or simply engage
in an unequal private dialogue with the administration.

A Matter for All to Decide

It is important to note that the administration has an obligation to
society to respect the basic legal and moral rights of the university
community. Despite all its efforts to claim that the university can act
like a private corporation, McMaster is a public institution that plays
a central role in the development of youth and intellectual thought. In
turn, Human Rights & Equity Services is mandated to defend and elaborate
issues of human rights on campus, and this function has ramifications
for all of society. Similarly, the MSU plays an important role in
supporting and intervening in society, as the organized front of
students. In sum, the functioning of all these parts of the McMaster
University and their recent decision are a matter that concerns all
students, faculty, and the general Hamilton and Canadian society.

For this reason, U4SR is holding a public forum so that everyone’s views
can be heard. We are inviting the administration and MSU to be part of
this discussion and no longer use their positions of power to impose
their views on the conscience of students. We are also calling on all
students, faculty, staff and members of the Hamilton community to join
the discussion. Organisers will ensure that everyone’s participation and
comments are respected.
We, as Canadian students, are taking up our responsibility to society.
We are working to end the marginalization of the McMaster community and
Canadian polity at large from the decision-making processes that affect
their lives and the political orientation of our society. This struggle
at one university campus is a converging point for all those who believe
that Canadian society should decide political matters in a public and
transparent way.

Join us!


McMaster Solidarity for Palestinian Human Rights (SPHR) & McMaster Muslims for Peace & Justice (MMPJ) present:


Note: SPHR and MMPJ are two distinct and separate organizations, both of which are McMaster Student Union approved clubs. They have distinct histories, mandates and members. These organizations separately became involved in the issue of the usage of “Israeli Apartheid” as a term at McMaster University.

SPHR and MMPJ are issuing this joint fact sheet to clarify the events leading up to public release of information claiming that the McMaster University administration has not banned the use of the term “Israel Apartheid” despite both the offices of the Human Rights and Equity Services (HRES) and the MSU President, Ryan Moran, communicating that that decision came from the office of the Provost.

Due to recent statements by the University Provost, Dr. Ilene Busch-Vishniac, various people have contacted us requesting clarification on this issue. We are happy to comply, and hope that our statement of facts will shed light on the matter.

Most people, including SPHR and MMPJ, in writing to the McMaster University have received a generic email reply regarding this issue stating that the university has not banned the use of “Israeli Apartheid” but rather the issue relates to the placement of an inflammatory banner.

For example, in a email sent by the Provost on February 21, 2008 to SPHR, it was stated that, ‘Although there is a rumor circulating that I have banned the use of the phrase “Israeli Apartheid”, this is patently not true. McMaster University fully supports freedom of speech and we have not abridged this fundamental principle. The single action we took was to refuse to place a highly inflammatory and large banner in a very public part of our campus. No restrictions were placed on any activities associated with Israeli Apartheid Week.’

MMPJ and SPHR both categorically deny having requested or been refused approval for a banner, large, inflammatory or otherwise. We do not know what the Provost is referring to in this statement. However, the following series of events did take place:

Monday, February 4: MMPJ had a club table in the Student Centre with literature and a display that had the term “Israeli Apartheid” on them. A small banner was attached to this table with the term “Israeli Apartheid” on it. HRES Program Coordinator, Vilma Rossi, visited the club table to inspect the contents of the literature after students issuing complaints to HRES office. She collected literature for her review and agreed to contact a group representative from MMPJ if she found any part of its contents to be inappropriate or hateful. MMPJ received no communication from HRES about the content of the literature distributed at the table.

Later that day, MMPJ attempted to get the required approval from the MSU Design & Copy Centre for a poster with the term “Israeli Apartheid” on it to advertise for an event later in the week. The manager of the Copy Centre, Sandro Giordano, told the MMPJ representative that the Head of the MSU Diversity Services, Sara Cuneo, had anticipated MMPJ would attempt to print a poster and had requested that she be included in the review of the poster before it was approved. Mr. Giordano contacted Ms. Cuneo upon MMPJ’s arrival and after reviewing the poster, Ms. Cuneo suggested that the poster be forwarded to HRES to judge the appropriateness of the term ‘Israeli Apartheid’. The MMPJ representative present was informed a decision would be made the next day.

Tuesday, February 5: McMaster SPHR attempted to get approval from the Student Union Clubs Administrator for a required Risk Assessment Form for an upcoming event (on February 26) titled “End Israeli Apartheid: Break the Siege on Gaza”. The Clubs Administrator informed SPHR that she could not approve the form since this issue had been ‘flagged’. She suggested SPHR should speak to the MSU President.

Separately that day, MMPJ met with HRES Acting Director, Tim Nolan who communicated that the public employment of the term “Israeli Apartheid” was inflammatory and unacceptable. No poster or event could bear the title “Israeli Apartheid” and we would have to revise the poster to exclude that phrase. He attributed the decision to the office of the Provost.

Wednesday, February 6: McMaster SPHR met for over 5 hours with the MSU President and Human Rights & Equity Services. Both offices made clear to SPHR that 1) the use of the term “Israeli Apartheid” in public promotions and literature would not be approved and that 2) the decision was taken by the McMaster Provost, Dr. Ilene Busch-Vishniac.

The MSU did allow the Risk Assessment for SPHR to be approved, but continued to refuse poster approval so long as HRES did not give their permission. Specifically, they refused to approve the poster due to the fact that it states ‘Guest Speaker: Adam Hanieh, Coalition Against Israeli Apartheid”. In turn, HRES would not approve the poster due to this phrase.

Such verbal communication was also collaborated by written proof in that:

Human Rights & Equity email communication to SPHR President on February 8, 2008 stated: ‘I am sending this email in response to your request to have, in writing, the university’s recent decision concerning “Israeli Apartheid Week”. The university has taken the position that literature which refers to “Israeli apartheid” and activities promoted under the banner, “Israeli Apartheid Week” are unacceptable. The university takes the position that this phrase is in violation of the university’s efforts to ensure that all people will be treated with dignity and tolerance.’

Similarly, SPHR has the signed meeting minutes with MSU President, Ryan Moran, where he states in the February 6 meeting that: ‘The controversy over the use of Apartheid in describing the State of Israel in McMaster Muslims for Peace poster had gone to Human Rights & Equity which was then forwarded to Provost for the final decision. It was agreed upon that the use of language (Apartheid) is not only inappropriate, but also destructive in achieving overall positive results amongst the parties involved. This rule by the Provost was communicated to me through Human Rights & Equity and the MSU has decided to abide by this recommendation.’

Thursday, February 7: MMPJ held their event, as part of Israeli Apartheid week, featuring the screening of the movie, “The Iron Wall” and invited Khaled Mouammar from the Canadian Arab Federation to lead a discussion after the film. During the event, MMPJ followed the guidelines of HRES and did not use the phrase “Israeli Apartheid” throughout the event and instructed Mr. Mouammar not to use the term at any point during his talk or during the question and answer period, to which he complied. In attendance at this event were members of the Hamilton Muslim-Jewish Dialogue committee, HRES representatives, Detective Chris Kiriakopoulos who is head of the Hate Crimes Unit of the Hamilton Police, as well as a Police Sergeant.

Friday, February 8: SPHR spoke to the McMaster Provost Secretary Barb Agro explicitly requesting a written notice of the decision taken by the Provost regarding this issue. This request was repeated in written communication through email on Friday, February 15, and in many subsequent emails. The Provost has yet to comply with this request except to deny the decision attributed to her office by HRES and the MSU.

The administration’s denial through the Provost, Dr. Busch-Vishniac, is even more confusing given an email she sent to Mr. Gerofsky, which is posted at www.israpundit.com/2008/?p=180. This email states:

“Dear Mr. Gerofsky,
I learned of just this morning of the table occupied by a student group, named Muslims for Peace and Justice, who widely displayed Israel Apartheid Week literature. We regret this incident greatly and never condone hate-mongering in any form. We have met with a representative of he student group, explained to them that their banner will not be permitted, and told them in no uncertain terms that their activities must show respect and tolerance for everyone or we will take further actions.
I thank you for voicing your concern and agree that this is an ugly incident. Hateful behaviour has not place in our community.”

Further, parts of this email were quoted by the Jewish Tribune in an article available online at: www.jewishtribune.ca/TribuneV2/content/view/391/37/

Wednesday, February 20: MMPJ met with the McMaster Provost and Andrea Farquhar, McMaster’s Director of Public & Government Relations after MMPJ requested the meeting earlier in the day. During the meeting, the Provost confirmed that in fact she wrote the email cited above addressed to Mr. Gerofsky, but described the email as simply a personal communiqu? outside her capacity as a university official. She reiterated that she did not ban the use of the term “Israeli Apartheid” and only intervened to prevent a large banner in the Student Centre that prominently displayed the term “Israeli Apartheid” by SPHR, though there is no record of SPHR ever requesting such a banner. This meeting was the first time that MMPJ had heard of any such banner. The next day, the provost sent the following email to MMPJ affirming her stance and acknowledging the Gerofsky email on Thursday February 21, 2008:

“As I reinforced at our meeting, McMaster University fully supports freedom of speech. This is a fundamental principle of the University and it is the appropriate means of promoting dialogue on difficult subjects. While there is considerable confusion and misinformation being circulated, we have not abridged freedom of speech. The single
action the University took was to prevent the posting of a banner of a different student group in a very public place on the grounds that it would be unduly inflammatory. We have not restricted any activities associated with Israeli Apartheid Week; nor have we banned the use of the phrase “Israeli Apartheid.

I appreciate that you came to me to clarify these issues as there is considerable confusion on this point owing to the public posting of an email I sent that included personal views on the issue. I assure you that my personal views are irrelevant to this matter.”

Both MMPJ and SPHR continue to be in contact with these offices but with no real resolution. It is the view of both organizations that this matter has become highly speculative and inconclusive due to the lack of both due processes followed by the related bodies on this matter. Both organizations are perplexed by the claims of the Provost that the decision to censor the term “Israeli Apartheid” is the result of a severe breakdown in communication and that both the MSU and HRES, effectively, had lied to us. In turn, we do not know what banner she is referring to. MMPJ and SPHR call on all these bodies to participate in the Public Forum this Friday, February 29 at 10:00am being organized by the ad-hoc committee, United for Student Rights so that everyone can be properly informed to make a decision on this issue. Both groups will be participating and making public statements at the forum.
Sent by USFR on 2/25/08
Posted to [AL-AWDA-News] Digest Number 2934 on 2/25/08
Received in Digest on 2/26/08

United for Student Rights is an ad-hoc committee of McMaster University
and Hamilton community members that was formed to facilitate public
involvement in this issue. For information please contact:

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