After string of victories at York University, anti-apartheid group sees its student club status revoked

Israel/Palestine
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Students Against Israeli Apartheid at York University

The administration of  Canada’s third-largest university, Toronto’s York University (YU) has taken an extraordinary step by revoking the status of an official student club, Students Against Israeli Apartheid (SAIA).

The administration has also barred popular activist/alumnus Hammam Farah from York’s campus. Students Against Israeli Apartheid at York University say these actions represent “an unprecedented attack on academic freedom and freedom of speech.”

The Canadian Civil Liberties Association has entered the fray by releasing a public statement defending the right to peaceful protest.

On July 24th, members of Students Against Israeli Apartheid attended YU’s Board of Governors meeting to express their concern over what they characterized as an “undemocratic decision” as well as to challenge YU’s Pension and Endowment Fund for its investments in companies that profit from selling weapons and military technologies to the Israeli military. The Governors walked out on the action.

SAIA activists have been effective in chalking up success after success leading to the passage of Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) motions at YU. They lost official status at the university after using a loudspeaker at a demonstration, which the university said broke rules aimed at not disrupting classes.

The students have started a Petition to revoke ban of SAIA and Hammam Farah:

In response to increased pressure from Students Against Israeli Apartheid at York University (SAIA), the York University administration has taken the extraordinary measures of banning a community member and alumnus from campus, to threaten student leaders with punishment, and furthermore, to revoke the official student club status of SAIA until January 2014. These actions represent an unprecedented attack on academic freedom and freedom of speech on the York University campus.

The Canadian Civil Liberties Association has released its public statement defending the right to peaceful protest – even if the protest is disruptive: “Events that are simply noisy, disruptive or cause some inconvenience are often still peaceful and, in many cases, such disruption is a core component of the nature of the protest or the message being conveyed.” Loud, yet peaceful, protests should not be silenced, especially when students are fighting for social justice and universal human rights.

This past year, SAIA has been especially successful in passing Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) motions at both the York University Graduate Students’ Association (GSA) and the York Federation of Students (YFS), as well as gaining over 5,000 signatures of undergraduate students on a petition calling for BDS. CUPE 3903, the union for Teaching Assistants and Contract Faculty, passed a BDS motion in 2009. In response to the mass mobilization efforts of SAIA, including silent vigils, written statements, and public protests, all of these student and worker organizations have made a commitment to push the York University administration to divest from companies that profit from human rights violations as well as violations of International Law.

Currently, the York University Pension Fund and Endowment Fund are invested in companies that sell weapons and other military technologies to the Israeli military. These companies are complicit in the murder of innocent Palestinian families in Gaza as recently as November 2012.

The administration is no longer abiding by the University’s own mission statement of being a University that “cultivate(s) the critical intellect”, that “explore(s) global concerns”, and most importantly, that is a “community of faculty, students, staff, alumni, and volunteers committed to academic freedom, social justice, accessible education, and collegial self-governance”.

We, the undersigned, demand that the York University administration comply with York’s mission statement by:

1. Immediately reinstating Students Against Israeli Apartheid as a registered student club at York University;

2. Immediately recalling its trespass order against alumnus and activist Hammam Farah;

3. Making a firm commitment to upholding the universal values of freedom of speech and freedom of association, which includes, but is not limited to, amending or revoking University policies that place limits on said freedoms.

Sincerely,
[Your name]

About Annie Robbins

Annie Robbins is Editor at Large for Mondoweiss, a mother, a human rights activist and a ceramic artist. She lives in the SF bay area. Follow her on Twitter @anniefofani

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