Please Rescind Your Resolution to Ban SAIA

Dear UMSU,

This is a personal statement, and it does not represent any group or organization.

I am sending this to you hoping that you would uphold principles of debate as paramount to any personal or reductionist approaches to policy. Students in Canada, and the West in general posses a privilege that people in the Arab world are dying for right now – a privilege that allows them unconditional and to a certain extent uncensored access to a vast amount of knowledge and information regarding events happening all around the world. As students in the West, we have access to professors that we will respond to our inquires within a very short period of time. Each university has at least four of five libraries with books that span all types of knowledge, and that present all points of views. We have access to the fastest internet in the world giving us a very valuable tool to ask questions, investigate events, conduct research and be able to reach an informed opinion. New buildings are being built on every university campuses primarily to facilitate our learning process, to enrich our experiences as university students and to produce academics with perspective.

We also have student unions with access to huge sums of money allocated to provide us with facilities to eat, meet, drink, socialize, hang out, debate and exchange opinions. These unions are meant to fight on behalf of the student in order to attain the highest level of education while lessening the burdens that students in conflict-ridden areas have on their shoulders. The student union is a space for constructive engagement, and is it a quintessentially political space designed specifically to send a political message that sometimes may appear “controversial.”

The Palestinian cause is a just cause. It is a cause grounded in a firm conviction that the Palestinian people faced an historical injustice that affects – till today – the daily lives of Palestinians in the occupied Palestinian territories (the West Bank and Gaza), in the refugee camps, and in the diaspora. Over 750,000 Palestinians were – within a very short period of time – forcibly uprooted from their lands, and expelled to neighbouring countries (see Pappe’s The Ethnic Cleansing of Palestine). A combined effort by the Zionist movement and the leaders of the dictatorial Arab regimes ensures that they remain stripped from their internationally accepted and protected right to return. When the Zionist movement realized that the so-called “Palestinian problem” is not going to magically disappear they opted for a system of control similar to the one adopted by the Apartheid regime in South Africa. A system that demands separating Palestinians not from Jews only, but from their own lands, and in certain cases, from their own families. For example, a Palestinian from the West Bank is separated by a racist law from his Israeli Palestinian wife.

To be able to farm his land, a Palestinian must gain a permit from his occupier in order to access a land that lies on the other side of an 26 feet high wall. The wall is not built on the internationally recognized 1967 borders, it is built inside Palestinian territories often dissecting villages, school and university campuses. Imagine a very high wall going through the campus of the University of Manitoba – I suspect that any Canadian student would stand idle when faced with such a travesty.

Fighting against racism, subjugation, occupation and Apartheid should not be labelled as controversial. It should be encouraged. I understand that student representatives are busy citing laws and bylaws that are meant to maintain constructive dialogue. I also understand the importance of making everybody feel safe, but by ignoring the fundamental principle of allowing students to advocate for rights that Canadian students would not under any circumstances sacrifice, UMSU committed a grave crime.

UMSU has set a very dangerous precedent that takes into consideration only one side of the story. By accepting a racist ideology as a “nationality” for Jews, UMSU is ignoring a very long tradition of fighting anti-Semitism. Jews in Europe faced the most atrocious of crimes primarily because they are Jews. When Zionism as a political ideology was first introduced to European Jewry, it was rejected almost unanimously by all European Jews. They feared that this new political ideology will strip Judaism from its essence. They feared that by politicizing their struggle, political Zionists will cause them more damage than good and will cause further alienation, stigmatization and death. Aha’ad Ha’am (a prominent Jewish thinker) was adamantly against these efforts. Letters from other Jewish intellectuals were sent to the leaders of this new strand of Zionism warning them about the ramifications of their efforts.

A large segment of the Jewish populations continue till this current day the efforts to expose Zionism for what it is – a racist ideology bent on the ethnic cleansing of an entire population to attain political objectives.

SAIA is not a controversial group. Fighting against Israel Apartheid is not controversial. And this is a fact that must be understood by student unions very clearly. Zionist strategies of citing violations of certain laws should be rejected and put within the appropriate historical and political context.

Muzzling the efforts of SAIA is not a matter of violating the law or upholding thereof. It is a matter of abusing certain systems of governance to attain insidious political outcomes. Using the law is merely part of a grand strategy to obfuscate a political reality and human tragedy in Palestine.

I, therefore, urge UMSU to consider these points, and reverse its decision to ban SAIA, and make it part of their mission to fight war crimes, crimes against humanity and violations of human rights in Canada, Palestine and in every corner of earth.

Omar Shaban

One thought on “Please Rescind Your Resolution to Ban SAIA”

  1. As a student at the University of Winnipeg and a former member of Students Against Israeli Apartheid, I have been frustrated by the University of Winnipeg’s administrations attempts to make SAIA’s presence on campus more difficult than necessary; denying readily available University space, calling in heavy police presence for demonstrations, and hosting events made to dissuade students and community members from participating in our events. The administration reluctantly tolerated our presence on campus, knowing full well that denying us space could only be based on ideological grounds, as our group is based on the explicit premises of anti-racism, non-violence, and anti-oppression. Let me be clear, in order to function as SAIA, in order to be recognized as a member of SAIA, students MUST practice ANTI-racism (as in, we call it out when we see it happen, critique it, and DO NOT permit it within our ranks), non-violence (as a SAIA member for about two years I find it beyond the nature of anyone within the group to physically threaten or intimidate another student), and ANTI-oppression. The University of Winnipeg administration tolerates us, because as a student group, we represent part of the University body, just as zionist student groups do. Our purpose is to create a University environment where Israeli apartheid is recognized for what it is, a crime against humanity and the acts committed by the apartheid state as crimes of war. The administration tolerates us because AS STUDENTS, we not only strive to know more for ourselves, but share the knowledge that we learn with others, to create a better world. Ultimately, the administration tolerates us because we have an inalieable right to freedom of expression, and by extension freedom to political dissent. We acknowledge that other students feelings may be hurt when we call out the practices of “their” state for reasons that seem unreasonable to us. We do not expect to find allies in everyone. But neither do those students who set up their respective political groups, who may also alienate other students due to contradicting views.

    It is in this light that UMSU’s recent revocation of student group status of SAIA is most troubling; that a student “union” would ever rescind the fundamental rights of some of their members due to difference in political opinion in a necessarily diverse political body is appalling. It is disgusting that any students would ever feel as though they have the right to deny other students the right to political expression, especially when no concrete evidence has been brought forth that said group actively promoted any violence, physical harm, or general ill-will to any other student on campus.

    I hope that this letter is one more added to a massive list so that UMSU takes notice of how out of date they stand among their fellow students. In times of political crisis, and in the face of political oppression, it has fallen to university students to stand up for what is right. I hope UMSU makes the right choice and joins the rest of us soon.

    Reinstate SAIA’s student group status. Join the call to BDS. End Israeli Apartheid. FREE PALESTINE.

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