Students at the University of Ottawa say that the campus administration threatened to cancel an 8 March panel discussion they are scheduled to hold as part of Ottawa’s Israeli Apartheid Week.
The University of Ottawa, however, has told The Electronic Intifada that the event, organized by Solidarity for Palestinian Human Rights (SPHR), will now go ahead.
Meanwhile, students at Carleton University, also in Ottawa, found Israeli Apartheid Week posters defaced with slogans such as “This is where the Holocaust began.”
University of Ottawa places Palestine event “on hold”
An action alert posted online by Students Against Israeli Apartheid (SAIA) at Carleton University, stated:
On March 6th, a member of SPHR received an email from Conventions and Reservations Services at the University of Ottawa telling her that their room booking for Thursday’s Keynote IAW event is now “on hold”, that SPHR “may not continue with this event for now”, and that SPHR’s contract was being forwarded to “Protection Service for evaluation.” These heavy-handed measures are because of an unnamed “incident” that supposedly occurred at Monday’s event. When members of SPHR met with the University administration, they were not told what this “incident” was (see below for full email from U of O). The very fact that the organizers were put in a situation, where their event was threatened with cancellation, is a form of intimidation from the University of Ottawa administration.
The event on Monday, 5 March that opened Israeli Apartheid Week was titled “Arab Spring, Apartheid Falls? The Egyptian Uprising and Possibilities for Palestinian Resistance.” The scheduled 8 March event is titled “Legalized Apartheid and Women’s Resistance in Palestine: Principled Solidarity and the Global Struggle for Liberation.”
The action alert included what it said was an email from Martin Bergeron, Coordination agent of the University of Ottawa’s Conventions and Reservations Service, and asked people to call or write Bergeron and University of Ottawa President Allan Rock to protest what they called an act of censorship. The email stated:
Following the incident that occurred during your event in Fauteux 147A on March 5th 2012, your event scheduled for March 8th in Hagen 302 from 18:00 to 23:00 is on hold therefore in
Pendingmode. You may not continue with this event for now. Also, I urgently need you to provide the name of the speaker(s) who spoke on the 5th of March as well as the ones that are scheduled to speak on the 8th of March 2012 in Hagen 302. This information needs to be provided to me no later than today. Also, I am forwarding your contract to Protection Services for evaluation. Again, you may not proceed with your event in Hagen 302 on the 8th of March until I confirm.
The email did not outline the nature of the alleged “incident.” Reached by telephone this morning, Bergeron told The Electronic Intifada that the event had been given the go ahead. He refused to comment on the 6 March email warning that the event was “on hold,” or to provide any other information, and quickly hung up the phone.
SPHR at the University of Ottawa also confirmed in an email that the event had now been “re-confirmed” but noted that “the University has imposed the presence of agents from the Protection Services as a condition for the event to take place, after evaluating a complaint by unknown persons regarding our event on March 5th.”
The email states that, “despite repeated demands, we have received almost no information on the details and exact nature of the aforementioned complaint, leaving us entirely in the dark as to the reasons why a previously confirmed lecture event was precipitously placed in jeopardy only two days before it was due to take place.”
A University of Ottawa twitter account also denied the event would be canceled, stating, that the university “has no plans to cancel this event” that it “has always promoted & defended freedom of expression.”
Aidan Macdonald, a member of SAIA Carleton, told The Electronic Intifada that the threatened cancelation “is a continuation of the repression tactics. We’ve seen them try to intimidate and bully us, whether through the poster banning. This is just another example of attempts to repress and silence solidarity work at the university.”
Macdonald was referring to a decision by both the University of Ottawa and Carelton University to ban the Israeli Apartheid Week poster in 2009 which depicted an Israeli helicopter gunship firing at a Palestinian child. The poster, Macdonald recalled, came within months of Israel’s deadly assault on Gaza in which 1,400 people, including more than 300 Palestinian children were killed.
Although a student at Carleton, he said that his group, SAIA, works closely with SPHR at the University of Ottawa.
Macdonald said he hoped that people would continue to contact the University of Ottawa in response to the action alert to make clear their opposition any attempt at censorship.
Macdonald said that this morning students at Carleton found their Israeli Apartheid Week posters defaces with slogans including “This is where the Holocaust began” “Racism lives on” “Anti-Semitism lives.”
Canadian politicians condemn Israeli Apartheid Week, line up behind Israel
This year, as in previous years, national leaders in Canada condemned Israeli Apartheid Week and lined up behind Israel.
Bob Rae, the leader of Canada’s main opposition Liberal Party condemned students for focussing on Israel. [In an official statement], Rae said:
Israeli Apartheid Week continues to defy logic and the cause of social justice. We expect students to engage with issues of injustice, equality, and respect for international law, and we encourage respectful dialogue on these topics on university campuses. It is therefore difficult to understand why this year the focus continues to be on Israel, rather than on the appalling massacres and human rights violations that have reached intolerable heights in countries such as Syria and Iran.
Picking up a favorite theme of Israeli hasbara, Rae slammed students for “singling out and demonizing one country.” Rae failed to point out, of course, that while the Canadian government is part of stiff international efforts to confront and sanction both Syria and Iran, it actively abets Israeli human rights abuses.
SPHR at University of Ottawa: Event “re-confirmed”
An email from the SPHR at the University of Ottawa received by The Electronic Intifada this morning states:
Thank you for your support. The University of Ottawa has re-confirmed the room reservation for the lecture event on Thursday, March 8th. As such, the panel discussion, entitled “Legalized Apartheid and Women’s Resistance in Palestine: Principled Solidarity and the Global Struggle for Liberation” will proceed as planned at 7:00pm that evening.
However, the University has imposed the presence of agents from the Protection Services as a condition for the event to take place, after evaluating a complaint by unknown persons regarding our event on March 5th (“Arab Spring, Apartheid Falls? The Egyptian Uprising and Possibilities for Palestinian Resistance”). While we will not be contesting this decision at this point, it is our belief that such a security presence is unnecessary and does not contribute to a safe and open environment for our guests and speakers. Furthermore, despite repeated demands, we have received almost no information on the details and exact nature of the aforementioned complaint, leaving us entirely in the dark as to the reasons why a previously confirmed lecture event was precipitously placed in jeopardy only two days before it was due to take place.
As such, we encourage you to continue writing to the University of Ottawa Administration to demand transparency through the release of information about the complaint, as well as information as to how it was evaluated by the administration and how the latter motivated the decisions it took in consequence. It is both unacceptable and highly suspect that the University of Ottawa has taken such arbitrary action without any due explanation.