What happened at Carleton last night...
Some shameful behavior by Students Against Israeli Apartheid. This first-hand account was written by my friend Emile.
I'm writing this in response to many people's questions about what exactly happened at the CUSA Council meeting last night. I've done my absolute best to present the facts as I perceived them in this very chaotic situation. If anyone disagrees with my perception, please weigh in through a comment.
A couple of weeks ago, the Israel Awareness Committee became aware that CUSA Council would be considering a motion put forward by Students Against Israeli Apartheid (SAIA), and seconded by outgoing PAPM rep Alex Hunsberger, that would endorse the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) campaign against Israel. The BDS campaign calls for economic, cultural, and academic boycott of Israel – thereby punishing the country's entire population in protest of particular Israeli government policies. As GSA rep Austin Miller said at the council meeting, there's an important difference between criticizing a government, and calling into question an entire country's right to exist. That was the key issue for us: anyone should feel free to truthfully criticize Israeli government policy, but it is unacceptable to demand the isolation of a whole people and an entire culture. Moreover, we share the widespread concern that Jewish and pro-Israel students face real danger on campus when irrational and non-factual attacks are leveled against the world's only Jewish state.
In response to this motion, we put out a call for students concerned about this issue to gather half an hour before the Council meeting on the 20th floor of Dunton Tower, in order to show opposition to this politically charged attack on Israel's right to exist. We appealed to students who believe in the Jewish people's right to a safe homeland, but even more to students who believe their student union should not be in the business of deciding issues of right and wrong in one of the most controversial and complicated areas of the world.
About forty or fifty students came to show their opposition to the SAIA motion. We knew we would be outnumbered - SAIA has been remarkably successful in gathering anti-Israel activists together, along with campus groups passionate about human rights who have somehow been convinced that the BDS movement is justifiable. And as we expected, SAIA brought out about a hundred activists to support the motion.
As we all crammed into the lobby of 20th Dunton, SAIA began a series of anti-war chants. Some of their members held up signs accusing us of opposing human rights, and of supporting "war profiteering." Others used force and intimidation to shove our supporters aside and get closer to the closed door of the Council room. I recognized one of these more aggressive activists as the individual who, at a previous SAIA event I attended, accused the Canadian government of financially supporting Jewish groups that illegally harvest human organs.
Present at this scene were Carleton's director of student affairs, Ryan Flannagan, and two officers from Campus Safety. They were under extreme pressure to find a solution to the Council room's fire capacity. Ultimately, Mr. Flannagan decided that twenty people from each side would be allowed into the Council meeting. SAIA's leadership shouted that this was unfair and undemocratic, and several members attempted to force their way into the room past the Safety officers. At this time, we decided to respond to SAIA's chants with a rousing chorus of 'O Canada,' which was unfortunately interrupted by the opening of the Council room.
As promised, twenty members from each side were let in. SAIA's supporters were not satisfied with this, and they even managed to breach a side door – where they had to be physically restrained from pouring into the room. Other activists verbally abused Mr. Flannagan and the Safety officers as they demanded to be let in.
The Council had decided to go straight to the motions under consideration. CUSA VP Finance Meera Chander had proposed a compromise motion that would recommend socially responsible investing for the University pension fund, without singling out Israel. The motion met all of SAIA's demands, except one – it did not single out Israel for demonization and accusations of crimes against humanity.
This first motion was debated for upwards of two hours, until finally a SAIA supporter introduced an amendment that further specified the human rights violations that would eliminate companies from the pension fund's investment portfolio – under CUSA's recommendation. This amendment was debated for some time, often in a heated fashion. One of my best friends had to temporarily leave the room as a result of taunts and threatening gestures from SAIA supporters. Outside, she was further mocked and belittled by other activists. The amendment eventually passed. The amended motion was then passed by a majority of CUSA Council. The cheers from SAIA's supporters outside were so loud it felt like they were in the room. Throughout this time, I was fielding text messages from our supporters outside the room asking that we all leave as a group at the end, since they did not feel safe trying to leave the area alone or in small groups.
Then something happened that none of us had expected. The chairperson of CUSA Council – an unelected employee of the association – determined that SAIA's anti-Israel boycott motion was redundant, since the motion just passed contained the same substance – excluding, of course, unique condemnation of Israel. Citing Robert's Rules of Order, the chairperson ruled that SAIA's motion be struck from the agenda.
The chair's ruling was challenged by CUSA VP Student Services Sam Heaton. Accordingly, the dispute was put to a vote by Council, which voted by a wide margin in favour of the chair's ruling – thus removing SAIA's motion from the agenda. Council then voted to move to a five-minute recess.
Immediately, we could hear the hallway outside exploding. SAIA's supporters began knocking with their fists on the doors and the walls, chanting "Shame" and other indistinct slogans. The activists inside the room began berating CUSA executive and councillors, while those of us opposed to the SAIA motion remained relatively calm and collected.
As the minutes dragged on, however, SAIA's supporters in the hallway raised their volume and further escalated the situation. For a tense period of time, those who were there to oppose the SAIA motion did not feel safe leaving the room to face a screaming mob of anti-Israel activists. It was clear that Alex Hunsberger and other councillors who had voted with SAIA were embarrassed by the turn of events, and the behaviour of their allies.
Eventually, the Safety officers were able to ensure safe passage of people from the Council room to the Dunton elevators. I stayed in the room a few more minutes as Sam Heaton – backed up by increasingly furious SAIA members – once again challenged the chairperson, unsuccessfully. When I finally left the room along with two friends, it was through a mob of angry students shouting incoherent invectives as Council, at the Safety officers, and at us. I admit it was a very big relief to get out of the area.
As I met with some friends in Residence, I got several calls from others reporting incidents of near-violent encounters between our supporters and pro-SAIA activists. One friend was reportedly called a "faggot" by a SAIA supporter during an argument. Another, who is a religious Jew and wears a kippah, was the subject of a fistfight in which he was fortunately not involved. I have to give credit to one very courageous individual who kept returning to the 20th floor to walk out with our supporters past the mob.
I do not by any means want to suggest that all the SAIA supporters who attended were party to this behaviour. There were many people there who are simply passionate believers in human rights, and who have been misled to believe that their cause is a noble one. But last night, Students Against Israeli Apartheid showed their true colours. They are vicious, violent, and they will do whatever it takes to achieve their goals. Until last night's events, I continued to hope that the tensions on our campus could be defused through dialogue and mutual respect. Unfortunately, it has become clear that SAIA and its supporters are not interested in playing a constructive part in our campus life. I hope you will join me in opposing them and their hateful agenda, whenever and wherever they surface next.
My heartfelt thanks to all the brave and righteous people who came to stand together against hate, and to all those who supported us in our struggle. And my deep respect and gratitude to the CUSA executives and members of Council who did their jobs despite the kind of intimidation that no Canadian should ever have to experience.