No 1004 Posted by fw, March 11, 2014
Just to put this post in context, a recently held BDS (Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions) referendum, sponsored by the University of Windsor Palestinian Solidarity Group (PSG) has sparked controversy in the pages of the Windsor Star throughout last week and into this week.
The latest salvo appeared in today’s Windsor Star. A letter to the editor from a law student argues the referendum was in violation of the “fundamental values of the students whose background is tied or connected to Israel.” This letter is reproduced below in full, absent the author’s name. My letter in response follows the student’s.
(Note: Although it may not matter, there is some confusion in this post over what the abbreviation UWSA stands for. Is it University of Windsor Student Association or is it University of Windsor Students’ Alliance? The law student who wrote the letter to the Star uses the former, I use the latter. A search of the University of Windsor website turns up the latter but not the former).
Violation of values
Letter to the editor, Windsor Star, March 11, 2014
To the University of Windsor Student Association: [I am] a third year law student studying at University of Windsor. I would like to bring to your attention the impact of the Israel boycott referendum and how the referendum fundamentally contradicts the UWSA constitution.
Therefore, I would like to urge you to hold off on moving forward with the referendum and abort it altogether.
The referendum is in violation of the UWSA’s constitution. Within your latest response to Dr. Alan Wildeman in relation to his request in delaying the process of the referendum, you have stated, “(t)he UWSA (is) … obligated to continue to operate in accordance with our constitution, bylaws, and policies.”
Under the preamble part of the Constitution of the UWSA, it clearly states, “(o)ur common values include those entrenched in the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.”
Under the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, s. 2 states various fundamental freedoms including the freedom of religion, freedom of belief, and freedom of expression.
School is a community made up of students from a diverse range of backgrounds and beliefs. The referendum violates these fundamental values of the students whose background is tied or connected to Israel.
Although it is important that we express our opinions, let’s not forget the importance of multiculturalism as a treasured Canadian value. The referendum not only jeopardizes the safety of students but also subjects people to a hate crime.
As you might be aware, the news reported that last week someone broke into the office of Jake De Jong, the vice-president of academic affairs for the University of Windsor Student Alliance.
Windsor police are investigating it as a hate crime.
Therefore, in order to continue to operate in compliance to the UWSA constitution and be in the best interest of the students, I sincerely urge the UWSA to hold off on moving forward with the referendum and abort the referendum.
[Writer’s name omitted]
Regarding [the] Letter of the Day in the Windsor Star, “Violation of Values”, re: the BDS referendum sponsored by the University of Windsor Students’ Alliance:
First, according to the Palestinian Solidarity Group BDS Referendum Statement of March 4, 2014, the referendum question was approved by the Students’ Alliance and its lawyer. Moreover, PSG also met with the university president to advise him of their intentions. (I have no confirming evidence of the accuracy of the PSG statement, which I received from the Windsor Peace Coalition),
Here’s the relevant excerpt from the PSG statement —
Our efforts leading up to this referendum were such that we were able to attain five-hundred student signatures in support of the referendum, and we then presented our question to the UWSA which approved it contingent on the UWSA’s lawyer’s approval. The question got the green light from the lawyer and so the referendum proceeded. The president of the PSG took the time to meet with President Alan Wildeman to inform him about the intentions and effects of the referendum before the campaigning began, and the UWSA Council also required leaders of both sides to have a meeting with the Office of Human Rights. There was no abuse of process here: there was actually extraordinary care taken during the entire process, with precautions that aren’t required for any other UWSA referendum.
Second, [the law student] cites the Preamble part of the Constitution of the UWSA, which refers to common values including those entrenched in the Charter, as preventing such a referendum, as it could violate the values of Jewish students. [The student] should know that a preamble is simply an aid in understanding the intent of a particular statute and does not carry the same weight as the actual provisions of the statute (or, in this case, the Constitution of the UWSA).
Third, regarding the fundamental freedom of expression – does holding a referendum not provide an opportunity for all students to exercise that freedom? You could make the analogy to our parliamentary system: we all have the opportunity to vote; we may not subsequently agree with the policies of the government, but we are required to respect them.
Fourth, does [the student] hold up multiculturalism as an excuse to do nothing, when we see that countries are engaged in ethnic cleansing or oppression of minorities (e.g. Darfur, Bosnia, Somalia) just because the populations that are committing the atrocities are represented in the Canadian population? That would negate much of the actions by our government!
Fifth, I have difficulty understanding how the values of Jewish students are violated by a BDS movement. The BDS movement only targets companies that profit from the illegal occupation of Palestinian lands (West Bank, Gaza, internationally-recognized illegal settlements). The direct effect on Jewish students would be marginal, at best – unless their families are employed by these companies in Israel, and the resulting loss of profits would lead to a loss of employment?
Sixth, the writer presumes that all Jewish students share the same values. I would refer her to the website of the Independent Jewish Voices Canada (http://ijvcanada.org/). The organization has issued a Statement on the BDS Referendum at the University of Windsor which is strongly supportive of the referendum and its outcome.
Seventh, and finally, should university not be an institution that promotes healthy disagreement and debate? If all disagreement on campus quickly deteriorates into a climate of name-calling and recrimination, then the university is failing to prepare its students for productive roles in resolving the broader global problems which they will face as adults.
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