York University, Ontario – mob ringleaders reprimanded

The President of Ontario’s York University, Mamdouh Shoukri, has taken an unambiguous stand for academic freedom. He has opposed the academic boycott of Israel, and is resolute against calls to intervene in the content of an upcoming conference, Israel/Palestine – Mapping Models of Statehood and Paths to Peace, an event which sounded promising but however has reportedly been commandeered to promote above all the idea of a single state solution to the Israel-Palestine conflict.

After nearly three months, Shoukri has also reprimanded the ringleaders – one of whom was the popular York Federation of Students (YFS) incoming President Krisna Saravanamuttu – who mobbed their political opponents on February 11th. Jewlicious has background. Although the political differences here were ostensibly over YFS’ support for prolonged industrial action by contract teaching staff, some key ‘Drop YFS’ (opposition) members were also active in Israeli and Jewish student groups, and similar fault-lines had been observed over YFS’ response to Operation Cast Lead. This was exploited:

“A familiar political pattern  is repeating itself at York. Student groups associated with Israel and hostile towards anyone expressing concern for Palestinian human rights are anchoring a campaign against the undergraduate student union, the York Federation of Students (YFS) and the clubs and social justice organizations associated with it. The public positions put forward by this campaign cannot be taken at face value.

Critics of Israeli crimes face the baseless charge of “anti-Semitism” from those happy to have their voices go hoarse crying wolf. But those who back off in the face of such  intimidation merely pave the way for continued Western culpability in these crimes.”

Where there’s the opportunity, Israel is often invoked by anti-Zionist activists as a political wedge regardless of the discriminatory implications; read Ignoblus’ piece on anti-Zionism as an article of faith. It looks to have been like this at York. ‘Drop YFS’ supporters met to discuss the enthusiastic response to their petition to impeach the student executive for failure to represent the student body, and yet were subjected to calls of “Israelis off campus”, “racist Zionists”, “Die, bitch, go back to Israel”, “Die, Jew, get the hell off campus”, “Fucking Jew” and similar. Jewish students took refuge in Hillel House where they remained under siege until the police arrived. Saravanamuttu blamed Jewish campus groups (Jews comprise 10% of the student population) for the aggression of which Jews were the victims:

Shoukri’s reprimand came late and Saravanamuttu is – as you might expect – insisting he’s an impeccable anti-racist and seeking donations to pay his fine.

Shoukri and York University in general will have their work cut out. The situation is that York students who opposed the YFS leadership’s stance on their lecturer’s industrial action and who also are, or are associated with, students who opposed their YFS leadership’s stance on Israel, have been targeted as Jews, as supporters of the existence of a state for Jews and – as if one thing automatically followed from the other – as racists. Saravanamuttu’s comments amount to the sentiment that if Jews hadn’t been involved in the action then there wouldn’t have been an antisemitic response. In a climate like this the worry is that students who want to express themselves politically will be at a deficit if they are identified as Jews or with Jews. This smearing is type of identity politics often deployed by players who hope to create diversion and division.

This is another clear example where having “many Jews in our group” or even being Jewish, as was the other student who was reprimanded, is completely irrelevant. As Shalom Lappin a visiting professor at York University, an alumnus, pointed out:

“When I was an undergraduate at York in the late 1960s the University was home to lively political activity on a variety of issues. The Israeli-Palestininan conflict was one of these, and discussion was intense, occasionally heated. However, at no time did this discussion degenerate into systematic bullying, initimidation, or expressions of bigotry. Nor would the administration of that period have allowed it to do so. It is a source of great sadness to me that the current administration is either incapable or unwilling to insure the existence of a basic culture of decency, civility, and free speech on its campus.

This culture is a necessary feature of any serious institution of higher learning.”

In the absence of serious contemplation about why it is that the Israel/Palestine conflict, including its virulent racism, is being played out in a Canadian institution, fining the ringleaders will not get to the root of what is currently festering at York and what is threatening other campuses in other countries, including my own.

Protesting the Israeli police’s disruption of PalFest

This illustrates as clearly as anything the dereliction of any restrictive or punitive policy based on who, rather than what.

Daily Kos:

“Palestinians living under occupation in the West Bank and Gaza struggle to live a normal life while penned in by checkpoints, surveillance, and violence.    Palestinians in East Jerusalem are isolated from their brothers and sisters in Ramallah.  Bethlehem is cut off from Nablus.  The elaborate system of checkpoints and Jewish-settler only roads in the West Bank have barricaded one Palestinian community from another.  In addition the deep economic, educational and personal grief this swiss-cheese prison has produced, Palestinian cultural life struggles to survive despite all the odds.”


“The festival began as a call from Edward Said, to “reaffirm the power of culture over the culture of power.” As participants were gathering, the Israeli policeshut down the theater. The French consul who was in attendance, offered the French Cultural Center as a new venue in the moment, in order for the festival to continue.”

Rory McCarthy, The Observer:

“Shortly before the opening event was due to begin, a squad of around a dozen Israeli border police walked into the Palestinian National Theatre, in East Jerusalem, and ordered it to be closed.

Police brought a letter from the Israeli minister of internal security which said the event could not be held because it was a political activity connected to the Palestinian Authority.

Members of the audience and the eight speakers were ordered to leave, but the event was held several minutes later, on a smaller scale, in the garden of the nearby French Cultural Centre.

Israeli police were deployed on the street outside.

“We’re so taken aback. It’s is completely, completely independent,” Egyptian novelist Soueif, who is chairing the Palestine Festival of Literature, said.

“I think it’s very telling,” she told the crowd at the French centre. “Our motto, which is taken from the late Edward Said, is to pit the power of culture against the culture of power.”

“This is the policy being implemented with regard to any events which are either organised or funded by the Palestinian Authority in Jerusalem,” he said.

He added that previous Palestinian events in the city, including the press centre for the pope, had been closed under the same policy.

However, Rafiq Husseini, the chief of staff to the Palestinian president, Mahmoud Abbas, who was in last night’s audience, was dismissive of the Israeli actions.

“It shows how the Israelis are not thinking, he said. “This is a cultural event. There is no terrorism, there is nobody shooting. It’s just a cultural event.”

Matthew Rothschild, The Progressive:

“Egyptian novelist Ahdaf Soueif gave this account at palfest.org.

“I saw 10 old friends in the first minute, all the Jerusalem cultural and academic set were there, a lot of Internationals, a lot of press,” she wrote. “We stood in the early evening light, by the tables laden with books and food and flowers, nibbled at kofta and borek and laughed and chatted and introduced new friends to old. . . . Then we started moving towards the auditorium and I heard someone say quietly, ‘They’ve come.’””

Alex Stein, on Harry’s Place:

“…those in the diaspora who campaign long and hard against a boycott of Israeli culture should be raging with anger at this latest disgrace.”

PalFest is ongoing – follow Palfest‘s organiser and author blogs, videos and pictures.

Israeli universities protest High Court’s decision to allow IDF to exclude Palestinian students from Israel

Six of the seven universities, including top officials from the Technion, the Hebrew University, the Feinberg Seminary of the Weizmann Institute, Tel Aviv University, the University of Haifa and Ben-Gurion University also protested the army’s criteria for granting permits.

In a letter sent to Defense Minister Ehud Barak on May 12, the universities charged that the criteria for considering granting entry permits to Palestinian students accepted by Israeli universities “constitutes a gross and harmful intervention by military elements in purely academic considerations.”

Read the whole report in the Jerusalem Post.

Mira adds:

On the basis of national identity, Palestinian students are still being denied opportunities to pursue educational opportunities in Israel. A blanket ban was widely opposed within Israel and internationally, and was eventually overturned by The Israeli Supreme Court. However, the military continues to arrogate decision-making on who enters Israel to study which subject, with students in some subject areas (particularly physical sciences) subjected to reportedly almost unmeetable criteria.

An update from Gisha, the Israeli legal centre for freedom of movement who petitioned the Israeli Supreme Court, includes the following:

“Prof. Alon Harel of Hebrew University, who asked to join Gisha’s petition along with four other professors, said at the end of the hearing: “We are being forcibly prevented from accepting students who can make a decidedly valuable contribution to higher education in Israel. I call upon the Court and the defense establishment to respect academic freedom – the decision whether or not to accept a student needs to be the exclusive decision of the university, while the military should be limited to performing a security check.”

The Israeli Supreme Court invites Palestinian students who are being prevented from taking up their places at Israeli institutions to pursue their case, whether or not they meet the criteria established by the military, but clearly this hurdle is likely to deter or defeat Palestinian students from taking up their places.

The thing to do is to support the Israeli universities in resisting the imposition of non-security criteria, as described in the piece that David linked to above. And it’s worth reading Jon Pike again on why boycotters are so sluggish about pursuing academic freedom for Israeli academics and for Palestinians who want to study in Israel.