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The president of the University of Windsor appears set to to do anything he can to derail the successful BDS referendum on campus which binds the University of Windsor Student Alliance to divest from companies which are located on occupied Palestinian land. In the following audio segment I spoke with Tyler Levitan, national campaigns co-ordinator for Independent Jewish Voices by telephone and in the studio were Mohamed Almoayad of the University of Windsor Palestinian Solidarity Group, and Ian Clough who hosts All in a Day’s Work Thursdays at 8PM on CJAM.
Levitan described the work of IJV and explained that to label those who defend Palestinian rights as anti-Semitic does a huge injustice to those afflicted by real anti-Semitism past and present. Witness the rise of right-wing anti-Semites in Hungary. Leaders such as our own Prime Minister have equated criticism of Israel as the new anti-Semitism yet fail to speak out against the real thing:
Following is the president’s letter to the UWSA:
University of Windsor Student Alliance
March 4, 2014
CAW Student Centre
University of Windsor
To the UWSA,
The University of Windsor is one of the most important universities in Canada. We are recognized for the diversity of our student population, our welcoming of international students, and our location in a community and part of the world that is undergoing significant change in response to global forces. Collectively, our student population is a reflection of the diversity in our world.
As stated in your own constitution, the UWSA represents the voices of all full-time undergraduate students. You play a vital role in shaping the student experience at our University. In that regard, the goals of the UWSA and of the University of Windsor are the same – to make the University of Windsor a university that you will value while you are a student, and that will enrich you for a lifetime. As the voice of students, you are a partner with the University of Windsor in the desire to see a university be a place where you can learn about difficult challenges in the world and where hard and sometimes uncomfortable issues can be debated.
The referendum process that is now underway on the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanction (BDS) issue has raised serious questions about the operations of the UWSA. Specifically, I have received many well-documented and detailed complaints about the processes used by the UWSA throughout the referendum. It is the University’s expectation that complaints such as these are being taken seriously by the UWSA. The University has begun its own investigation, and the outcome of that investigation will be communicated to all students as part of the University of Windsor’s desire to ensure that every student’s rights and privileges are being respected.
I am aware that the UWSA Council will be meeting on Thursday, March 13, and that the report of the Chief Returning Officer (CRO) will be brought to the Council as a final step in the referendum process. I am requesting that you defer the receipt of that report and the finalization of the referendum process until the UWSA and the University have completed their investigations. Should you choose not to defer the tabling of the CRO report, and the complaints are proven to be valid, the University of Windsor will have to consider its options. While we fully respect the autonomy of student organizations, the University must insist that the actions of the UWSA are taken in accordance with appropriate processes. The University cannot allow student organizations to compromise the University’s commitment to provide a welcoming learning and living environment for each and every student on our campus.
I trust that you will be amenable to my request. I commit to working through our review of the complaints as quickly as we can, and to sharing our findings with the UWSA and with all students.
President and Vice-Chancellor
March 5 UWSA letter responding to UWindsor president:
The UWSA always has the best interests of its members in mind. We are obligated to continue to operate in accordance with our constitution, by-laws, and policies. This referendum and its results are not binding on the University of Windsor but on the University of Windsor Student Alliance (UWSA), which as Dr. Wildeman has noted, is an autonomous organization. However, if council would like to defer the report of the Chief Returning Officer (CRO) that is a decision for UWSA council to make at our next meeting. Under our by-laws (by-law 85 section 3.8) the CRO shall bring forward an official report at the first council meeting following the vote. It is not within the authority of any officer of our corporation to defer the report of the CRO. We are aware there have been complaints about the process for this referendum. All complaints are to be brought to our CRO, and then appeals are sent to our Electoral Monitoring Committee. EMC will then render a decision based on the evidence provided that will be brought forward to council in the form of a final report. The deadline to appeal the referendum was Monday at 9pm and the Electoral Monitoring Committee is currently reviewing those appeals. The UWSA will continue to work together with the University to work towards the best situation for all involved.
The sponsor of the referendum is the University of Windsor Palestinian Support Group which issued this statement:
March 04, 2014
Palestinian Solidarity Group BDS Referendum Statement
The University of Windsor Palestinian Solidarity Group (PSG) would like to clear up the misinformation that’s been spread by the media in regards to the BDS referendum which was recently passed, as well as respond to the recent statements by President Alan Wildeman.
Many have falsely claimed the referendum was on a “boycott of Israel” or of companies which “support or are from Israel.” Various other inaccuracies in the coverage show how easy it is to get away with complete fabrications when it comes to Palestinian human rights activism.
Almost nowhere in the media coverage has the actual referendum question been presented. In actuality, the referendum question asks the UWSA to participate in BDS by simply divesting from “companies that support or profit from Israeli war crimes, occupation and oppression,” which is following the BDS approach of the United Church of Canada, CUPE Ontario, and the many other student unions who have passed BDS.
“BDS” or “boycott, divestment, and sanctions,” are simply three tactics any individual or group can use, there is no official ‘BDS’ global group or organization: the Palestinian call for these tactics have led the vast majority of the groups willing to respond to use them specifically against companies enabling the cruel military occupation, oppression and war crimes imposed on the Palestinian territories.
Part of the campaigning for the referendum pointed out that normalizing economic relations with the illegal Israeli settlements built on the occupied Palestinian territories has been condemned by various UN officials and human rights organizations who demand companies not be complicit in such violations of international law. It is not only reasonable to boycott such companies but necessary if we wish to not be complicit in their breaches of the law. None of these facts have been reported by the media, but the PSG hopes that University of Windsor students who may be confused will have the opportunity to properly understand what was passed and see through all the misinformation.
So let us repeat this: there was no “boycott of Israel” or boycott of “companies from Israel” voted on last week. It was a very targeted proposal to divest from companies enabling the Israeli military occupation, which is why students voted in favour of the referendum.
Yet, it seems as though the administration has caved into pressure that’s resulted from the misinformation, as evident in President Wildeman’s letter to students on the topic. We naturally expect the administration to be against such social justice initiatives from students, as it also resisted the South African BDS movement when our campus was the first in Canada to join. Comments in his letter such as “only 798 students supported the referendum’s ‘yes’ result,” are being made to try and delegitimize the validity of this referendum’s results. 1393 students participated in the referendum, above the 10% required for quorum. Low voter turnout is the standard in UWSA and student elections in general; all students were still given the opportunity to vote in this referendum.
The PSG took the principled step of requiring this question to go to referendum specifically to allow students to make this choice themselves instead of just asking the UWSA Council, which has been the standard method of passing BDS-related motions on every other Canadian campus. We have been applauded as the first campus in Canada to join the movement through undergraduate referendum.
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.
The issue of student safety and discomfort is one that PSG took very seriously, which is why so much effort was made beforehand to prepare. The PSG, as stated in its constitution, is against all forms of hate speech, oppression and racism. However, claims that it is racist or discomforting to simply propose divestment from companies enabling war crimes would not be considered legitimate in any other context: our divestment from companies facilitating South African apartheid was not racist, for example.
The referendum is a condemnation of occupation, war crimes and oppression, not any ethnicity, religion, national group or country. The issue is the oppressive policies and breaches of international law. BDS has countless Jewish supporters, both within our own group, and outside of it (i.e. Independent Jewish Voices Canada, which has endorsed BDS). And of course there are many Israelis who support BDS, such as author and peace activist Miko Peled who PSG invited to our campus last semester. All of us are united in simply opposing the ongoing human rights violations that are being committed against millions of Palestinian people, and for Palestinian students, this includes their families.
The fact that Palestinians cannot simply ask a campus to divest from companies which contribute to their suffering without facing institutional backlash, harassment, and misrepresentation, speaks volumes about the depth of their oppression.
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International Women’s Day
Ian Clough interviewed Barb MacQuarrie, Community Director of the Centre for Research & Education on Violence against Women & Children at Western University on his program, All in a Day’s Work, on Thursday March 6th. he graciously made it available on The ShakeUp on Friday. In the audio segment MacQuarrie describes her work. The Vision Statement of the centre states that “The Centre is committed to the development and application of knowledge for the prevention of violence against women and children through promoting innovation, collaboration and equality.”
More on the music on the program