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Carleton University students taking sides on Israeli Apartheid

When I learned from the Ottawa Citizen that Carleton is a "proud supporter" of the Jewish National Fund's (JNF) annual Negev Dinner, and that president Roseann Runte is an honorary co-chair, I was incredibly disappointed.

Although it would appear that Runte is attending a benign religious fundraiser, Students Against Israeli Apartheid (SAIA) believes the JNF is one of the principal organizations responsible for the continued dispossession of the Palestinian people. Unfortunately for our community, Carleton administration is demonstrating an awful record of failing to acknowledge or respect Palestinian human rights.

The JNF was established in 1901 with the goal of purchasing land within historic Palestine for the settlement of the Jewish people. Its founding mandate remains the same: "caretakers of the land and people of Israel." According to Israeli newspaper Ha'aretz, it holds 13 per cent of public land in Israel, but will not sell it to non-Jews (roughly 20 per cent of Israel's population).

The organization is a registered charity in over 50 countries around the world -- including Canada -- and continues to operate largely unopposed.

Al-Araqib is a Palestinian Bedouin village within Israel's Negev desert. Despite the fact that it predates the founding of Israel, it is unrecognized by the state along with dozens of other Bedouin villages. The Israeli government has demolished Al-Araqib at least 28 times in the last year and has even sued the village for the cost of the demolitions, according to Amnesty International.

The JNF has aided the settling of Jewish-Israelis in these areas of the Negev alongside the building of parks and forests, such as by planting trees around Al-Araqib. This environmental veneer obscures the realities of demographic warfare.

In response to a petition submitted to the Supreme Court of Israel, the JNF claimed it "does not have a duty to practice equality towards all citizens of the state." SAIA believes these discriminatory practices serve to perpetuate the racist exclusion of Palestinians from the enjoyment of full equality within Israel and contribute to the broader structures of apartheid.

Canada has its own branch of the JNF that has been very active in fundraising. During the 1967 war, Israel razed two Palestinian villages and amidst these ruins now sits Canada Park. JNF Canada donated millions to the project, which was considered a charitable contribution due to the organization's non-profit status. Shamefully, the displacement of Palestinians is replaced by a symbol of Canada's complicity in Israel's expansionism.

In an email to the Carleton community in January 2009, president Runte stated: " . . . if the [president] has a personal opinion, he or she should not use the position of president to give it expression and weight. By so doing, it could be implied that this position was one adopted by the institution as a whole." She has also expressed concern over "taking sides" in contentious political issues. Considering the president is supporting a fundraising event for the JNF, it seems as though she has taken a side.

As hypocritical as this is, it shouldn't be entirely surprising for those who have witnessed the administration consistently ignore their complicity in Israel's crimes.

They have refused to allow us to present our divestment campaign to the Board of Governors and have instead threatened students with sanctions if they engage in protests that disrupt their meetings.

As students, faculty, staff, and alumni of Carleton, we should all be outraged that our university is lending its support to an openly discriminatory organization.

Furthermore, in the interests of transparency and accountability, the administration should clarify what its support entails and how the decision to sponsor this event was made. Who made this decision? Was it simply a rubber stamp without concern for those who might be offended? Is Carleton contributing financially to the event?

It would be a shame if it were assumed that the entire Carleton community supports Palestinian dispossession and blatant discrimination. SAIA is asking president Runte and the Carleton administration to do the right thing and distance themselves from the JNF.

Please help us send them a message: Carleton, don't dine with apartheid!

This article was reprinted with permission from The Charlatan, Carleton's independent newspaper.

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