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Campus Notes

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Some of the most exciting thinking and doing in Canada is taking place at the country's colleges and universities, where young people of different backgrounds, interests and politics come together to debate and learn about our world. Campus Notes examines issues confronting higher education through our students, teachers, workers and graduates.

Carleton University and the silencing of dissent

| November 5, 2012

The attack on Canadian academics exercising the right to free speech, defending Palestinian human rights and critiquing Israeli racism and violations of Palestinian human rights, is on the rise. While we understand this to be in line with Harper's right-wing policies and absolute support for Israel, we are concerned with the sweep of this policy into our academic institutions. 

Recently the Report of the Carleton's Commission on Inter-Cultural, Inter-Religious and Inter-Racial Relations on Campus was released, identifying only two groups as dissatisfied -- Aboriginal people and Jews. While these groups were identified as dissatisfied, all other groups on campus were ignored. 

The Commission's Report (hereafter Report) was strongly criticized in an Open Letter to be sent to the President and other Carleton governing bodies on Wednesday, November 7. The Open Letter begins by rightly acknowledging Aboriginal peoples' marginalization on campus. It however adds that the "Report ignores the problems other racialized groups face, and focuses primarily on a small fraction of Jewish students and employees." The Letter identifies many problems with the Report including: low response rates, biased selection of groups for further study and biased sampling and leading questions in follow-up survey. 

Still, the ideological underpinnings of the Report poses very serious concerns. Despite the very low rate of Jewish participation in the survey, the Report paid special attention to Jewish students and employees' concerns and recommended a follow up committee. Worse yet, in more than one instance, the Report conflates anti-Zionism with anti-Semitism and insinuates that criticism of Israel amounts to anti-Semitism. This ideological position in fact has little to do with the reality on the ground and more to do with the politics of the university. The latter, we believe, aims at silencing groups and individuals who criticize Israel and promote Palestinian human rights. The targeted groups include Faculty for Palestine, and SAIA and their supporters. 

A quick examination of the situation on the ground suggests quite the opposite. At several activities held by SAIA and supported by Faculty for Palestine, Zionists and supporters of Israel including Hillel disrupted such activities and in more than one incident verbal and physical attacks were also used against the organizers or their guest speakers. Turning the victim into the victimizer as the Report tries to do is no less than twisting and distorting reality to score a political point. 

Canadian universities, and especially Carleton, must recognize that members in groups such as Faculty for Palestine, SAIA and CAIA are Canadian citizens of various denominations including Jews. Our universities cannot be more concerned with Israel than the many Israeli and international (including Canadian) Jews who have publicly and repeatedly criticized Israel for its historic and current treatment of Palestinians.  The list of such academics is extensive, of which we only mention a few: Richard Falk, Noam Chomsky, Judith Butler, Richard Goldstone, Uri Davis, Benny Morris, Baruch Kimmerling, Shlomo Sand and Ilan Pappe. Concepts such as “Apartheid," “cultural genocide,” “racism,” “crimes against humanity” and “violations of international humanitarian laws” levied against Israel, are the product of no other than such respectful Jewish scholars. 

Academic and intellectual life should not tolerate any form of silencing and marginalization. The academe should remain the primary space for freedom of speech, for open debate and discourses and for the production of knowledge, specifically that which is concerned with fighting oppression and marginalization everywhere.   

Please refer to the attached letter for further information:  

Your signature is appreciated.

Sincerely,

Nahla Abdo

On Behalf of Faculty for Palestine/Carleton University

 

 

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