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On hold: AMS freezes $700 donation to Gaza flotilla from student club

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A $700 donation to an aid flotilla to Gaza by the Social Justice Centre (SJC) has been suspended by Alma Mater Society (AMS) executives after receiving complaints from students.

Last week, the SJC, an AMS resource group, approved the grant to the University of British Columbia (UBC) club Solidarity for Palestinian Human Rights (SPHR) to help fund the Canadian humanitarian aid flotilla to Gaza, which will sail in spring 2011. However, after student complaints made to the AMS executive, the money transfer from the SJC to SPHR was frozen, with intention of bringing the issue in front of AMS council for review on Dec. 1.

AMS President Bijan Ahmadian said that the initial complaint came from VP Finance Elin Tayyar, who felt uncomfortable signing off on the transaction without it being brought to council.

Executives also began receiving student inquiries and complaints about the SJC's funding, as well as petitions from UBC's Israeli Awareness Club (IAC). Ahmadian said that complaints were being made both in opposition to the resource group's support of Gaza and Palestine, as well as against AMS funds leaving student hands to be shipped overseas.

"A number of students said, ‘I don't like my student money being shipped out of the country like this.'"

However, SJC treasurer Arielle Friedman said that the $700 grant transfer to SPHR comes from $2,250 set for grants, from their overall budget of nearly $10,000.

"A lot of groups at UBC routinely donate to outside causes, and other resource groups do as well. That's not a reasonable case at this point," Friedman said. "You can argue that we consider it a social justice issue, and the issue in Gaza as a violation of human rights. So we think it is well within our mandate to donate. And we decided [to approve the grant] by consensus at our meeting."

Friedman said AMS interference in the SJC budget violates AMS code in terms of resource group autonomy.

"[AMS code] says that it's the Resource Group Allocation Committee (RGAC) that sees over the SJC budget, not AMS council," said Friedman. "In April they can vote on the entire budget for the resource groups and a breakdown of what part of budget goes to each group. They have no control over individual resource group budgets."

Ahmadian claimed that the freezing of the transfer does not violate code, and that AMS council still has jurisdiction to review the transaction.

"There was some pushback saying you are interfering in resource groups. And we're saying, well, it does look like we're kind of interfering by putting this on hold. But if we were to actually allow the transaction and sign off on it and the money was gone, then it would be moot for the council to have any discussion on it. [Then] we're essentially taking council's power away, ahead of council's discussion.

"Specifically, I asked two questions to the SJC. This event, this boat to Gaza, how much is the budget for it, if they didn't receive the money for it would it cause financial hardship? And when is it happening? The budget for the boat is $300,000 so it's not like the boat won't sail if they don't get the money in two weeks. And the boat won't sail until next spring anyway. So they can wait an extra couple of weeks for council to have this discussion."

However, Friedman maintained that it is not within AMS code to freeze any resource group transaction without a two thirds majority approval from council.

"If they want to have a discussion about it, it shouldn't be through a violation of codes," he said. "If they want to bring it up, do it through the RGAC and talk about our funding."

An article written by SPHR president Omar Shaban and posted in the online publication Canadian Charger suggested that AMS involvement and obstruction of the funding is part of a larger problem of bullying Palestinian students on campus.

Last Wednesday Ahmadian called a meeting between members of the AMS executive, the SJC, SPHR and the IAC to dis¬cuss the complaints and find out "what exactly was going on."

Shaban's article said that there was confusion: many IAC members thought that the money was going to directly fund a speaking tour by George Galloway, a controversial advocate of Palestinian issues. Ahmadian said he was also receiving emails that claimed the SJC was giving $10,000 of student money to the Canadian flotilla to Gaza.

"The complainants thought that this would be something of ours that they can attack very easily, [but] the money is going for humanitarian relief for besieged people.

"It was insulting to the SJC as a club that appreciates its autonomy and was insulting to SPHR-UBC because this presence demonstrates bias against SPHR-UBC and his complicity in stifling free speech on UBC," Shaban said in his article.

"It's really baffling why the AMS would be doing this," Friedman said. "The IAC presented a petition with 17 signatures, and this is not compelling evidence that students are on their side."

Friedman does not believe council will stop the proceedings. "I seriously doubt they will suspend this transaction; there is no historical precedence [of AMS interference in resource group budgets]," she said. "If it does go through, which I seriously doubt it will, we'll challenge it."

This article was first published in the Ubyssey, the University of British Columbia's student newspaper.

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