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$700 Gaza donation approved

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The University of British Columbia's (UBC) Alma Mater Society (AMS) Council passed a motion Wednesday night approving a $700 transfer from the Social Justice Centre (SJC) to Solidarity for Palestinian Human Rights (SPHR) that would fund a humanitarian aid flotilla to Gaza. The decision was made after three hours of heated debate. Approximately 200 students were in attendance in the Norm Theatre.

The motion brought an end to nearly two weeks of fighting between the Israeli Awareness Club (IAC), the SJC and SPHR over the autonomy of AMS resource groups, the legitimacy of the SJC executive and whether the flotilla would be funding terrorism.

"We're ecstatic . . . They've decided in favour of both resource group's autonomy and the fact that the SJC can stand for controversial critical causes as outlined in it's constitution," said Gordon Katic, member of the SJC and Allies at UBC. "This isn't just a win for the people of Gaza. This is a win for all six of the resource groups."

Earlier this month, students affiliated with the IAC complained that the $700 transaction from the SJC to SPHR was not valid, as their executive failed to hold a proper annual general meeting.

"We have been responding to these attacks for two weeks," said Katic. "It has been a tremendous personal stress [and] it has been a tremendous stress on the resource groups."

VP Administration Ekaterina Dovjenko presented a report by the Student Administrative Committee (SAC) that disproved these allegations, and stated that an official AGM had been held in February. This meant that SJC's executives had not broken any AMS regulations, and were permitted to give this money to SPHR.

Debate surrounded the legality of the donation, as many students suggested that funding the flotilla effectively supported terrorist groups or unregistered charities for which the AMS could be held accountable.

Questions were raised about the charitable status of the organization that SPHR would be funding. Arts Councillor Katherine Tyson alleged that a legal opinion commissioned by the AMS stated that Canada Boat to Gaza was not a registered charity. This was confirmed by AMS President Bijan Ahmadian, who had been the only member personally in contact with the AMS's lawyers personally. This was also the only time Ahmadian spoke during the debate.

However, SPHR President Omar Shaban stated that the money is going to a registered charity called Alternatives that would then be funding the project, itself called "Canada Boat to Gaza."

Before the motion was passed, it was subject to a number of amendment attempts. A group of councillors, led by Tyson, tried to amend the agenda so that the money would only go to a charity approved by the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA). Another motion by Arts Councillor Michael Haack sought to force the executive to apologize to students for their original decision and for insinuating that the flotilla project was connected to terrorism. Both amendments failed.

"I feel like we wasted a lot of time. From my understanding, from the legal opinion and the findings of SAC, we didn't even need to make a decision. It should have been a regular transaction the VPF should have done," said Haack.

In the lead-up to the meeting, both the SPHR and the UBC Students for Students, which was opposed to the donation, distributed materials to students and councillors, in addition to circulating petitions. The IAC presented a petition of 236 students and 672 alumni, professors, parents of students and prospective students opposed to the donation. The SPHR provided a petition in favour of the donation with 547 signatures from UBC students.

Security was also present in the Norm, and students were told by AMS Council Chair Dave Tompkins that disrespectful behaviour would not be tolerated. However, aside from a few speaker interruptions, the debates remained passionate but civil.

"If there was anyone being divisive in this debate, it was the IAC," said Katic. "I don't like my name linked to terrorism [and] I don't think that it's appropriate for the IAC to make those claims."

IAC President Rael Katz said that Council should not have approved this donation.

"The motion that has passed was a political statement more than [for] humanitarian aid," he said.

Julian Markowitz, former vice president of the IAC, was also disappointed at Council's decision. "It's shown that a small group of radicals -- in this case under the umbrella of the SJC and the resource groups at large -- had the ability to override the democratic mandate of this school," he said.

However, Katz suggested that the decision was not a total loss. "One of our primary goals was to raise awareness. Nobody knew this was happening. It was completely under the table. And we made it public."

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

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