Friday, February 27, 2009

Fear and loathing at Carleton University

Academic freedom is under major assault on university campuses in Ontario.

First it was McMaster University, banning the phrase "Israeli apartheid" from the campus last year. Then there was a major behind-the-scenes effort by University of Toronto officialdom to squelch a campus Palestinian solidarity conference.

Now the virus has spread to Ottawa.

Yesterday I was privileged to join a protest at Carleton University against an administration that is determined to stifle criticism of Israeli foreign policy on campus. In an unprecedented attack on freedom of expression, the administration has threatened students with expulsion for speaking out against Israel's policies in Gaza and the West Bank; torn down posters advertising the upcoming Israeli Apartheid Week [see above]; and sent its security goons to confiscate a milder form of the poster from a student literature table.

We handed in a letter to the President, Roseann Runte. She had no wish to engage. "You've been heard," she said, and scuttled back into her office.

The virus has spread further, to the nearby campus of the University of Ottawa. The same poster had been officially approved for putting up around the campus, but the administration, following suit with Carleton, changed its mind and banned the poster as well.

By no coincidence, the presidents of both universities have been recent recipients of lavish hospitality tours of Israel.

The usual lies about "anti-Semitism" are duly being trotted out, even though some of the loudest critics of current Israeli policies are Jews. Evidently we're not supposed to mention the civilian death toll at the hands of the IDF in Gaza, for example. It's the Blood Libel, you see. And the rote arguments against the notion of "apartheid" applying to Israel are sprouting up, in the official student newspaper at Carleton and in the mainstream press.

The executive director of Hillel Ottawa, Alana Kayfetz, said other universities should follow Carleton's lead. B'nai Brith has called for even tougher measures, demanding that campus "Israeli Apartheid Week" activities be banned outright.

Kayfetz stated:

We had nothing to do with the posters being taken down. Our students felt uncomfortable with them, and we said, any time a student feels uncomfortable with anything at all, they're supposed to go to equity services, and go to security. Students complained and the university took action." [Emphasis added]

Carleton's Israeli apartheid week will go on, but closely monitored by university officials to ensure that the discussions are "respectful."

Good grief, bring the bubble-wrap. Shut down the dangerous playground of ideas. Nothing must disturb the world-view of any pro-Israel student, lest he or she suffer a mental bruise. And thus it is decreed that comfort and respect will now be enforced where rough debate once raged. It's almost enough to make me join the Speech Warriors™--had they not been sitting this one out.

[Give the universities a (polite) piece of your mind. Email Carleton University President Roseann Runte, and copy Students Against Israeli Apartheid. Email the University of Ottawa President, Allan Rock, and copy the Students for Palestinian Human Rights.]

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