Carleton should have allowed Apartheid Week poster

Upholding the right of others to say something doesn’t mean you agree with them


The following opinion was designed to be published in The McMaster Silhouette and is tailored to that audience.

Reading week is over, which means many campuses are dealing with Israeli Apartheid Week (IAW).

It’s a tough issue to grasp, especially when the truth is so subjective. This year, it is even tougher after the fighting in Gaza this winter and apparent election of a right-wing coalition government by the Israelis.

Emotions are still running high, and not just on campuses. I write this from Doha, Qatar where I’m presently on assignment. Reading the English language newspapers here, one immediately realizes just how important the Palestinian crisis is to the region. On Feb. 25, stories about Gaza were on the front page of both the city’s English-language newspapers.

Interest groups on both sides of the debate have increased their pressure on universities following last year’s incident at McMaster University. For both sides, the decision to impose a community standard on advertising for Israeli Apartheid Week was seen as a significant event.

For the pro-Israeli side, they saw action against an event they believe inspires hate against their country. Some even call it anti-Semitic. The pro-Israel lobby was galvanized to pressure universities to end Israeli Apartheid Week.

The pro-Palestinian side of the debate saw this as a threat to their cause and were galvanized to organize a rally at McMaster University, which resulted in a police investigation to see if the hate crime provisions of the Criminal Code were violated. The Crown decided there was not enough evidence to meet the high bar set for hate speech.

Both sides completely missed the point; but they often do. Whenever I write on the debate, I receive dozens, if not hundreds of emails and even phone calls from people on both sides. My favourites are the ones that accuse me of being Islamophobic or anti-Semitic. The issue was not IAW: it was the individual poster.

This year, a couple of universities have acted to impose restrictions on advertisements promoting IAW. Many universities are citing the decision of McMaster University last year.

Carleton University banned a poster showing a cartoon depicting a helicopter with the word Israel firing a missile on a child wearing Palestinian grab.

While the poster is provocative, it does not reach the level that the banned McMaster IAW did last year. There is no depiction of blood, the Israeli flag is not used and there is no graphical representation that could be seen to depict Judaism as a whole. Carleton should have allowed the poster.

IAW does have a place on a university campus. While I disagree with the choice of methods used by organizers of IAWs on various campuses, the academy has a responsibility to uphold free speech. Upholding the right of others to say something doesn’t mean you agree with them.

Extremists on both sides often forget who they hope to persuade: the people, like me and you, who are in the middle. It was only recently that someone managed to get me to reassess my position on the conflict. Instead of over-the-top chants and propaganda, she asked me to watch a video hosted by Google and to look further into the issue.

There is plenty of wrong that has been done by both sides in the Middle East; there is plenty of wrong here. By engaging in overly provocative graphic advertising, IAW organizers end up hurting their cause. By asking universities to ban IAW, the pro-Israel lobby hurt their cause.

Both sides need to realize they are not achieving their goals with their present methods.

No side gets exclusive claim to being the victim. They are attacking each other.

The Israeli/Palestinian debate is important and it belongs on our campuses. I only wish true academics would take up the issue and organize proper discussions. I understand why they don’t, and lament the cowardly state of the academy in our country.


Carleton should have allowed Apartheid Week poster

  1. The University of Ottawa also banned the poster. But I do not think they banned it so that students could not see it. I am assuming they did it to tell the community that they “did something about IAW”. They must have anticipated a strong reaction. Students posted the poster anyways, the SFUO Board of administration took a position in favour of the poster (though not necessarily what it stood for) and La Rotonde (circulation of 5000), the French language newspaper, ended up putting the poster on its cover.

    There is a lot of pressure on Universities across the country to do something about IAW. Some purchase ads in newspapers saying they are sorry, others have tried to “ban” the week, most of them make the groups pay for security at their events, Ottawa tries to ban posters, and the list continues.

    Every time a University attempts to limit IAW, the very opposite happens. The local newspaper will write an article about IAW, the local CBC will pick it up, it will make Haaretz or the Jerusalem Post, Maclean’s OnCampus will write about it, and the National Post will write a column or an editorial about it.

    How many people would have noticed the poster had the University not banned it? A few hundred? A few thousand? How many people have read this blog post?

  2. Pingback: Tensions rise over Israeli Apartheid Week : Macleans OnCampus

  3. does nobody understand the fact that there isn’t a “pro-israel” side and a “pro-palestinian side”? it’s become a “pro-israel” vs. “anti-israel” situation now. this is why people are finding it antisemitic… and those posters are not pro-palestine. they are anti-israel. anyone with a decent education could see that.

  4. Lauren:

    That being the case, so what? If someone wants to do something that brands themselves anti-Israel*, more power to them. I certainly wouldn’t stand in their way. People should be free to speak their own minds, even if their words are hostile, or cause discomfort to others.

    *I’m not passing any sort of judgment about whether or not this is actually the case.

  5. Lauren – You’re posing your interpretation of the “situation now” – there no longer being a pro-Palestinian side but instead an “anti-Israel” side – as fact. I can equally interpret those who support Israel in the conflict as “anti-Palestine”, and by extension argue that those who oppose IAW week are Islamophobic just as some are claiming the poster is anti-semitic.

    And it’s really disturbing that this poster is being interpreted as anti-semitic. What about it is anti-semitic? As I’ve argued with a number of Carleton students who support the poster ban, would they have preferred the poster to have an image of one of the 300+ Palestinian children killed by the Israeli military in the last war? Or is Carleton going to ban photos of real war dead, too?

    It’s one thing to criticize the poster for being tactically unwise, a case which could certainly be made, but the claims of anti-semitism are simply ridiculous and end up confusing people over what anti-semitism actually is. Criticism of Israel’s conduct in the recent war does not amount to anti-semitism.

  6. I agree with Joey. While the poster is deliberately controversial, it has maintained the messaging on a purely political level, not a religious or race level. This places it, as far as I can see it, on the same level as a lot of what I’ve seen condemning the War in Iraq (which would have certainly been called “anti-American” by many of the “hawks” down here). My point is, were American students in Ottawa (because there surely are some) entitled to have anti-Iraq War posters removed because it was offensive towards their country? Should the Canadian Human Rights Commission act against “anti-Americanism” (how many yearly cases would we get for a given Bush year?)

    That is, I believe, a proper political comparison for that poster.

  7. Good point, Philippe. It would be interesting to test this out by displaying posters for the April 4 protests with Iraq and Afghanistan-related artwork by Carlos Latuff.

  8. Look the issue is free expression. Section 2(b) of our Charter of Rights and Freedoms guarantees it and in common law (the governing legal tradition in this country) there is no right to be protected against hurt feelings or insults.

    Fact is, if you are offended by my expression, then you have every right to counter me with arguments, not with fists to the face not with objects to my personal property and you should not be able to have the state step in and say to me “your ideas hurt his/her feelings.” I mean what kind of nonsense is this? When I was a child in the schoolyard and someone called me a name, both my parents and the school teachers told me to “ignore him.” I was a child then. So what the hell is going on in society with these so called “Human Rights Commissions” and on campuses like U of Ottawa, Carleton and U of Calgary with bans on displays? Are we regressing here?

    Name me one time that words and not actions that people attributed to those words was responsible for physical harm to people or property? Words don’t hurt people physically, people do. You can’t blame words for an assault anymore than a rapist can blame the sexual attractiveness of his victim for his assault.

    Lets get the government out of the business of regulating speech, and that includes university administrators. We’re adults, we don’t need your permission to speak and no, not every form of expression is meant to be a “love letter” to everyone who happens to come across it. Its called freedom!

  9. I could live with the poster even though I don’t agree with it – I could never imagine an Israeli pilot deliberately targetting an unarmed solitary child. However, how would the IAW and other similar groups and individuals react to a poster showing Palestinian kindergarten/grade school children parading in their schools with military uniforms, toy guns and even suicide belts crying death to Israel surrounded by armed Hamas figures and teachers. You can see it on You Tube and other sources. If that would be accepted then I say go for it. It is factual and makes no comment refarding religion.

  10. When we are dealing with human rights is there a “pro” or “anti”?

  11. Ad Lucem – it’s already happened on the Carleton campus. Hillel’s Israel Awareness Committee at Carleton set up a 15-foot long wall with “Walls make good neighbours” (or something to that effect) scawled across it alongside a series of grim and disturbing pictures. It wasn’t banned by the Carleton administration.

    It should also be noted that a few years ago, 2004 or 2005 – I can’t remember anymore – the Carleton admin banned SPHR from setting up a mock checkpoint. The UOttawa SPHR was also suspended as a student group around the same time for setting up a similar mock checkpoint.

  12. I wonder if the same people displaying propaganda art demonizing Isreal would mind if there were similar signs depicting the many human rights violations in the Islamic world within the context of an honest treatment in an event entitled: “Islam Aparheid Week”?

  13. York has recently put sancations and fines on four groups that staged demonstrations in Vari Hall. Finally! Take your flag waving (or burning), drum beating, bullshit off our campus. Name calling and ‘shows of force’ have no place in an academic setting. If you can’t debate in a civilized manner, you don’t deserve to be debating the issue. You have no right to disrupt classes.

  14. Hey, free speech, no violence, no emotional to the point of physical demonstrations. Anybody should be allowed to post whar they like on these public universities. When however you have physical stuff going on, the police should be called and arrests made.

    People need to understand that yes there is a right to be offensive, as well as a right to speak. When you cross the line and raise your hand to someone or someone else’s property, that’s when the law gets to put its hands on you!!

  15. I was outraged when some people tried to have Maclean’s punished by human rights commissions. I did not agree with the conclusions of the articles in question but I was, and am, outraged that bureaucrats could have the legal right to interfere with a free press. I am pro Israel. That country and its citizens always have their backs to the wall. After the holocaust and the world’s tolerance of it, how can they ever back up? Having said that, suppressing dissent and protest is wrong and counterproductive in any civilized country trying or claiming to be an example to the world. Maclean’s at least has a press to use in the fight for its freedom. Protest groups have posters. It is especially important that we stand up for freedom of expression when we disagree with that expression.

  16. first of all, most israeli soldiers would not kill an unarmed child for fun, but they do it all the time. even if they don’t do it on purpose, does it make that child’s like any less valuable? consider that the IDF shot this 10 year old boy in the forehead at a protest full of unarmed demonstrators: http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2008/jul/30/israelandthepalestinians.middleeast

    as for the arguments about an anti-Islam week, i think it’s misguided. islam is not the source of violent dictatorships in the middle east. hold an event critical of egypt, or saudi arabia, or sudan – it’s not taboo. why do you think there are so many arabs in canada? they know the human rights situation in many of these states is not good, and so they leave.

    israel apartheid week is organized by a lot of jewish students too. critiquing israel is not critiquing a whole religion.

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