When to choose a side

Dear editor,


I am not disappointed that you have taken sides in last week’s editorial (“Choosing sides in the Middle East isn’t easy”, March 11). Taking sides isn’t easy, like you said, but we should welcome all forms of discourse based on facts. However, I want to clarify a few inaccurate statements made in last week’s editorial.

The first fallacy is based on the role of the student union. The student union is a political advocacy organization. Its role is to best serve the interest of its members by fulfilling its purpose, which is outlined in the governance documents we have collectively approved. For example, according to the UTMSU constitution, two of the purposes are “to work towards building an environment free of systemic societal oppression” and “to articulate the desire of students to fulfill the duties and be accorded the rights of citizens in Ontario, in Canada, and in the international community”.

Hundreds of students at UTM have called on their student representatives to take a position on the systemic societal oppression of the Palestinian people. They have called for substantive action and their representatives have responded by endorsing a motion to engage in research and discussion on the non-violent Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions campaign. Research into the campaign will explain how it simply calls for Israel to abide by international law.

This position was endorsed by the UTMSU board of directors because it calls for neutrality in terms of ensuring our tuition is not involved in any illegal activity or human rights concerns anywhere in the world. Currently, our tuition is unethically invested. This endorsement also primarily focuses on research into the university investments and emphasizes the importance of education, awareness, and discussion on where our tuition fees go. I am proud that UTMSU has committed to safeguard our members’ rights to organize social justice and human rights campaigns. I am also proud that UTM students have taken up causes that ensure our campus is safe, equitable, and a beacon for justice.

The second fallacy is our own Canadian government’s position on the conflict, which you categorize as “relatively diplomatic”. Canada’s position is not neutral; it is in support of Israel, as clearly stated by Prime Minister Stephen Harper, and rejects the rights of Palestinians, who have been under military occupation since 1967. Nowhere is this stance more evident than in the UN, where Canada has most recently been one of a handful of countries opposing the Palestinian bid for observer status in the UN. We lost our bid to join the UN Security Council and have been isolated on the world stage to the extent that we are not perceived by most of the world as honest peacemakers.

Sadly, our country supported the racist apartheid regime in South Africa that propagated the fallacy that people of colour are less human than Caucasians. I would also like to add that U of T was among the last universities in North America to divest all affiliation with South African apartheid. That system of racial segregation was rejected by the world in the 1990s, and today well-known scholars and diplomats, including Noam Chomsky, Archbishop Desmond Tutu, Naomi Klein, and Howard Zinn have identified many similarities between apartheid-era South Africa and Israeli apartheid, including segregated roads, discriminatory land ownership regulations, and, most recently, segregated transit systems.

In conclusion, I encourage all students to research this issue not only because we are educated and privileged students but because this issue affects us all. UTM students and the community at large will be ill-served by misrepresentation of the facts, the quality of discourse will deteriorate, and the voice of the true victims in this senseless conflict will be drowned away.


In solidarity,

Yasmine Youssef

VP equity, UTM Students’ Union