Last year, Israeli Apartheid Week (IAW) at the University of Manitoba spurred debate and controversy. This year, the Students Against Israeli Apartheid (SAIA) group is looking to expand its event and form another group at the University of Winnipeg.
SAIA at U of M started when organizers from IAW saw the need to form an official student group on campus.
“Last year was successful, and our main goal is to be able to hold IAW annually,” said Riyad Twair, fourth-year computer science student and executive member of U of M’s SAIA. “We want to hold that event and others of similar flavour throughout the year.”
At 50 members, their group is growing fast and plans on opening a University of Winnipeg chapter this year.
“This year we’re planning on holding lectures and looking for members from the U of W to start an IAW at their university,” Twair said.
Last year, the IAW gained criticism from B’nai Brith, the leading voice of Canada’s Jewish community. The Jewish student group Hillel at the U of W said it would act accordingly to make sure an IAW does not happen at the U of W.
“We would have to consolidate with the University of Winnipeg Students’ Association and U of W administration to see what could be done to put a stop to it,” said Paul Meyerson, Israel advocacy chairman for Hillel.
Meyerson believes that events like these are anti-Semitic and doesn’t believe IAW should take place at universities.
“Everyone has different opinions but we all come to accept differences, the point of university is to go to school and enjoy it,” Meyerson said. “Unfortunately what SAIA is doing is turning U of M into a hate-filled campus. Last year they put up anti-Semitic posters which is a breach of human rights codes.”
Others, such as Dr. Mark Etkin, disagree with these views.
“It’s an obvious free speech issue but IAW wants to open dialogue between both sides,” said Etkin, an associate professor of medicine at U of M and member of Independent Jewish Voices.
His group helped organize last year’s IAW and says that Jewish groups are quick to label critics of Israel as anti-Semitic.
Omri Golden-Plotnik is a Jewish student at U of W and would like to know more about a SAIA group on campus.
“I would want to know what they were basing their feelings on and what they were trying to accomplish,” he said. “If the group is going to spread information I hope it’s at least going to be true and accurate.”
Nonetheless, Twair encourages interested students to contact SAIA.
“If U of W students are interested, we’ll give them resources and assistance,” Twair said.
For more information, visit winnipeg.apartheidweek.org.
Published in Volume 65, Number 9 of The Uniter (October 28, 2010)