Controversial Campus Poster

Controversial Campus Poster

The poster to the left is the one that has been causing all the controversy at Carleton University lately, with the administration reportedly having it removed from campus. Later today we’ll have a report from a student who scheduled a meeting with the Provost over the poster, so look here for the “official” story then. For now, here’s my two cents on this poster.

Latuff’s cartoon of an Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) helicopter firing a rocket as an unarmed Gazan civilian child holding a teddy bear is a cartoon-rendering of reality for the life of people in Gaza, especially in light of the recent brutal attack on the area. Many know the numbers: nearly 1400 Palestinians killed, over half civilian, the majority of those women and children. Fourteen Israelis were killed, four by their own misconduct. As well, it is well documented by Israeli, Palestinian and international human rights groups that the levels of force measured between rock-throwing Palestinian civilians and the IDF’s US-funded military machine are anything but equal. Yes, Hamas and other militant groups conduct suicide bombings and rocketing that target Israeli civilians. But the death and destruction of Palestinian land and people far exceeds that of Israel, many including Finkelstein, citing it at a ten-to-one ratio.

So this poster is an accurate representation of the political and conflictual realities of the two sides, with the IDF and military might on one side and the death of unarmed Palestinian civilians on the other. That said, I don’t feel it’s a very sophisticated representation, and its incindiary tone may do more to distract than attract to the activities of Israel Apartheid Week. The use of children to play on knee-jerk emotional response is ubiquitous on both sides of the conflict. However, representations that accurately portray the enormouse inequity of the conflict and that show a Palestinian civilian population imprisoned by walls (as the poster does) are important visual signifiers of the ongoing calculated destruction of the Palestinian culture by the Israeli government.

The poster should stay up, even though it may hurt feelings and cause offense in some in the campus community. It clearly targets the Israeli government and the IDF – the agents of the destruction and illegal occupation of Palestine, not Israeli and/or Jewish people.

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Supporting freedom of expression is good policy – always

Dr. Dawg brings our attention to the incident at Carleton chronicled here. Students in a campus group — Students Against Israeli Apartheid (SAIA) — wanted to put up this poster:

Israeli Apartheid Week 2009 poster

I can’t say I find the poster that offensive, but I do think it is stupid. Likely, I wouldn’t agree with the members of SAIA about much of anything, except maybe that people getting killed is generally a bad thing. At the same time, we can all recognize that it’s going to offend some people.

But if I were in charge, I’d still say, “Let them put up the stupid poster.”

That’s not what happened at Carleton. The administration informed SAIA that the “image could be seen to incite others to infringe rights protected in the Ontario human rights code” and prohibited them in no uncertain terms from putting the poster up anywhere on campus.

Yes, indeed. The administration called upon “human rights” to justify the suppression of speech.

The parallels between this incident and the one at the University of Calgary are hard to ignore. In that incident, students protesting abortion were forbidden from displaying signs that compared abortion to genocide. They were later charged with trespassing when they ignored the university’s unjust policy and stood up for their freedoms anyway.

I think it’s tacky to compare abortion to the Holocaust. I also think the whole concept of “Israeli apartheid week” is tacky. But that doesn’t really matter. If you’re pro-choice, you should stand behind the students at the University of Calgary, and if you’re pro-Israel, you should stand behind the members of SAIA at Carleton.

Censorship should be opposed. And universities should be shining examples of the benefits that accrue from the unhampered, free exchange of ideas — even bad ideas.