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.
Supporting freedom of expression is good policy – always
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.
Carleton University Administration violates free expression – bans and confiscates posters
On February 8, Students Against Israeli Apartheid at Carleton University put up 100 posters for “Israeli Apartheid Week”, a series of lectures and public events that will occur on campuses in over 40 cities around the world. On February 9, these posters were taken down at the request of Carleton’s Equity Services, under the rationale that the posters “could be seen to incite others to infringe rights protected in the Ontario Human Rights code” and are “insensitive to the norms of civil discourse in a free and democratic society”
The poster was created by noted cartoonist Carlos Latuff and depicts a situation – a child being killed by aerial bombardment – that occurred over 430 times in Israel’s latest attack on Gaza according to United Nations reports. We encourage everyone to view the poster: http://www.apartheidweek.org/sites/apartheidweek.org/files/Israeli%20Apartheid%20Week%202009%20poster.jpg. Since it depicts a situation that has a factual basis and its intention is clearly to invite people to a lecture series, the notion that it is an incitement or a violation to norms of civil discourse is preposterous.
This is part of a wider pattern of repression of academic freedom and rights to free expression, especially on Israel/Palestine, on Canadian campuses, including Carleton University. It is accompanied by double standards. When 56 Carleton professors asked President Roseanne Runte to condemn Israel’s bombardment of the Islamic University of Gaza, the President refused. Neither the direct killing of hundreds of children nor the direct bombing of a campus are enough to elicit condemnation, but her administration has decided that a poster inviting people to discuss the conflict ought to be banned. Instead of being lauded by their university, students affirming the humanity of all peoples and the universality of international law have been threatened by Carleton University’s Provost with expulsion.
The Carleton administration had already taken a biased political stand on the Israel-Palestine conflict, and is now violating free expression to prevent alternative views. Both the current and former Carleton Presidents have taken very clear positions on the Israel-Palestine conflict by condemning the academic boycott of Israel out of hand, offering no alternative to this justice-oriented civil-society initiative. Students and faculty at Carleton have requested that the administration hold a public debate on the issue, to allow the Carleton community to determine the most responsible course of action, yet have been repeatedly rebuffed.
Far from defending human rights, the Carleton administration is treating them with contempt. In a memo to students on February 12, the Provost wrote that “all reported incidents of racial or religious intolerance will be investigated vigorously and addressed regardless of the persons or groups involved.” The administration should begin a vigorous investigation of its own behaviour, including its discrimination against students who seek an open debate on a political issue but are being silenced because they happen to disagree with the president’s stand.
That Carleton’s administration is using human rights grounds to violate free expression on its campus is a double insult. Internationally, the movement against Israeli apartheid has been endorsed by hundreds of universities, unions, religious groups and social justice organizations. This campaign is proudly anti-racist, and founded on the principles of opposition to all forms of racism, anti-Semitism and Islamophobia. It draws its inspiration from the global campaign to end South African apartheid and is led by many of the same individuals who were at the forefront of that earlier struggle. By contrast, the administration that banned the poster could not summon enough concern for human rights or the right to education to speak against the bombing of a Gazan university.
SAIA Carleton demands that the Carleton University administration:
1. Immediately lift the ban on the Israeli Apartheid Week poster and publicly apologize for the banning.
2. Explain, publicly and precisely, how the profound error of banning the poster was made and address how to prevent such violations from occurring in future.
3. Sponsor a full public debate– ensuring generous access to the entire university community– on Carleton’s position on the proposed institutional boycott of Israeli academic institutions.
4. Appoint a university/community Commission to investigate the record of the University in relation to democratic discourse and equity around issues of Palestine solidarity.
This attempt to repress free expression will ultimately fail. The Carleton University administration should understand that debates on campuses on some of the most important human rights questions of our times cannot be silenced by administrative rulings.
We call on student organizations, social justice groups and concerned individuals around the world to support students at Carleton and the broader fight for freedom of expression.
Please take the following actions:
- Immediately email the Carleton University President, Roseanne Runte, at email@example.com demanding that she immediately restore the Charter rights of Carleton students and send a copy of your message of support to Students Against Israeli Apartheid (SAIA Carleton) at firstname.lastname@example.org