McMaster Mid East groups raise ire over student council rulings
By Dan Perry
The McMaster University chapter of Solidarity for Palestinian
Human Rights is crying foul after being put on 30-day probation.
The SPHR had been instructed to cease using the slogan “Zionism
is Racism” by the McMaster Students’ Union, reported
Caleb Zavitz, clubs administrator for the MSU. The group had
also linked the club’s website to another site showing
signs featuring this slogan, he said.
“By and large, [the decision was based on] failure to
follow instructions from the students’ union,” he
said. “By all means, they may criticize any political
dogma they wish, including Zionism, but they need to criticize
in a manner which befits an [MSU] club.
“They’re not being punished for the link, nor
for the disputable [claim] that Zionism is racism, but for
failure to comply with the students’ union’s instructions,” Zavitz
Sina Rahmani, a spokesperson for the SPHR at McMaster, claimed
the MSU was trying to regulate free speech. “We have
an administration at the MSU who has essentially decided which
issues can and cannot be debated on campus,” he said. “Zionism
is not something protected from any sort of critique. [It]
is a complex issue and worthy of debate on any university campus.
“We argued that [the MSU] is not allowing us to affiliate
with our larger group and setting a dangerous precedent. It’s
completely over the MSU’s head — we get the same
punishment as a group that called Arabs ‘savages’ and ‘uncivilized,’” Rahmani
Rahmani was referring to an e-mail sent by the Zionists @
McMaster club, which Zavitz confirmed placed Z@M on probation,
but noted the language used was taken out of context.
“We didn’t read it through,” said Avi Ben-Zvi,
director of Z@M, adding the e-mail was a “big mistake.”
“Last night, we retracted the e-mail and made a formal
apology on a TV interview,” Ben-Zvi added.
According to Rahmani, SPHR was reprimanded was due to a complaint
by a member of Z@M, a claim Ben-Zvi acknowledged.
“One member of [Z@M] made that complaint as an individual
and that was even in opposition to a couple of our executives.
As a group, we don’t support the probation of the SPHR — since
we’ve been on probation, we’ve realized the MSU
has no right to put anyone on probation.”
Ben-Zvi was more concerned with SPHR’s mandate as a
club. “Really, they’ve gone outside of their mandate — they’re
supposed to be talking about Palestinian human rights, but
they’ve spent more time spreading that ‘Zionism
“The MSU should take a hard look at what SPHR is doing
on campus,” he added, claiming the group had made several
personal attacks on him and Zionists.
Both sides are claiming the decision was based on a double-standard,
Zavitz noted, each side claiming their violation was less serious
than their counterpart’s.
“The Zionists have overtly apologized and retracted
those statements, but SPHR is dogmatically adhering to that
particular slogan. It’s not the belief, but the slogan
that the students’ union takes issue with,” he
said of the SPHR.