March 12, 2004  
Volume 97, Issue 85  

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McMaster Mid East groups raise ire over student council rulings

By Dan Perry
Gazette Staff

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 added.

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 added.

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 is racism’.”

“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.



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