York University revokes anti-Israel student group’s club status

Students Against Israeli Apartheid at the March rally that resulted in the group losing its club status until January 2014. [Geoffrey Aharon photo]

TORONTO — York University has revoked the club status of Students Against Israeli Apartheid (SAIA) until January 2014 because of a rally it held that violated the school’s noise rules.

The afternoon rally took place March 27 in York’s Vari Hall and “disrupted academic activities,” university spokesperson Joanne Rider said.

The university has also banned York alumnus and SAIA activist Hammam Farah from campus for trespassing, according to a statement from the group, although Rider said she couldn’t comment on information about individuals due to privacy concerns.

The rally took place less than one week after the York Federation of Students (YFS), which represents the school’s undergraduate population of more than 45,000, passed a resolution endorsing the boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement against Israel.

In its statement, SAIA called the university’s ban an “unprecedented attack on academic freedom and freedom of speech on the York University campus.”

It added that the ban is part of a “neoliberal agenda, where the university becomes more like a factory, pumping out unthinking and unquestioning student-robots who keep their mouths shut.”

Rider countered that the university encourages freedom of expression and debate of controversial issues, and values diverse perspectives.

However, such expression can’t compromise or disrupt classes or other academic activities, she added.

Geoffrey Aharon, alumni consultant-elect for Hasbara at York, said he arrived at the rally at around 2:15 p.m., part way through the demonstration that he estimated ran from about 2 to 3:45 p.m., while on his way to class.

“It was quite a scene,” he said. “There were people shouting, people waving flags.”

He said he noticed that the protesters had a loudspeaker, which he understood to be against York’s rules, since it would disrupt nearby classes. He said he sought out security to ask them to shut down the rally, but they said they would follow up at a later date.

The atmosphere was so hostile, and he was so disturbed that so many students were “chanting for hate rather than peace” and that York security refused to shut down the demonstration, that he missed his class in order to video the event as evidence for the university.

Aharon commended York for enforcing its own rules.

“It’s important they [SAIA] actually feel the consequences of their choices to disturb the university and show a lack of respect to the students,” Aharon said.

Jeremy Halpern, president-elect of Hasbara at York, said he was particularly upset that the rally took place on the second day of Passover, when many Jewish students were absent.

“SAIA at York go on about people hearing only one perspective, but they hold this rally on a Jewish holiday. I feel it’s pretty two-faced,” he said.

SAIA’s statement called on the university to rescind its trespass order against Farah and said that revoking the club’s status would not stop its campus activism.

Neither SAIA nor the YFS responded to The CJN’s requests for comment by deadline.