To: Kent Peterson, URSU President
cc: Vianne Timmons, President, University of Regina
Dear Student Union Executive Members
I am writing on behalf of the Seriously Free Speech Committee – Vancouver (SFSC) to support your right to discuss, debate and implement a program of Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS). In the current climate taking such a position is a courageous act which must be defended. While SFSC does not take a position on BDS, we support the right of any organization seeking to support Palestinian human rights and ending the illegal occupation to come to their own conclusions regarding appropriate strategies for such support.
SFSC particularly supports the University of Regina Student Union Executive against any attempts from pro-Israel groups, within the campus or the larger community, to coerce the Student Union into changing its position. While students are free to engage in debate regarding their support for this decision, our experience has shown that pro-Israeli organizations will bring financial and political pressure on the student union and the university administration, not to encourage a democratic debate on this question, but in an attempt to reverse your decision at an elite level.
The comments of Conservative MP Randy Hoback (Prince Albert) in the House of Commons on March 1 calling for the University of Regina President Vianne Timmons to repudiate and “condemn” the actions of its students as expressed through a decision of the University of Regina Student Union Annual General Meeting is typical. The Conservative government has a history of one-sided support to Israel. Indeed, the Conservative government, which considers itself “Israel’s best friend”, has provided unparalleled diplomatic cover for the invasion of Lebanon, Operation Cast Lead and the attack on the Mavi Marmara. It has attempted to suppress those government-supported organizations and individuals who either hold a “balanced” view of the Israel/Palestine question or who support Palestinian human rights.and the ending of the illegal occupation.
Two Conservative backbenchers initiated a resolution of condemnation, which received unanimous consent, in the Ontario Legislature against Jenny Peto’s Master’s Degree thesis from the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education. The Federal Conservatives attempted to interfere with the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council grant to a York University conference on Palestinian statehood. It has reduced or eliminated funding to organizations as diverse as Kairos, an ecumenical church organization, the Canadian Arab Federation for their ESL programs and Palestine House, also, for their ESL programs. In addition, it has decimated the once prestigious Rights and Democracy organization. The Conservative government played a lead role along with the Liberals and the NDP in establishing the Canadian Parliamentary Coalition to Combat Antisemitism, an attempt to criminalize criticism of Israel by conflating it with antisemitism.
We are concerned that this action is happening at the beginning of the 8th annual Israel Apartheid Week, a time when pro-Israeli organizations are particularly active in slandering and attempting to intimidate Palestine support organizations and suppress open debate. SFSC is prepared to offer any necessary support to assist you in defending your decisions and resisting the inevitable pressure which will be brought to bear on you. We strongly encourage you to carefully document the responses you receive to this decision.
The SFSC began in 2008 as a defense organization for three activists who were subject to a Canwest lawsuit for producing a parody of the Vancouver Sun and its-one sided coverage of Palestine/Israel. It has evolved into an organization directing its resource towards defending activists or intellectuals who are attacked by pro-Israel organizations and individuals because of their support for Palestinian human rights or their criticism of Israel’s illegal occupation.
Co-Chair, Seriously Free Speech Committee