Nick Day Statement

Dear Students of Queen’s University,

My letter, which was published March 7 on Rabble.ca, entitled, “A response to Michael Ignatieff on his statement about Israeli Apartheid Week,” was directed toward Liberal Party leader Ignatieff’s public statement condemning Israeli Apartheid Week (IAW).

IAW has taken place on campuses across Canada since 2005. The event was created as a space to address Israel’s ongoing occupation of Palestinian Territories, in an educational environment. Because of the recognized violations of human rights committed by Israel1 it’s important for citizens and academics to publicly discuss and condemn such acts of violence. Therefore, I wrote the article because IAW should not be silenced on campuses.

Internationally recognized figures such as Archbishop Desmond Tutu, former US President Jimmy Carter, and even Michael Ignatieff have recognized the usefulness of the apartheid reference to describe Gaza and the Occupied Territories. “Apartheid” is defined by the 2002 Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court as a criminal act “committed in the context of an institutionalized regime of systematic oppression and domination by one racial group over any other racial group or groups and committed with the intention of maintaining that regime.”

The term “Apartheid” can therefore apply to cases other than the regime of South Africa prior to 1994. IAW has for years sought to address how this recognized definition applies to Israel and the Occupied Territories under international law. In 2002, recognizing the applicability of the term “Apartheid” to the Occupied Territories, Michael Ignatieff stated, “When I looked down at the West Bank, at the settlements like Crusader forts occupying the high ground, at the Israeli security cordon along the Jordan river closing off the Palestinian lands from Jordan, I knew I was not looking down at a state or the beginnings of one, but at a Bantustan, one of those pseudo-states created in the dying years of apartheid to keep the African population under control.”2

I urge people to discuss the matter at hand—the critiques discussed during Israeli Apartheid Week, its legitimacy as an academic event and its continued importance for human rights. One of the mandates associated with the Rector position is to promote scholarly dialogue amongst students—that's what matters here.

The critique that Israel is building an apartheid system in Palestine is gaining credence around the world. Given Canada’s active role in international affairs, relations with Israel and history of colonialism, this critique needs to be heard and discussed here in Canada too. Queen’s University has recently strengthened ties with Israeli post-secondary institutions. It’s important for students to think about the wider implications of what kind of connections their university is building abroad. We should all involve ourselves in these debates.

As I’ve mentioned, one of the duties of the rector is to foster academic dialogue. In this sense I have fulfilled my mandate as rector and brought wider attention to the academic and political significance of IAW for Queen’s students and to campuses across Canada.

Controversial ideas are difficult, but the university and society at large would suffer if we avoid them. I remain committed to working with all students and am always willing to engage in meaningful discussion with people about my statement, even if they disagree with what I said. I also defend myself by saying that not all students claim that I have compromised my role as rector—students, faculty and staff have spoken out in support of freedom of speech for elected representatives.

I continue to take the other aspects of the rector role very seriously. I’ve been attending meetings with administrators, meetings of the Board of Trustees and Board committees, and meetings of Senate and Senate committees. At these bodies, I always strive to voice concerns that pertain to students.

I remain the only student representative on the Queen’s University Planning Committee, a committee comprising Senators, Trustees and administrators intended to connect and integrate the various planning processes of the University. I have continued to lobby the administration on pressing student issues, most recently including international tuition increases and the threats to academic quality resulting from an Academic planning process driven by budgetary concerns.

I have continued to work on community campaigns, for example with the Water Access Group, members of Solidarity for Palestinian Human Rights, and equity-seeking groups on campus.

I remain engaged in campus events relating to educational, academic and cultural topics. For a few examples, I was involved with the African Caribbean Students’ Association Culture Show, rallies and teach-ins on the Egyptian Revolution, guest lectures from leading scholars and activists such as Norman Finkelstein and Maude Barlowe, a campus performance event hosted by Queen’s Development and Peace, a poetry reading for Israeli Apartheid Week and radio discussions on topical campus issues at CFRC. All of these relate to fostering the breadth and vitality of academic and cultural engagement of students at Queen’s.

Finally, I do not claim to speak with the consensus view of the Queen’s community or Queen’s students. Never did I state that my view on IAW was representative of the entire student body—rather, I explained that I would never use the influence of elected office to shield an important human rights issue from public debate. I stand by this statement and I continue to stress the need for representatives to publicly voice opinions.

There is no consensus view in a large and diverse population such as the Queen’s student body. However, this doesn’t mean that we should be silent. The diversity of opinions at Queen’s only proves the importance of engaging in safe, honest and public debate on even the most difficult of issues.

Sincerely,

Nick Day
Rector
Queen’s University

1 United Nations General Assembly resolutions 36/226, ES-9/1, 37/123, 38/79, 38/180
and United Nations Security Council Resolutions 242, 446, 1322, 1397, 1435 all address and condemn Israeli violations of international law in the Occupied Territories.
2 http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2002/apr/19/israel3#history-link-box

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