A new group of students has waded into the Israel-Palestine debate on campus, but this time with a twist. Instead of lobbying students to take one side or the other, they are circulating a petition calling on the CSU executive and council of representatives to abstain from taking a stance on the debate.
“In my ideal world, the CSU would work as a support network to debate all these issues” but itself remain objective, said John Michael Toews who is spearheading the petition with about five other students.
So far the group has accumulated about 850 signatures since the petition began circulating last Monday. But this does not include signatures being accumulated by all the various clubs and associations that Toews and others have visited.
Within the next two weeks, the group hopes to have over 2,500 names down on paper. Following CSU bylaws, this would be five times the 500 signatures needed to call a referendum on the question, and over 25 times the number needed to hold a General Assembly on the topic.
According to Toews, most students have been more than willing to sign. In one day last week he managed to accumulate 100 signatures on his own. What is making them so eager, he said, is the general dissatisfaction that has been growing about the CSU all year, particularly since the violent protests last Sept. 9.
Although the CSU executive and council did not take an official position on the protest, Toews said a general feeling has developed that those in power have proven much more sympathetic to protesters than to organizers, leading to questions of exactly how objective they have been.
Although CSU executive members were present at the protest, they have maintained that they were simply serving as crowd control and not actually protesting.
The petition is being questioned by some as possibly infringing on the CSU’s freedom of speech and expression. Toews maintains though that this would not be the case even if the petition goes through.
“If the CSU doesn’t take a stance, it doesn’t mean others can’t,” he said, saying he believes these issues should be discussed on campus, but that it is more the responsibility of individuals and clubs such as Hillel and SPHR than the CSU itself.
The issue is too divisive between students on campus, Toews maintains, and should therefore only be dealt with at arms length by the union’s executive body. The current stress and tension on campus is only making people uncomfortable and not actually forwarding the debate, he said.
SPHR member and well-known Palestinian activist Laith Marouf likens that argument to the same that individuals used during the battle against Apartheid in South Africa. Those who supported the F.W. De Klerk’s white supremacist regime were uncomfortable at that time as well, he said, but that didn’t mean people shouldn’t take up the debate.
“It is expected that people that support oppression to feel uncomfortable when human rights abuses are brought up,” said Marouf.
According to Toews, though, this is not an issue of right or wrong, but rather making a better atmosphere on campus. He feels the situation must be discussed, but that things have gone to far. “It’s like a pendulum that’s swung way too far. We need to bring it back.”