Today in the University of Auckland Quad, the SJP (Students for Justice in Palestine) censure forum took place. Prior to the meeting, I was sitting at a table where an SJP advocate handed out some material on apartheid in Palestine. It became clear at that moment that the agenda was more than just the process by which the AUSA enabled their President Arena Williams to accept an invitation to participate in the trip to Israel hosted by AIJAC (Australia/Israel Jewish Affairs Council) an independent Australian organisation. This is contrary to what I think I had initially posted, in that it was my understanding that there was some correlation between the group hosting and the Israeli government. While I was present for the first two motions, I was not there for the third.
The first motion was to censure President of AUSA Arena Williams for failing to consult students. The motion carried and Arena was censured.
The SJP advocates fiercely denunciated the oppression of the Palestinian people. In doing so, the SJP intimated that had Arena travelled to Palestine, then her travel would not have been disputed. The insistence was that for a person to truly understand the Israel/Palestine conflict they must visit Palestine. I understand this point, that a broader worldview requires seeing the conflict from both sides; however, the trip was hosted by an Israeli organisation and the opportunity to see it from the Palestinian view was probably unavailable on this occasion, but that does not amount to a rejection by Arena of the Palestinian struggle. The presumption of the SJP is that Arena was not interested in understanding the conflict from the point of view of Palestinians. This is unfounded and suggests that the attack was on Arena as an individual rather than a criticism of her accepting the invitation as President of the AUSA. Even in the midst of the personal attack on her, when the mover of the censure was asked to finish up, it was Arena who voiced “let her speak!”
The second motion was that Arena Williams apologise in writing for the offence she has caused to students for her trip to Israel.
The debate here revolved around the offence caused by Arena’s presence in Israel. Omar Hamed did make the concession during his address that an apology from Arena was not going to resolve the conflict in Palestine. However, others alleged that Arena’s presence in Israel and in accepting the invitation to travel there amounted to an endorsement of the Israeli Government’s inhumane treatment of Palestinians. The motion for apology passed and Arena gave a very emotional apology for any offence she caused. She wore her heart on her sleeve, and showed a great degree of composure and strength in delivering her address.
I have been keeping a close eye on Twitter for other updates. It is reported that some Israeli students stood up to speak and were shouted down by the SJP. Additionally, it is reported that the SJP were recording the forum even though a pro-life group had previously not been allowed.
The third motion was for AUSA to consult on 'contentious issues' with students. The motion passed. Although it appears, that there is actually a referendum process for this as part of AUSA’s constitution.
In all, this appears to have been a smokescreen for the SJP to advocate their opposition to the Israeli government. However, the rally they had going today suggested that anyone who intends to travel or has travelled to Israel is by default a supporter of the Israeli government. I am wondering if every person who travels to New Zealand, Canada, Australia, the United States and any other country where indigenous peoples were colonised, are endorsers of colonisation? Hypocrisy?
To the SJP, no-one condones the oppression of Palestinians and the cruel and inhumane treatment suffered by Palestinians at the hands of those empowered by the Israeli government. However, it was unnecessary for your organisation to launch an attack on Arena Williams, the criticism should have been directed at the process by which executive members (including the President) of the AUSA are enabled to participate in contentious political forums, which was basically the last motion carried.
(If you want to see the Twitter updates, search #sjpcensure)