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Robert Sibley, Ottawa Citizen,
February 19, 2011
Carleton University's student council has rejected a campus fringe group's demand that it support efforts to have the university adopt an anti-Israel policy when it comes to investing the faculty pension plan.
At an often raucous Thursday evening meeting of the Carleton University Students' Association council, a small radical group known as Students Against Israeli Apartheid introduced a motion calling on CUSA to urge Carleton University to divest its faculty pension plan of companies that do business with Israel.
The motion was eventually rejected in favour of one that called on Carleton University to engage in ethically responsible investing without singling out any one country.
The compromise motion sparked fury from the anti-Israel crowd.
According to witnesses, including a senior administration official, about 80 to 100 members of the radical group waiting in a hallway outside the Dunton Tower council chambers began yelling and banging on the walls at those inside when they learned of the decision. SAIA members inside were also yelling at council members.
When the meeting eventually ended, extra Campus Safety officers were needed to form a protective corridor so councillors could reach the elevators.
None of the CUSA executive could be reached Friday evening. Nor was there any response from SAIA despite an e-mail request for an interview.
However, student councillors were praised for taking a principled stand in an the atmosphere of intimidation.
"They (the councillors) stayed strong in the face of a lot of people yelling and screaming at them and making veiled threats," Emile Scheffel, a member of the Ottawa Israel Awareness Committee, said Friday. "They stood strong and did their job for students. We were very impressed with the level of courage they showed."
Ryan Flannagan, Carleton's director of student affairs, who attended the meeting, concurred, albeit less effusively. "I was very pleased with CUSA council. They were under a lot of pressure and they handled it well."
But while CUSA councillors won applause for acting rationally in the face of fanaticism, SAIA's attempts to influence democratic decisionmaking through intimidation were roundly denounced.
"My personal safety was threatened repeatedly (Thursday night)," said one CUSA councillor, Hashem Hamdy. "Those opposing the motion were subject to intimidation, physical confrontation, and homophobic slurs inside and outside the council chamber. They don't seem to recognize that in a democracy, you don't have a licence to riot just because someone opposes what you say."
"We didn't know if it was safe to leave," said Scheffel. "We were basically trapped in the room until Campus Safety sent more officers, who then made sure that students inside (the council chambers) could get to the elevators."
Flannagan maintained that there was a lot of "chanting" and some wall-banging, but at no time was anyone's safety seriously compromised. However, he acknowledged that his perspective on the meeting might not be the same as that of someone caught up in the issue.
"It was intense, definitely. Some people got fairly upset and vocal about the situation, but no one approached me to say they felt threatened. It was them (the council members) being yelled at, so I can't put myself in their position, but from what I observed, I felt that people's safety wasn't at risk."
Only at the end of the meeting, when the councillors were about to leave the chamber did Flannagan think it necessary to call in more security staff.