The Surreal World of Campus Activism, Part I

I assume that a (small) part of my (humble) readership consists of campus activists working on Israel/Palestine issues. These very strange stories will be of interest to that demographic and others. First is the tale of Daniel Freeman-Maloy, one of the En Camino co-conspirators, a member of OCAP, and a very principled activist. He has done work on anti-poverty issues and anti-occupation/war issues, which has brought him into conflict with the organized right-wing ‘zionist’ groups on the York University campus where he studies, and also with the administration on that campus.

He’s been expelled by York for 3 years for ‘unauthorized use of a megaphone’ on two incidents. Lucky for us, today’s activists are often armed with cameras, and some activists put together a film of the two incidents. The film shows Daniel getting shouted down and roughed up by zionist activists who far outnumber the anti-occupation group in both instances. But Daniel was the one who was ‘disrupting the academy’ and hence expelled. Just a little story to indicate the hypocrisy and double standards on campuses in North America. The story made national news, in the National Post and the Toronto Star, today. Below is Daniel’s initial statement.

My Expulsion from York University: an appeal for support and reconsideration

On April 30, 2004, I received a letter signed by York University President and Vice-Chancellor Lorna Marsden declaring that I “will have no purpose on campus” after May 1, 2004. If I set foot on York’s campus at any point in the three years following this date, she threatens, I will be charged for trespassing. My expulsion comes in the context of escalating repression of student dissent by York’s administration, and sets an ominous precedent regarding student rights to freedom of speech, expression and assembly.

The administration’s declaration that I now “have no purpose on campus” is baffling. I am a full-time student at York, and May 1 was both the very day I formally started my job as an editor at York’s main student paper, Excalibur, and nearly three weeks before my last exam. I am being treated as if I have acted dangerously and criminally, even in the absence of any allegations of criminally dangerous conduct.

In fact, those looking for a description of my behavior as dramatic as the administration’s response to it are likely to be disappointed. The alleged crime for which I have been exiled from my school for three years is use of “an unauthorized sound amplification device” (that is, a megaphone) on two separate occasions: October 22, 2003, and March 16, 2004. While general issues of freedom of expression and procedural fairness lie at the heart of this matter, I still feel compelled to address the specific allegations in turn.

Firstly, the events of October 22, 2003. On this date, the administration provided space for “Israel Defense Forces (IDF) Appreciation Day,” an event at which people sporting Israeli military paraphernalia congregated in one of York University’s principal public spaces to celebrate Israeli militarism. The mayor of an illegal Israeli settlement led the event, which was attended by many people who have served in the forces. In this situation, as a Jewish anti- nationalist and an avid anti-militarist, I did use a megaphone to highlight the event’s glaring impropriety. But vocal opposition to militarism, even expressed loudly, is far from criminally threatening.

The second instance cited, March 16, was the first anniversary of the death of Rachel Corrie, a US peace activist who was crushed to death by an Israeli bulldozer as she tried to block it from demolishing a Palestinian family’s home in the Gaza Strip. What happened on that day was without precedent in my experience. While approximately thirty of us set up a mock check-point, some dressed as soldiers and some as civilians, a crowd of some 150 militant Zionists that had been congregating nearby in preparation proceeded to rush our display. We had postponed our action for a period to avoid a clash, but were unsuccessful. We were surrounded, and for nearly an hour faced physical and verbal intimidation.

In this context, I was one of many students organizing the mock check-point who tried, through chants and small speeches, to let confused onlookers know the purpose of the display that was being aggressively swarmed. President Marsden is contending that this somehow “contributed to the threat of harm to the safety and well-being of York University community members.” If this is the case, why am I not being charged criminally? Why did the administration wait so many months to paint my conduct as dangerous?

When I was informed in early November by Ms. Ridley from the Office of Student Affairs (OSA) that I needed to review the student code of conduct, which she alleged I had broken on October 22, I told her that I would do so and then get in touch with her. That same month, I visited her to set up an appointment (I was in and out of the OSA office throughout this period regarding the status of Students for a Critical Consciousness, a campus club of which I am President). She informed me that she would need to coordinate the meeting with the security personnel who had been present on the day in question. I told her that the meeting had been called at her request, and that I was in no rush to meet – Ms. Ridley smugly responded that she was not surprised, and that she would contact me in the near future. She never followed through.

The administration had every opportunity to contact me. Again, I am the President of a recognized student club, my York University email account is listed online as the group’s contact information (and is used readily by York’s library to notify me of late fines), and I even had a minor debate in late February/early March in the pages of Excalibur with Nancy White, York’s director for media relations (regarding some of our school’s questionable corporate connections). Plainly, it is hardly as if I had gone underground.

Over the past year, as a York-based social justice activist who is both Jewish and anti-Zionist, I have been called a “self-hater” and a “terrorist”; I have received death threats. Now, the administration of Lorna Marsden is topping all of this off with a summary suspension order. York University’s mission statement describes the school as “a community of faculty, students and staff committed to academic freedom [and] social justice.” In the hope that this is truly the case, I appeal to the administration to allow me to return to my studies and to my job without any further harassment.

To everyone else reading this (in case the administration’s response is not immediately favorable), the York Free Speech Committee, which recently formed to deal with this situation, will be circulating an important call-out shortly. Please keep posted on this situation, and consider providing your personal support to our campaign if you get the chance.

Sincerely,

Daniel Freeman-Maloy

Justin Podur

Author: Justin Podur

Author of Siegebreakers. Ecology. Environmental Science. Political Science. Anti-imperialism. Political fiction. Teach at York U's FES. Author. Writer at ZNet, TeleSUR, AlterNet, Ricochet, and the Independent Media Institute.