Dr. Dawg

Spinning the Carleton U. divestment meeting [updated]

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I have already reported my first-hand observations of the Carleton University Students’ Association meeting the other night. Today Robert Sibley purports to cover the same gathering. But it wasn’t the meeting that I attended.

The Ottawa Citizen’s reporting standards appear to be slipping badly. Sibley was not physically present at the meeting or in the corridors outside, but he’s obviously been fed his lines. The Students Against Israeli Apartheid is referred to as a “campus fringe group,” a “small radical group,” who created an “atmosphere of intimidation” and (according to an unbiased source, the “Ottawa Israel Awareness Committee”) made “veiled threats.” CUSA, according to Sibley, “acted rationally in the face of fanaticism.”

Cool, detached reporting. Bravo.

We get some idea of Sibley’s sources from the tale he spins. One councillor claimed, he says, that his “personal safety was threatened repeatedly,” and accused pro-Palestinian students of making “homophobic slurs inside and outside the council chamber.”

“They don’t seem to realize,” quoth the councillor, “that in a democracy, you don’t have a licence to riot just because someone opposes what you say.”

However, Ryan Flannagan, Carleton’s director of student affairs, stated that there was chanting and a little wall-banging, but no one’s safety was compromised. Sibley seems a little sceptical.

But Flannagan ought to know. He was in front of the door to the chamber all night. And so were several supporters of Israel, one wearing an IDF T-shirt. There were no threats. There was no riot. There was no intimidation—just the back and forth you might expect, but fairly restrained.

One councillor did emerge to engage with the crowd. The argument grew heated, but members of the group he was talking to ensured that only one person spoke at a time, and that he had a chance to make his points. He didn’t appear intimidated. Nobody threatened him. He seemed to be enjoying himself.

The CUSA motion supporting ethical investment was passed, with an amendment that included “illegal occupation” as a ground for divestment. A speaker in the crowd declared it a victory—as it surely was. The crowd cheered.

When the chair ruled that the original motion was now redundant, there were indeed cries of “Shame” and some wall-banging. But there was never physical confrontation with any of the councillors at any time. It was a noisy but peaceful demonstration from beginning to end.

That’s not “intimidation.” It’s democracy. I was there. Sibley wasn’t. End of story.

UPDATE: (February 21) Well, Citizen, that’s better. Perhaps our comments over there on the original article—and a call by a Students Against Israeli Apartheid representative to the managing editor—were taken to heart.

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This page contains a single entry by Dr. Dawg published on February 21, 2011 5:38 PM.

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