“Do you care about human rights? Do you think our university should collaborate with other universities that act unethically?” These were the questions my friends and I were asked in March of last year by a student from Ethical Collaboration UW. She wanted me to sign a petition and I was curious about what she was referring to, so I asked her.</p>
She started by stating that the University of Waterloo is collaborating with universities in Israel that were developing weapons to kill Palestinians. The petition was asking the University to hold a referendum; they want UW to cut ties with Israeli universities.
A closer look at the group’s website revealed even more claims, accusing Israeli universities of “systematic discrimination” against Palestinian students who they say are restricted from participation in campus activities.
I knew better than to sign that petition. I knew that at the Technion, Israel’s MIT, Arab Israelis make up over 20 per cent of the student body — more or less the Arab share of Israel’s population. I knew that the Jewish-Arab Centre at Haifa University is renowned for its work in building bridges between the different communities. I knew that when Mais Ali-Saleh, an observant Muslim from Nazareth, became Technion’s Medical School valedictorian, she spoke out against academic boycotts.
I also knew that all that information was just a quick Google search away.
My friends, however, signed the petition before I could say anything. After the student left, I asked my friends why they signed it without thinking it through. They told me that they would feel guilty if they didn’t sign the petition. After all, who doesn’t support human rights?
Ironically, for a petition on “ethical collaboration,” what I had witnessed was awfully unethical. Not only was this petition created without relevant factual basis, the organizers obscured their intentions by hiding behind misleading allegations of fact.
As I learned in my social psychology class here at the University of Waterloo, there are two explanations for why people do things without wanting to: mindlessness and peer pressure.
The organizers of Ethical Collab UW unfairly took advantage of peer pressure to influence students to sign a petition that they don’t necessarily believe in. Instead of being clear about their intentions — their political intentions to attack Israel — the organizers pressured students to participate by making them feel guilty for not signing a petition on human rights.
I have no issue with students or anyone trying to get signatures for their cause; I believe in the freedom of speech and the right to be heard on campus. I don’t believe that it’s right for anyone to use deception as a means of getting support for his or her views.
Human rights issues exist in so many places in the world. We should all be advocating for human rights, for minority rights, and for women’s rights.
Ethical Collaboration UW is none of those things. The initiative is an attempt to inject the divisive politics of the Middle East into our campus by making us choose a side. Is that what we really want?
The reality of the Middle East is that there is no right and wrong side. The Israeli-Palestinian conflict is extremely complex and almost a century old. Holding a referendum in support of one side over the other based on false and inflammatory facts is one of the most unethical, not to mention unacademic, steps we can take as a student body. It would divide students into factions and marginalize minorities. It would make students from both sides feel less safe and less welcome.
My two friends who signed the petition later asked to have their names removed. The Federation of Students are giving all students who signed the petition an opportunity to take their signatures back before launching a referendum. If you are one of those students, I strongly urge you to reconsider, and to remove your support of Ethical Collaboration UW. Students at this university have the right to be informed about their choices, and deserve the freedom to make those choices without peer pressure.
Alexa Fuentes Valdez
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