Thursday, August 25, 2016
Last updated: 11 months ago

On hold: AMS freezes $700 donation to Gaza flotilla from student club

A $700 donation to an aid flotil­la to Gaza by the Social Justice Centre (SJC) has been suspended by AMS executives after receiv­ing complaints from students.

Last week, the SJC, an AMS resource group, approved the grant to the UBC club Solidari­ty for Palestinian Human Rights (SPHR) to help fund the Canadi­an humanitarian aid flotilla to Gaza, which will sail in spring 2011. However, after student complaints made to the AMS executive, the money transfer from the SJC to SPHR was fro­zen, with intention of bringing the issue in front of AMS coun­cil for review on December 1st.

AMS President Bijan Ahmadi­an said that the initial com­plaint came from VP Finance Elin Tayyar, who felt uncomfort­able signing off on the transac­tion without it being brought to council.

Executives also began receiv­ing student inquiries and com­plaints about the SJC’s funding, as well as petitions from UBC’s Israeli Awareness Club (IAC). Ahmadian said that complaints were being made both in opposi­tion to the resource group’s sup­port of Gaza and Palestine, as well as against AMS funds leav­ing student hands to be shipped overseas.

“A number of students said, ‘I don’t like my student money being shipped out of the coun­try like this.’”

However, SJC treasurer Ari­elle Friedman said that the $700 grant transfer to SPHR comes from $2250 set for grants, from their overall budget of nearly $10,000.

“A lot of groups at UBC rou­tinely donate to outside causes, and other resource groups do as well. That’s not a reasonable case at this point,” Friedman said. “You can argue that we consid­er it a social justice issue, and the issue in Gaza as a violation of human rights. So we think it is well within our mandate to donate. And we decided [to ap­prove the grant] by consensus at our meeting.”

Friedman said AMS interfer­ence in the SJC budget violates AMS code in terms of resource group autonomy.

“[AMS code] says that it’s the Resource Group Allocation Com­mittee (RGAC) that sees over the SJC budget, not AMS council,” said Friedman. “In April they can vote on the entire budget for the resource groups and a breakdown of what part of bud­get goes to each group. They have no control over individual re­source group budgets.”

Ahmadian claimed that the freezing of the transfer does not violate code, and that AMS council still has jurisdiction to review the transaction.

“There was some pushback­saying you are interfering in re­source groups. And we’re saying, well, it does look like we’re kind of interfering by putting this on hold. But if we were to actu­ally allow the transaction and sign off on it and the money was gone, then it would be moot for the council to have any discus­sion on it. [Then] we’re essential­ly taking council’s power away, ahead of council’s discussion.

“Specifically, I asked two ques­tions to the SJC. This event, this boat to Gaza, how much is the budget for it, if they didn’t re­ceive the money for it would it cause financial hardship? And when is it happening? The bud­get for the boat is $300,000 so it’s not like the boat won’t sail if they don’t get the money in two weeks. And the boat won’t sail until next spring anyway. So they can wait an extra cou­ple of weeks for council to have this discussion.”

However, Friedman main­tained that it is not within AMS code to freeze any resource group transaction without a two thirds majority approval from council.

“If they want to have a dis­cussion about it, it shouldn’t be through a violation of codes,” he said. “If they want to bring it up, do it through the RGAC and talk about our funding.”

An article written by SPHR president Omar Shaban and posted in the online publica­tion Canadian Charger suggest­ed that AMS involvement and ob­struction of the funding is part of a larger problem of bullying Palestinian students on campus.

Last Wednesday Ahmadian called a meeting between mem­bers of the AMS executive, the SJC, SPHR and the IAC to dis­cuss the complaints and find out “what exactly was going on.”

Shaban’s article said that there was confusion: many IAC members thought that the mon­ey was going to directly fund a speaking tour by George Gallo­way, a controversial advocate of Palestinian issues. Ahmadi­an said he was also receiving emails that claimed the SJC was giving $10,000 of student money to the Canadian flotil­la to Gaza.

“The complainants thought that this would be something of ours that they can attack very easily, [but] the money is going for humanitarian relief for besieged people.

“It was insulting to the SJC as a club that appreciates its auton­omy and was insulting to SPHR-UBC because this presence dem­onstrates bias against SPHR-UBC and his complicity in sti­fling free speech on UBC,” Sha­ban said in his article.

“It’s really baffling why the AMS would be doing this,” Fried­man said. “The IAC presented a petition with seventeen signa­tures, and this is not compel­ling evidence that students are on their side.”

Friedman does not believe council will stop the proceed­ings. “I seriously doubt they will suspend this transaction; there is no historical prece­dence [of AMS interference in resource group budgets],” she said. “If it does go through, which I seriously doubt it will, we’ll challenge it.”