Frustrations Over Inquiry Into York U. Conference on Israel

June 16, 2009

Canada's Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council issued a statement Monday indicating that it has accepted assurances from York University that an upcoming controversial conference that received a grant from the agency is largely unchanged from when the council awarded the funds. The council "accepted their assurance that planning for the conference is proceeding in a manner consistent with provisions of the Grant Holder’s Guide for the program," said the statement -- but that is not ending the controversy. Faculty leaders in Canada say that the additional questioning about the conference shouldn't have taken place at all. The conference is called “Israel/ Palestine: Mapping Models of Statehood and Paths to Peace,” and many of the papers to be given at the conference promote the idea of the "one-state solution" in which Israel and Palestinian areas would be combined into a single, secular state – an idea many in Israel view as equivalent to giving up their right to exist as a nation. Many of the papers also compare the current situation in Israel with that of apartheid-era South Africa. The additional inquiry by the social science council came after Gary Goodyear, minister of state for science and technology, asked for reconsideration of the grant for the conference -- and faculty groups see that request and the council's additional questioning as an inappropriate case of political meddling. The Canadian Association of University Teachers issued a letter to the council Friday saying it was "deeply troubled" that the council complied with the minister's request for an additional review. The letter, to the president of the council, said: "At the very least, you owe an apology to the conference organizers for your failure to protect the integrity of the granting process of SSHRC. You need publicly to assure the Canadian academic community that your bowing to political pressure will not happen again. If you cannot or will not do this, we question your fitness to continue in your present position."

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