Meric’s Mixed Messages

I’m watching the situation regarding the encampment play out as I write. What struck me about this morning’s statement by President Meric Gertler is that it contains a totally mixed message. On the one hand, the university is seeking an urgent injunction from the Ontario Superior Court of Justice to end the encampment. On the other hand, it reports that the university and OccupyforPalestine (OfP) “held a long and productive meeting yesterday and are meeting again today.” The question that comes to my mind and likely to the mind of a justice hearing the case is that if the two parties are holding productive negotiations, why is there such urgency on the part of the party applying for the injunction?

The First Mistake

This question takes me back to the beginning of this story. OfP occupied the hallway outside the president’s office and presented their demands to President Gertler in April. He wrote a letter on April 8 essentially rejecting the demands. The Administration sent a letter to students on April 28 that setting up an encampment would be considered trespassing. (All the university’s messages about the encampment can be found on the same website as today’s.) When an encampment was set up a few days later, the university could have taken the position that establishing an encampment was an escalation on OfP’s part to achieve a goal it had not achieved by occupying a building and that the university had been unequivocal that it would not tolerate an encampment. That would have been a necessary and sufficient basis for the university calling the police to take down the encampment.

Final Offer … Not

Instead, the university accepted the encampment, protected it with a fence that provides several thousand square feet of prime space for OfP’s advocacy, and installed toilets. And the university continued to negotiate with OfP over the subsequent three weeks. This poster I photographed last week contains a message I interpret as urging the destruction of the State of Israel.

President Gertler publicly issued an offer to OfP last Thursday, followed by a statement on Friday that members of OfP were issued trespass notices and would be required to leave by Monday at 8 a.m. It would be reasonable to assume from the issuance of the trespass notices and the establishment of a deadline, that Thursday’s offer was the university’s final offer. Indeed, the university could have made clear that last Thursday’s offer was final. But the discussions yesterday and today indicate that it isn’t. As part of the negotiations, OfP seemed to change the demand for breaking ties with all Israeli academic institutions to breaking ties with just the Hebrew University and the Technion, two of the most significant and prestigious Israeli academic institutions. I hope that demand is as unacceptable to the university as previous boycott demands.

Keffiyeh at Convocation

Perhaps the university’s urgency is because it wants the encampment cleared by the start of convocation exercises next Monday. As I’ve discussed in my previous post, the university regards asking the police to intervene as a last resort. The university’s mixed messages of negotiation and litigation suggest a process that will unfold slowly. OfP lawyered up as soon as the encampment was established, engaging Community Justice Collective. An injunction hearing will also feature amicus briefs from the U of T Faculty Association, Ontario Federation of Labour, and the Jewish community, among others.

If the encampment remains standing at convocation, it will present OfP with a wonderful opportunity to communicate its message to graduands, the university community, and the broader public. OfP has every reason to prolong the process with this goal now in sight. Passing the encampment and possible demonstrations will be an affront to the identity and values of many people attending convocation.

It didn’t have to come to this. But the university’s initial unwillingness to use available tools such as its own disciplinary process to end the encampment and its subsequent mixed messages in employing these tools ensure that the encampment will last through convocation and likely considerably longer. At least, that’s my prediction based on the logic of unfolding events.

One response to “Meric’s Mixed Messages”

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    As a former student, I am ashamed of your posts. Why not write a post about the ‘tragic mishap’ that happened Sunday night? or about illegal Israeli settlements in the West Bank? An unbiased view would be great.

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