Reply from UNSW Student Representative Council on Gaza

14 Feb

Attached below is a reply from UNSW Student Representative Council President, Kaliyanda, of an email which I sent a few days ago on Gaza. Refer to my posting on ‘UNSW Student Representative Council’s inaction on Gaza’ for the background story.

Dear Charles,

I thank you very much for both your concern and interest in the matter that has been brought to your attention. I agree that if I had no knowledge of what had occurred and had just read what was written on those posters, I would be quite concerned also. I would like to set the record straight as I believe what was written in that petition regarding the events of the most recent SRC meeting manipulate the truth and blatantly defame me.

Firstly, neither I nor any member of the UNSW SRC attempted to block access to anyone based on apparent race or religion, and I find that accusation to be quite insulting. As both Councillors Anh Pham and Craig Johnson are quite aware of (since they were standing right next to me), UNSW student identification was requested from all of those who were not SRC members or who had not been expressly invited to attend. Given that this was a meeting of the UNSW SRC, I do not see how this is unreasonable.

Furthermore, contrary to the assertion that I stopped “UNSW Muslim students” from observing the meeting, I invited representatives from both the UNSW Islamic Society (ISOC) and the Australasian Union of Jewish Students (AUJS) to attend, observe and speak at the SRC meeting regarding the motion that was on hand. Further accusations of intimidation on part of either these invited representatives or members of the SRC are ludicrous. The only intimidatory behaviour I observed was perpetrated by one of the uninvited observers, who repeatedly shouted “bullshit” and “disgusting” as an SRC Councillor attempted to speak.

The SRC is comprised of generally progressive students of different political affiliations. Obviously the conflict in Gaza is a sensitive issue, but a motion was not passed as there was not consensus (of at least a simple majority of the SRC) on an adequate course of action that involved and was relevant to UNSW students. It does not mean that we have “chosen a side” or are unsympathetic to the Palestinian people, as you have indicated on your blog. Voting against a particular motion does not indicate a person’s opinion or standpoint on the entire issue that the motion is about. All of the students on the SRC are elected representatives of the student body and at this SRC meeting exercised their democratic right, and to tie this outcome to the position of a particular political party, as the petition has done, insults these students.

Your ideas of organising an open debate about the issue or organising a Palestinian Awareness Week are interesting – and were not included in the original motion submitted by Councillor Anh Pham (which I have attached). I’d suggest that you or anyone else interested in pursuing such courses of action contact our Ethnic Affairs Department ( I am sure that the Ethnic Affairs Officers would be more than happy to work with interested students. The UNSW SRC seeks to represent and support all UNSW students – allegations such as those made on the petitions only undermine the work we attempt to do and foster ill feeling between sections of our university community and their student representatives. I think this is inexcusable as it tries to prevent students who may be experiencing racism or discrimination from getting help and support where it is available.

On that note, I demand an immediate and public apology from the authors of the petition for falsely accusing me of racist and obstructive behaviour. Such accusations are outright lies and manipulate what occurred at the 20th January meeting of the SRC.

If you have further questions or comments about this issue, please do not hesitate to contact me. I would also like to invite you, or any other UNSW student who is interested, to the February meeting of the SRC – to be held at 5.30pm on Tuesday 17th February in Training Room 2 (Level 1) of the Blockhouse at the Kensington campus of UNSW.

Kind Regards,

Charishma Kaliyanda
2009 SRC President


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