Sackville, NB – Mount Allison University will be recognizing Heather Reisman, founder and CEO of Indigo Books & Music Inc. with an honorary degree at the morning convocation ceremony on May 17, 2010. CBC’s Peter Mansbridge will be installed as the new Chancellor of the University at the same ceremony. In a meeting with two concerned faculty members earlier today, President Robert Campbell confirmed that the University has no intention of reconsidering its decision to honour Ms. Reisman despite growing opposition.
The HESEG Foundation for Lone Soldiers – which was founded by Ms. Reisman and her husband Gerry Schwartz– has close ties to the Israeli military and has included on its Board of Directors notorious figures from Israel’s military establishment such as Maj. General Doron Almog. Warrants have been issued for Almog’s arrest in the UK in 2005 and in Spain in 2008 on suspicion of war crimes.
Lone Soldiers are individuals from outside Israel with no family in the country who join the Israeli military and participate in all aspects of its repression of Palestinians. According to their website HESEG was established “to recognize and honour the contribution of Lone Soldiers.” In particular, “priority is given to combat soldiers.” By rewarding and supporting Lone Soldiers, Reisman provides support for Israel’s military effort – a military responsible for war crimes, gross violations of human rights and international law, and the occupation of Palestinian land.
Israel’s latest assault on Gaza in December 2008 killed over 1300 people, and injured over 5,000. Among those killed were 300 children. In those attacks 18 schools were destroyed and 280 damaged. Because of the blockade on construction materials – enforced by the Israeli military – the damaged schools have not been rebuilt or repaired. HESEG representatives went into Gaza to hand out $160,000 worth of “thank you” gifts to Israeli soldiers during these attacks.
Over one hundred emails – originating from Halifax to Vancouver Island – have been sent in protest to the University administration. Mount Allison faculty, staff, students and alumni have also expressed outrage via an online petition posted at ipetitions.com. Mount Allison’s Year of International Engagement (2009-2010) promised to “challenge us as a university community to more critically consider our place in the world and the part we can play in more actively engaging it at home and abroad”. Many are left wondering why this small liberal arts University is refusing to take a clear stance against war, occupation, and militarism. The honorary degree will be conferred only two days after Palestinians will commemorate “Al Nakba” or the Catastrophe: the expulsion and dispossession of hundreds of thousands Palestinians from their homes and land in 1948.
The Coalition Against Israeli Apartheid launched a campaign to boycott Indigo Books and Music Inc. in December 2006 with the demand that its controlling owners, Reisman and Shwartz, publicly cut all financial ties to HESEG. Since then the campaign has grown across Canada with Chapters and Indigo stores being boycotted in most major cities. The boycott campaign encourages people to shop at local independent bookstores, some 350 of which have closed across Canada in the past decade. These closures have much to do with the arrival of big-box book retailers, Chapters and Indigo, now united as a near-monopoly.
Stephen McClatchie, Provost and Vice-President Academic & Research, has committed to making funds available in the 2010-2011 academic year to organize a panel discussion on broader issues related to Israel and Palestine.
David Thomas teaches at Mount Allison University.