Mistake in interpreting UN declaration led Gabriola building school to reject Israeli student’s application

Rachelle Stein-Wotten

Sounder News

Tuesday, February 7 2017

A Gabriola school has been the subject of international media attention for rejecting an Israeli as a student, a decision it later retracted.

On January 25, the Island School of Building Arts told prospective student Stav Daron via email that “due to the conflict and illegal settlement activity in the region, we are not accepting applications from Israel.”

A media firestorm quickly erupted as Daron shared his experience on Facebook and Israeli newspaper, Mako News.

Patricia Rokosh, who sent the email to Daron, responded to media, including the Sounder, with the following statement: “After significant thought and listening to all interested parties, ISBA has decided to rescind any restriction placed on accepting students from Israel and apologize for any impact or inconvenience. ISBA remains acceptant to all and will continue to do so without restrictions.”

Rokosh explained the initial ban on Israeli students was due to a “misinterpretation of a UN declaration” calling it “a mistake on the part of ISBA.”

UN Resolution 2334, passed in December 2016, calls Israeli settlements in Palestinian territory illegal and in violation of international law. The resolution does not impose restrictions on Israeli citizens nor outline any action to be taken by UN member states.

“The school rejected me for being Israeli which is wrong and unjust, but I have to say, not going to ISBA made me sad,” Daron said in an email to the Sounder.

ISBA, according to its website, specializes in three forms of big wood joinery, making it unique from other building schools. The school has had students from Israel in the past.

“I have been planning this trip for a few years and the school looks amazing and professional,” Daron continued. He added he is considering contacting the school to speak with the owner, James Mitchell.

“At first I wanted ISBA to get the bad attention that they deserved, but if they are truly sorry I would really like to talk with them.”

In a letter to the editor in this same Sounder, Mitchell explains he chose to no longer accept Israelis because a student of his asked if the ISBA supported the UN resolution, saying the student told him he would be “contravening this International law and supporting those illegal housing initiatives by accepting Israeli students.” 

Mitchell said he “morally supported the UN” but now regrets his error in understanding.

Nico Slobinsky, director of the Pacific Region for the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs (CIJA), a Canadian Jewish advocacy organization, reached out to ISBA after the news broke.

“I think that everyone involved was equally surprised and outraged that a post-secondary institute would reject a student’s admission application based on their place of origin, nationality, heritage, ancestry, or religion,” he said.

CIJA contacted the BC Ministry of Advanced Education in the event they would need the ministry’s assistance in reversing the ISBA’s decision about Daron’s application. The trade school is not a certified under the BC Private Training Act as tuition is less than the required amount to be certified.

“We would be happy to work with the school in helping them understand their wrongdoing and how to positively engage with us,” Slobinsky added.

Gabriola artist and Jewish activist Elizabeth Shefrin is pleased the school has reversed their policy.

“Wherever you stand politically, the idea of rejecting someone simply because he’s from Israel is very much like the American President’s policy of banning innocent people because they were born in particular Muslim countries,” Shefrin said. “If Mr. Daron does choose to come to Gabriola, and I hope he will, I’m sure we will all welcome him warmly.”