“This isn’t Gaza.” So quotes the Concordian, one of the weekly papers of my alma-mater, Montreal’s great Concordia University. The quote comes from an irate suppoprter of Benjamin Netanyahu, angry that a glorious display of civil disobedience (with what some call a “diversity of tactics”) prevented Bibi from demagoging at Concordia. To this person, I would say, you’re damned right it isn’t Gaza. It isn’t Haifa either. Concordia is a fantastic progressive institution that–God Forbid–has a strong political milieu in which Jews and Arabs not only collaborate, but are friends, lovers and otherwise.
The official story is as follows, Netanyahu was invited by Hillel to give a speech, and the Arabs rioted, breaking windows, punching rabbis and, the kicker “intimidating Jewish students.” After university security and the Royal Canadian Mounted Police called off the speech in the face of a Civil Rights-movement style sit-in-demonstration (which attracted far more students–in fact far more Jewish students than Netanyahu) in the lobby of the urban university’s main campus, a “visibly shaken” Netanyahu berated the demonstrators as “supporters of Hussein, Arafat and Bin Laden.” He called on the Canadian government to take “precautionary’ measures towards Palestine Solidarity activists.
It is indeed shameful that in the course of the day’s events, despite calls from protest organizers from SPHR and Jewish Alliance Against the Occupation, that a few people–provacateurs perhaps, chose to engage in violence against people, as opposed to property. Any time a rabbi is violently attacked, it is something to be condemned in no uncertain terms. Chances are, however, that the person was not attackedb ecause he was a rabbi. Rather, in a situation in which police, goaded by JDL-influenced counterdemonstrators chanting anti-arab bigotry, attacked the thousands of peaceful Pro-Palestine demonstrators with tear gas and pepper spray, a few tempers flared and those who were identifying themselves as supporters of a legendary hate-speaker hated in his own country willingly allowed themselves to become targets, to make a point. Indeed, the Concordia Student Union’s Jewish lefty president Sabine Friesinger has called on both the rector and head of security to resign, placing firm responsibility.for the events on the legendarily paranoid Concordia administration as well as Montreal’s biker-backed keystone kops. And another “self hating Jew,” former Kibbutz dweller and now CSUcouncillor Aaron Mate , was singled out and physically attacked by police as he attempted to bring aid to some of the injured demonstrators. Meanwhile, the rector, Frederick Lowy who has been proud to use his position to harass leftist students, has announced a “moratorium” on “Middle-East related events” at Concordia. In other words, Pro-Palestinian organizations, which are a mainstream part of this ethnically diverse urban university can no longer “table” in the lobby. Chances are, it will go farther.
The “Jewish” student organization Hilllel, which has declined in influence over the last year or two due to its strident support of Ariel Sharon knew exactly what it was doing when they invited Benjamin Netanyahu to speak at Concordia. Some, and indeed not all sectors of the Canadian Zionist Establishment is none too pleased with Concordia, not because it is “an intimidating atmosphere for Jewish students,” but because Jewish students, raised with moral values, often “join the other side” or more correctly, shed their Zionism for a more cosmopolitan–and classically Jewish–identity. Hillel, which openly allows itself to be used by Israel’s intelligence and Public Relations apparatus, according to the english language Jerusalem Report of Feb. 2002, has been dispatched to set in motion a series of events designed to silence Pro-Palestine voices and scare new Jewish students into “fighting AntiSemitism.”
Hillel spokespeople are acted like little lambsy divey, claiming to be “in favor of the peace process.” If this was the case, and I don’t doubt it is on a rank-and-file level, then they would not have invited a man who is indeed to the right of Ariel Sharon, a man who even the New Republic accuses of demagogery, to speak at Concordia. There are plenty of mainstream Israeli political figures, Yossi Sarid or Avram Mitzna who are indeed tangibly pro-peace, and thus would not have attracted “violent” demonstrations. Their claim that “Jewish students” never demonstrated or attempted to stop Palestinian guest speakers over the years at Concordia is both untrue–though the greatest demonstration I saw was against another Jew, the wonderful Norman Finkelstien–and disingeneuos.
If Pro-Palestinian students would have invited clearly anti-semitic and murderous Hamas leader Shiek Ahmed Yassin, for example, then Hillel would have a case for their position. Yet Palestinian and Pro-Palestinian speakers at Concordia, have never once engaged in Anti-Semitism. Netanyahu is clearly anti-Palestinian and murderous, on the other hand, he wears his bigotry on his sleeve, while orating in a style not unreminiscent of Il Duce, Benito Mussolini. Over the last few days, Bibi (whose wife recently had to apologize for making threatening statements towards the state of Israel, claiming that “only Bibi can save Israel–we will move abroad and you will bleed”) has trounced around Canada, lecturing our Prime Minister over Iraq, while each of his speeches, in Winnipeg, and here in Toronto, has been met with more demonstrators than attendees.
However, I fear that the events at Concordia are already being used to crack down on left-wing activism in Canada. A polished demagogue like Bibi Netanyahu can convince previously pro-peace Jews that they should think twice before “joining the other side.” However, it is not going to be easy, when the Canadian Jewish community is polarized between paranoid Likudniks and Post-Zionists and Anti-Zionists, such as the many organizers of the demonstrations. A simple way of explaining the case, as I did towards my old socialist grandmother, is as follows–non-violent civil disobedience stopped a hate speaker. Netanyahu is no different from a Klansman. He has a lot of blood on his hands. He is an open supporter of ethnic cleansing. It is actually very simple. You can fool some people sometimes, but you can’t fool all the people all the time.
Jordy Cummings can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org