A conference under the topic When Middle East Politics Invade Campus took place in Toronto on February 16. It was organized by Advocates for Civil Liberties , a relatively new organization, whose purpose is to counter anti-Semitism.
It was a very interesting and enlightening event, for which the organizers assembled an impressive group of speakers – students, respected scholars and well-known journalists. Many important issues were discussed, which will make it impossible to cover everything in one post (that’s why I am breaking the coverage into several parts).
Discussing anti-Semitism is not a popular issue in Canada. Jews are usually herded in one group with the “privileged whites”, which does not deserve the attention of the human rights “industry”, although now and then you may hear about an action taken against some neo-Nazi weirdo who is not known to anybody outside of his family. The real perpetrators of anti-Semitism – the radical Islam and the militant leftists – rarely get any attention, because in Canada they are considered fighters for “social justice” and to the HRC they are more important than the Jewish “plutocrats”.
The purpose of the conference was to bring to public attention the disturbing phenomenon of campus anti-Semitism, which has steadily grown over the last few years. For those who don’t attend college now, it’s probably difficult to understand the situation.
That’s why, before going into the conference’s details, I would like to explain the problem through the lens of a particular event, which in a nutshell reveals what’s wrong with the university campuses in Canada and the USA.
The event is George Galloway’s speech at York University last year (I have first-hand impressions because I attended the protest and covered it). Bringing in outside speakers is a great university tradition. However, they didn’t pick any of the thousands bright people of conscience, who can share their accomplishments, they picked instead Galloway, a strange and scary character. He is mentally disturbed (here you can see his cat impression on the Big Brother show). He raised AND delivered funds to Hamas, a well-known terrorist organization. He was kicked out of the British Parliament. In his opinion, Israel should be replaced by a country named Palestine-Israel dominated by Arabs, after 7 million “refugees” return (he said this and more during his visit to Toronto in October last year, more here). He thinks that the only great Jew is Karl Marx.
It’s sad, the Left must have run out of Che Guevaras, if they need to promote that creepy guy. The event was funded by the university and the student federation with money paid by all students. The protests of the Jewish students and organizations were ignored.
Days before the event, Rabbi Aaron Hoch from Toronto called his congregation in an e-mail to protest. When the York University President Shoukri (an Egyptian Muslim) and his staff found out, they threatened the Rabbi with legal action. As a response, Hoch made public the letters they sent. That caused even more rage from the university (all that became public after the speech).
An hour before Galloway’s speech, there were already protesters in the building, students and people from the community. The police and the security allocated for them a small corner in the same building (if it wasn’t for the pouring rain, they could have been pushed outside).
The Jewish protesters were surrounded from all sides and carefully watched and not allowed to move to other areas (except outside). Several of the University security guards were almost constantly taping them with video cameras. In the hall nearby, Galloway’s speech proceeded uninterrupted.
At certain point, Krisna Saravanamuttu, the president of the student federation and a large group of Muslim students rushed into the crowd of protesters and started chanting anti-Israeli slogans. The police did absolutely nothing to stop them. After few minutes they left. Guess who would have been arrested, if the Jewish students responded to the provocation?
So we had a crowd of Jews confined in a small space and watched by guards and police, who protected a raging madman giving a speech on how he is going to resolve the Israeli problem once and for all. Didn’t something like that happen few decades ago in a certain European country? And we all know what the consequences were…
When I went home, I wrote a post about that and added pictures. The next day I received e-mails from Jewish students, who asked me to remove the pictures, because they were threatened with disciplinary action for taking part in the protest. I never censor my posts, but for the sake of their safety I had to do it (later I restored the pictures). Fortunately, few days later the scandal with Rabbi Hoch exploded and reached the national media. Having his real face exposed, Shoukri wasn’t in a position to persecute students. But hey, there is always a second chance for revenge – Shoukri and Saravanamuttu can go after any Jew who dares protest against the upcoming “Israeli Apartheid Week”.
It is despicable that a group of people can be treated in such an appalling way in Canada in the 21st century. Imagine what would’ve happened if an anti-Black speaker was invited – CBC and CNN would cover and recycle the story for years; the university administration would be gone and squads of counselors, psychologists and therapists would swarm the campus to console the offended Black students.
Why isn’t the same standard applied to Jewish students? Nobody knows, but there are many people who want to know why.
All this is happening at a university where Jewish donors have contributed tens of millions of dollars with the naïve hope that they are contributing to the cause of education. Instead the money went to the cause of bigotry.
This is not an unusual isolated case, it is the everyday life of thousands of Jewish students in North America.
And that’s why we need forums like this conference, which puts those questions into an open discussion.
Anyway, I hope the case of crazy George and his Muslim buddies would make the issues discussed easier to put in perspective.
Jonathan Kay from National Post was the moderator for the conference.
It started with opening remarks by Judge Hadassa Ben Itto. She is prominent judge living in Israel and her statement was delivered by video.
She started by discussing the “Protocols of Elders of Zion” a known forgery created in Russia in the early 20th century, which has been used as an excuse to persecute Jews. For decades, the Protocols have been a tool to demonize Jews. Although proven to be a fake, they have been published and sold every year in many countries. Since the creation of the Jewish state, not only the Jews, but also Israel have become targets. Those writings perpetrate the myth of the omnipotent Jewish lobby, which wants to dominate the world. In some countries, like France and Germany they are not allowed to be published, but most other countries don’t have those restrictions. Besides that, in the times of Internet any restrictions of publication are impossible to implement.
The Protocols are a forgery, there is no Jewish conspiracy to dominate. Unfortunately, the opinions of people are formed by mass media and not discussion. Every element of the media has its own agenda.
The public opinions determine the policy of the states and nowadays people are getting more power through that. Unfortunately, often the information, on which the opinion is formed, is biased and insufficient. You need knowledge of history to make sense of the current events and not many people are willing to acquire that knowledge.
The only people who can change that are academia and that’s why it is sad to see what is going on in the universities – harassment of Jews, ignoring of the forces which promote ant-Semitism, etc. An example of that is the Israeli Apartheid Week promoted by people who have no idea what apartheid is. The Judge played active role in combating the apartheid in South Africa and she has a first-hand experience with it, and what she had seen has nothing to do with the realities in Israel.
Then Jonathan Kay announced that five students will speak first.
First spoke Sara Akrami, who emigrated from Iran 5 years ago. She is a human rights activist, an opponent of the Islamic Republic of Iran, and president of the Human Rights Activists Association at York University. She talked about her experiences on the York University campus. The situation is bad – there are threats, distraction, etc. Some student clubs there promote violence while financed with students’ money. The university administration doesn’t take any measures to take things under control.
Her group’s purpose is to expose the murderous regime in Iran. However, there are supporters of the regime in York University who harass people and make that task difficult. She gave an example with Galloway who supports Iran, yet was allowed to speak. Iran killed many people who disagree with its Islamic policies, including the last Prime Minister before Khomeini – Shapur Bahtiar. The Muslim extremism is a real danger in Canada, which we can’t afford to ignore and that was her warning to Prime Minister Harper.
Next was Josee Chiasson, a psychology student from the same university, a President of Christians United for Israel on Campus. She got involved into that conflict gradually. She saw in the beginning of her studies two groups (Muslim and Jewish) fighting and yelling at each other and she didn’t know why they behaved that way. She later visited Israel and formed an opinion about the real situation and the so-called Israeli apartheid.
There are many lies – that in the Muslim countries the Christians have to submit to Muslims and be safe, which never works. Galloway has the wrong idea about peace, which is like Hitler’s idea and virtually will destroy Israel. You cannot use Hitler’s beliefs to justify things unless you want to repeat history.
She was followed by Afroza Mohammed, a sociology student in York University. The most interesting thing about her speech was that she gave a voice to the silent majority at the university, which is caught in the middle of the two warring factions. She witnessed the clashes on campus, although she is not invested emotionally, politically or in any other way in the conflict and she doesn’t want to be. She just wanted to express the concern of the majority of students for their safety, since they are caught in between with little opportunities to get away. Both sides offend people during the apartheid week and they occupy the student space. The rest of the students were forced to get into the conflict through bigotry and fights.
Michael Payton, cognitive science student at York University and an associate member of the Centre for Inquiry Canada was the fourth person to express his opinion. He started with the statement that we the people are designed evolutionary to create bias in order to adapt in society. It makes daily life complicated, He especially to people like him who are free thinkers.
He gave an example with an incident he experienced at York University’s Islamic week. Some Muslim students handed him a questionnaire with multiple choice answers. One of the questions was about the Koran asking if the book was word of God or fiction. He picked the fiction answer. The funny thing was that the female student who gave him the paper, checked immediately his response and then confronted him about that, even though he stated he was an atheist and thought the same about the Torah. Then he was surrounded by five male Muslim students who asked him why he is Islamophobic. That happened even though he didn’t confront those people’s beliefs.
He made a comparison between the Galloway case and the Ann Coulter speech. The events were identical – both were confronted by groups with opposite views, although they were allowed to speak (I disagree about Coulter’s case, she is very far from Galloway’s extremism and her speech in Ottawa was cancelled after the lefty loons’ protests).
Noah Coachman, a student activist was the last one to speak. He started his presentation with the desire to deconstruct the “war” on campus. In the case of the Netanyahu speech in Concordia University intimidation was encouraged. He said about his travels to different countries and how he established a student organization in defence of Israel.
In his opinion, there are several fronts of the war. First, we have to pay attention to the anti-Zionist groups against Israel, they harass and misinform the students. This is a group which has wide reach, even labour unions are involved in their “work”, and it’s not just a campus war.
The second major front is the war for the minds and hearts of the students. Many of them don’t know anything about the conflict and they don’t care, they just want a peaceful campus. They can be approached to make them understand the issues involved.
Third, there are organizations, specifically Jewish, which are direct targets of the anti-Israeli and anti-Semitic groups. They need to get our full support.
Another issue that we should not forget is that it’s wrong to perceive Jewish students as staunch defendants of Israel. They have different opinions, which we must respect. We must make sure that the Jewish students feel comfortable on campus. They should be able to criticize Israel, just like we can criticize the Canadian government.
The post continues in Part 2