Concordia -2: Minus 2 years, that is. Nearly exactly to the date.
The following article, entitled Student ‘tolerance’: Palestinian activists brook little opposition on a Montreal campus by Shafer Parker first appeared in Report Magazine on December 18, 2000:
Simmering discord between the two groups erupted into open conflict last month when the local chapter of Hillel, an international Jewish student support group, displayed on their information table a widely circulated column entitled “Myths of the Middle East,” by Arab-American journalist Joseph Farah, who serves in the U.S. as editor and chief executive officer of the on-line magazine WorldNetDaily (www.worldnetdaily.com). The column, which first appeared in the Jerusalem Post, argues that the Palestinian fight for a homeland and for control of Muslim holy sites in Jerusalem are merely a cover for the Arab world’s intention to erase Israel from the Middle East.
[. . .]
But instead of refuting Mr. Farah’s assertions, an Arab student group, Solidarity for Palestinian Human Rights (SPHR), insisted that the offending material be immediately removed from the information table. It then passed a resolution within the Concordia Student Union (CSU) condemning Hillel for disseminating material that was “racially, ethnically and religiously discriminating.”
Hillel spokesman and Concordia business major Yossi Lanton says the official condemnation was unnecessary because Hillel took steps to undo the damage as soon as they were told their material was offensive. “We had that column off the table 20 minutes after it first appeared,” he says. “Later we apologized. But that wasn’t considered good enough because the apology was made in the CSU council meeting to the Muslim Students’ Association, not in public to the SPHR.”
But what rankles most with Mr. Lanton is his perception that the CSU supports a double standard in regard to the SPHR. “They repeatedly play videos in the student centre that show things like an Israeli policeman beating a Palestinian,” he says. “And when the SPHR held a march this fall to protest the ongoing violence in the Middle East, they had banners that equated the Star of David with a swastika. Someone tried to burn an Israeli flag, and when a Jewish girl ran to rescue it, the crowd started chanting ‘Down, down with Israel.'” When Hillel asked for an apology, spokesmen for the Palestinian group denied responsibility, blaming non-member “extremists” for the excesses.
CSU president Rob Green brushes off Hillel’s accusation that the SPHR is allowed to distribute material offensive to Jews. “No one has ever shown me any SPHR material that opposes the Jewish culture, people or religion,” he says. “The SPHR is focused exclusively on the behaviour of the Jewish state.” Confusion over what materials are acceptable arises, he says, because “the minute anyone says something against the state of Israel, the Jews start crying anti-Semitism. But it’s not the same thing.” Which is a shame, he adds, because “a lot of Palestinian students want nothing more than a democratic debate on these issues.”
Hillel’s concerns over the abuse of democracy rose to new heights on November 27, when a CSU resolution calling for Israel to enforce UN Security Council Resolution 242 was supposed to be debated and approved. Resolution 242, which was originally approved in November 1967, calls on Israel to withdraw from all the territories it occupied at the end of the Six Day War and to “achieve a just settlement of the refugee problem.” Concerned that the Palestinians could easily approve the resolution in overwhelming numbers, Hillel called for a boycott of the vote.
Which may have worked, says dean of students Donald Boisvert, because only 411 students showed up, 111 short of the number needed to form a quorum. “But then again,” he says, “we’re approaching exam time. A lot of students may have decided they needed to study.” Mr. Boisvert says that even though Hillel was prevented from distributing a particular piece of information, he sees no need to defend their right to free speech. “We stand back from ruling on what is appropriate and inappropriate,” he says. Nevertheless, he insists he would never allow anyone to distribute hate literature. Asked about the banners equating the swastika and the Star of David, he replies, “Well, I can’t get into what an individual Palestinian decides to do or not do.” He acknowledges the Palestinians are numerous enough to dominate campus discussions. But he cannot say how many of each group are on campus. “We don’t ask for that kind of information,” he says.
The real issue, says Mr. Farah, whose column sparked Concordia’s recent unrest, is whether freedom still exists on North American campuses. He sees a growing intolerance for meaningful free speech within academia that, in his opinion, seems even worse in Canada than in the U.S. “But these days campus demonstrations everywhere are often in opposition to free speech,” he says, “which is ironic considering student activism began in the 1960s with the free-speech movement.”
Freedom is also the reason why even Arabs ought to support the existence of Israel, Mr. Farah says. “I’ve travelled extensively throughout the Middle East,” he says. “And I can tell you that unlike Israel, Arab-controlled lands are one giant police state. Until the Arab world demonstrates it believes in individual rights, Arab students in the West ought to be most concerned about what’s going on in their homelands.”
Just replace Yossi Lanton with Noah Joseph, and Rob Green with Sabine Freisinger. Anyone feeing a sense of deja-vu?