The riot forced cancellation of Benjamin Netanyahu’s speech, but that was just the short-term effect. It brought a campus war to a head, resulting in endless finger-pointing, international media attention that dragged Concordia’s name through the mud, and all-out political dissention that devolved into a CSU fight against Hillel. Concordia became known as “Gaza U”, as a hostile campus environment for Jewish students, and as a school that had pretty much hit rock bottom.
So what’s changed in two years? In March of 2003, anger at the CSU for the Netanyahu debacle was partly responsible for an upset victory for the moderates in the CSU elections. This was repeated in 2004, and the two years of relative calm have done a lot to help the student atmosphere. Activism is still alive at Concordia, but moderation is trumping extremism, and, on the whole, students are free to go to class without harassment. Speaking to friends who are still students there, I’m told that the difference between the atmosphere of two years ago and today’s campus atmosphere is like night and day.
But has progress really been made? Or is it just another sort of defeat? Could Hillel bring a pro-Israel speaker back to Concordia now, or would the event be shut down – not by violent protest, but by insinuations that they shouldn’t “rock the boat”? Is that really better?
For the past two years, the goal has been to ease tensions, cool everyone down, and neutralize the campus atmosphere. A lot of progress has been made on that front. But come March, if the extremists get elected again, things could go right back to the way they were. Unless the next step is taken: that of standing up for what’s right. Students need to be able to express their opinions freely, and not suppress them for fear of being provocative. They need to be able to do this in an atmosphere where they have the freedom to say what they think, without the risk of violence or being shut down. They need to be able to wear their support of Israel with pride, not hide it away because it’s not politically-correct.
There’s still much work to be done. Luckily, the new crop of student leaders seems to be rising to the challenge. I wish them luck and strength.