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Concordia University has had a change of heart. Reversing its initial decision to disallow the speech due to “security concerns”, now Barak will be allowed to speak on campus:

Backtracking on a decision that fuelled a furor over free speech, Concordia University in Montreal has agreed to invite former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak to speak on its campus.

The university reached the decision after “extensive discussions” with Jewish community leaders, according to a press release yesterday. Concordia says it will welcome Mr. Barak once it can upgrade security in one of its buildings.

Federation CJA has applauded this decision, and I hope that the support that the university receives from the public will convince them that they are doing the right thing by allowing the former PM to speak.

Many students will be upset by this decision, and I can understand why. They don’t want more tensions, more headlines, or the risk of another riot. They just want the situation to calm down and go away.

But ultimately I believe that this is the right decision. I hope that the average student can understand the importance of defending free speech – not just for rioters, but for everyone.

If the murder of Dutch filmmaker Theo van Gogh had any kind of lesson, it’s that certain kinds of speech are very dangerous, because certain groups have ensured that this is so. Upon hearing that news, Damian had this reflection:

It’s worth remembering a scene in Martin Himel’s Global TV documentary, Jenin: Massacring Truth, in which a cartoonist for The Independent is asked about his cartoon showing Ariel Sharon eating a baby, and why he wouldn’t draw Arafat in such a manner. He responds, glibly, that “Jews don’t issue fatwas.”

Martin Himel, you will recall, was also behind the controversial documentary Confrontation at Concordia, about the 2002 Netanyahu riots.

The point here is that certain people are willing to resort to violence in order to shut down speech they disagree with. They cannot be allowed to succeed. Otherwise, they will grow bolder and bolder, until eventually the only speech permitted will be their point of view.

Concordia made the wrong decision at first. I believe that strongly. And their change of heart is a case of better late than never.

To all of you out there who may have written leaders or participated in the awareness campaign about this event, I believe you had an effect. Thank you.

To the students and alumni who will be upset or angered by this decision – including some members of a divided Hillel – please try to understand the larger implications of this decision, and realize that defence of free speech – while not always smooth – ultimately benefits us all.

And to anyone considering rioting: you may have thought you were victorious. This new decision proves you were wrong. If you disagree with Barak’s message, feel free to mount a peaceful protest. That’s what freedom of speech is all about. But I hope you think long and hard before resorting to violence again. That has absolutely no place in a free society.


The Gazette reports that today’s Hillel rally outside Concordia was “peaceful”:

Almost two years after a violent demonstration outside Montreal’s Concordia University against former Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, there was another protest.

Only this time, it was more vocal than violent.

About two hundred people staged a peaceful demonstration outside the university’s downtown campus Tuesday.

They were protesting the administration’s decision not to allow a speech by another former Israeli prime minister Ehud Barak.

I’m sure we’ll be seeing lots more on the 6 o’ clock news. This story was just a placeholder. But even in its brevity, it says a lot.

Hillel holds peaceful protests. The right to free speech in Canada incorporates – and in fact, depends on – the right to peaceful protest.

But when the line is crossed into violence, protest becomes thuggery. That’s what happened when Netanyahu came to speak.

And now, Barak is denied his right to speak because of the fear of a repeat of the violence of the 2002 Netanyahu riots. SPHR has succeeded in shutting down any speech it doesn’t like at Concordia, through the use of violence.

But when speakers came who Hillel disagreed with, they protested peacefully. So speakers continue to come who Hillel disagrees with.

In other words, the viewpoint that the violent thugs agree with gets to be heard. But the viewpoint that the peaceful demonstrators agree with gets shut down.

Concordia is sending a strong message here: violence works. Who will be the next groups to employ SPHR’s tactics to muzzle speech they don’t like?

That’s why this isn’t just an issue for pro-Israel or pro-Palestinian students. It’s not just an issue for Concordia students. It’s an issue for all Montrealers, all Canadians, and all people committed to democracy. We cannot let violence win.


Hillel’s rally at Concordia


Sadly I couldn’t get off work to be there. But Adam Daifallah has pictures. More to follow.

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Concordia: What they’re saying


Hillel: “A small group of thugs are holding an entire university community hostage and deciding who is allowed to speak and who is not. All people who value democratic principles such as freedom of expression and speech should share our outrage with this intolerable situation.” – co-Presidents Jason Portnoy and Yacov Fruchter, in a press […]

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Concordia University: A timeline


Many media outlets, when covering the tensions and flare-ups at Concordia, have tried to construct timelines. Most of them get it wrong, or at least omit many crucial points. Certainly it’s hard to be comprehensive, but here’s a partial look back at some of the key events of the past five years or so: April […]

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Federation weighs in


Federation CJA has issued a release condemning Concordia’s decision on Ehud Barak: “This is a day of great sadness for those who value freedom of expression in our universities and in Canadian society,” stated Federation CJA President Sylvain Abitbol. “Concordia University has allowed itself to be taken hostage by a small and violent group within […]

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Gaza U once again at Concordia


Another semester, another scandal. This time, Hillel submitted a request to bring Ehud Barak to speak at Concordia, but, according to a press release from Hillel, the university has denied their request for anywhere on both campuses – even Loyola. Now, they’re holding a protest: FREEDOM OF SPEECH DENIED AT CONCORDIA First Ehud Barak, WHO’S […]

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September 9th: Two Years Later


September 9th, 2002, when this was the scene at Concordia: 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 […]

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Victory for moderates at Concordia


For the second year in a row, the moderates have won the CSU elections, thus ensuring that – at least for next year – the university will not be overtaken by those merely interested in shit-disturbing for headlines: In election results announced just moments ago, Chief Electoral Officer Tara Tavender has declared victory for New […]

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Hillel banned at York U


In 2002, they tried to ban Hillel at Concordia. Now, regular reader DaninVan sent me an e-mail letting me know that something similar is developing at York University. Tensions have been running high at York for quite some time. Last week, the campus chapters of Hillel and SPHR both had events on the same day. […]

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