A small group of JDL activists is seemingly the only Jewish group raising a storm at anti-Semitic, hate-mongering events on Canadian campuses and elsewhere, albeit non-violently.
A group of about 20 protesters associated with the Jewish Defence League of Canada (JDL) loudly disrupted – and temporarily halted – a panel discussion last Tuesday evening at the University of Toronto, titled “Palestinian Popular Resistance: Building the Student Movement.”
The protesters sat scattered throughout the audience in the auditorium in U of T’s George Ignatieff Theatre building and, part way through the first speaker’s talk, several of them, including JDL Canada director Meir Weinstein, began shouting things like, “How many Jews do you want to kill?” “Terrorism” and “Anti-Semitism.”
The event moderator said she would apply a “three strike” system – meaning that after three outbursts, anyone interrupting the talk would be asked to leave – but none of the protesters complied with numerous requests to vacate the room, and the organizers eventually called a recess and cleared out the auditorium.
At that point, most of the protesters lingered outside the theater building for a bit before heading home, while the bulk of the audience relocated to a different building on campus to finish the lecture.
According to its Facebook invitation, the purpose of the event, which was hosted by the U of T Graduate Students’ Union’s (GSU) Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions committee and endorsed by the Students Against Israeli Apartheid group at U of T, was to inform attendees about “what is currently taking place on the ground in Palestine and what we can do on our campuses to support and continue building the Palestinian popular resistance movement.”
The panel featured, via Skype, Noura Erakat, a “human rights” attorney, assistant professor at Virginia’s George Mason University and a former national grassroots organizer and legal advocate at the U.S. Campaign to End the Israeli Occupation, and, in person, Nada Elia, a member of the organizing committee of the U.S. Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel, founding member of the Radical Arab Women’s Activist Network and a former representative to the United Nations of the Arab Women’s Solidarity Association.
The JDL posted a call on its website Jan. 6 to attend the event to “confront and expose calls to murder Jews at U of T,” adding that “the word ‘resistance’ is a code word for murdering Jews.”
“What I heard tonight was a total justification for murdering Jews,” Weinstein told The Canadian Jewish News after the lecture had moved locations. “It’s unfortunate that this is happening on a university campus. Students are being indoctrinated to hate Israel and Jews, and [these groups] are giving full justification for what’s been called the ‘knife intifada.’”
Since the event calling to “continue building…resistance” seemed to encourage the continued stabbings and other forms of murder against Israeli Jews, United with Israel (UWI) asked whether it was in line with U of T’s rental policy.
“The event…is not sponsored or endorsed by the University of Toronto. It is organized by an independent student group and their activities do not reflect any position of the University of Toronto itself,” Althea Blackburn-Evans, director of media relations, responded.
“The controversial program supports the current wave of anti-Israel terror attacks and was designed to ‘continue building the Palestinian popular resistance movement’ and to promote the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement to delegitimize and destroy the State of Israel. Despite complaints about discrimination, anti-Semitism and the promotion of violence against Israel, the University allowed the program to run on campus premises,” stated Stacey Starkman, Director of Communications and External Relations for the Friends of Simon Wiesenthal Center for Holocaust Studies. Ahead of the event, UWI asked Shimon Fogel, CEO of the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs (CIJA), the advocacy arm of the Jewish Federations of Canada, whether the organization would be protesting and exactly how dangerous he views the situation.
“Given the current wave of terrorism against Israelis, the call for ‘popular resistance’ is disgusting and unacceptable on any Canadian campus. CIJA’s campus partner, Hillel, is stating this unequivocally to the U of T administration in a formal complaint. Hillel has a long-standing and very positive relationship with the U of T administration, and is in the best position to advocate for the rights and well-being of Jewish students on campus.
“It is also outrageous that the Graduate Students’ Union (GSU) is affiliated with this event,” Fogel continued. “We encourage all graduate students and U of T alumnae to contact the Graduate Students Union directly to voice their disgust at the fact that this is taking place in the name of the union.”
According to Fogel, “It should not be overlooked that BDS [anti-Israel Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions] activists at U of T are losing ground. Despite their claims that BDS is gaining momentum, BDS initiatives have been defeated three times when brought to the U of T undergraduate students union over the past year. This is largely thanks to the extraordinary work of Hillel, which has been ceaseless in building strategic relationships with student government leaders who in turn rejected BDS when it has been raised.
“We value freedom of assembly, but it must be said that militant counter-protests have the very real potential to give anti-Israel activists far greater publicity than they would otherwise attract,” he opined. “Worse, they risk depicting the pro-Israel community as equally radical, hyperbolic, and militant – causing many students to conclude ‘a pox on both your houses’. This is not an effective way to secure the well-being of Jewish students or gain allies in the effort to counter anti-Israel extremism on campus.”
Fogel’s statement demonstrates the different approaches to the extreme hostility at universities over the last several years. In 2010, CIJA launched a campaign on campus, titled “Size Doesn’t Matter” – referring to the tiny size of Israel – which, according to its website, “celebrates the many facets of Israeli culture. By highlighting Israel’s many accomplishments and contributions in a fun and attractive way, this campaign has become one of Canada’s most successful Israel outreach initiatives, touching thousands across the country and beyond. SDM redefines Israel by educating non-Jewish students and people in the arts, food, and music industries about Israeli innovation and culture.”
The situation on campus doesn’t seem to have improved, to say the least. Ryan Bellerose, a native-rights activist from Alberta who also advocates on behalf of the Jewish state, explaining that Jews are the indigenous people of the Land of Israel, was in Israel recently. Discussing the situation on Canadian campuses, he ridiculed the notion that false accusations of an Israeli “occupation,” genocide and apartheid could be fought by citing cultural and technological contributions. JDL in Canada, he said, is a non-violent, “chilled group” and they are “absolutely right” to protest at such events.