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Manifestation à Concordia à l'occasion du passage de Benjamin Nétanyahou

Netanyahu is the victim

Jonathan Kay
National Post Tuesday, September 10, 2002

MONTREAL - For anyone worried about the "right to dissent" in the post-Sept. 11 era, I offer, in rebuttal, Concordia University. The school is already well known to Canadians thanks to its student union, which last year published a handbook demonizing Israel and glorifying Palestinian violence. Yesterday, Concordia won new notoriety: An Arabist rabble shut down a scheduled speech by Benjamin Netanyahu, the former Israeli prime minister. The protests were so violent the police had to spray tear gas, causing the university's main building to be evacuated.

Not that the cops seemed to care much about whether the speech went on or not. Bizarrely, the row of helmeted policemen stood to one side and let the protesters control access to the Hall building, where the speech was supposed to take place. At one point, Laith Marouf, a Syrian who was expelled from Concordia last year after defacing a school building with pro-Palestinian graffiti, climbed on top of a police van and used it as his pulpit. I pointed out the irony to a nearby cop, but he just shrugged.

With no speech to cover, I drifted among the protesters. Most of them had no idea they'd prevailed, and delivered statements to me in the vein of "as we speak, a blood-soaked war criminal is inside that building spewing his racist propaganda." When I told them of the cancellation, they were ecstatic.

At his press conference, Mr. Netanyahu put a brave face on all of this. He said the protesters had undermined their own cause because they'd showcased the intolerance, hatred and censorship that are the calling cards of Yasser and Saddam. Some reporters in the room rolled their eyes -- particularly the francophones, many of whom imagine the Palestinians to be kindred political spirits.

But there was a lot of truth in Mr. Netanyahu's words. Concordia University is the centre of militant Arabism in Canada, and it has recently seen a steady stream of extremists parade through its halls. (Solidarity for Palestinian Human Rights, a prominent university group that organizes demonstrations, has circulated articles by Holocaust deniers alleging Israel is developing an "ethnic bomb" that will kill Arabs but not Jews.) But you never see Jews or anyone else coming to block SPHR from saying its piece. It is only among the school's Arabs -- many of whom, like Marouf, are immigrants from Arab nations where free speech is non-existent and anti-Semitic filth is widespread -- that it is considered acceptable to shut your opponent up by force.

Yesterday's fracas at Concordia was not the Middle East in miniature. I didn't see anyone strapped with mock explosives, and the protesters were careful to avoid burning an Israeli flag (as some protesters did in Toronto earlier this year). But there was still a climate of intimidation. When I tried to approach the Hall building, I was blocked by a crowd of protesters who declared they were creating "a Palestinian checkpoint." Many of the folks in yarmulkes -- including a pair of middle-aged men -- were shoved, kicked, smeared with ketchup meant to symbolize Palestinian blood, and otherwise harassed until they fled.

To the protesters -- well-steeped in the specious propaganda of the Arab world -- all of this was "legitimate resistance."

"Look what the police have done," a thin, friendly Concordia student named Ahmed told me, gesturing dramatically at a pane of smashed glass.

"But the protesters smashed the window," I said.

"Yes," he responded, "Out of frustration. Look at the way they're being treated!"

As we spoke, a group of Jewish students raised an Israeli flag. Almost immediately, a group of men chanting slogans in Arabic took it from them.

"Is that an act of frustration too?" I asked Ahmed, half seriously.

"They have no business taunting us," he said with great solemnity. "It's a provocation."

In some ways, this sort of statement is more dismaying than the violence it excuses. It tells me that the logic of Palestinian victimization is crossing the ocean and taking up residence locally. Which, perhaps, is not surprising: If you can argue that blowing up school buses is a predictable response to the "humiliations" imposed on Palestinians, as many of the talking heads featured on the CBC and in The Toronto Star tell us, why shouldn't censorship in support of the victims be OK too? Shouldn't the blame lie with Mr. Netanyahu, for daring to express his free speech rights and thereby "provoking" those poor Palestinian sympathizers? Sure enough, a reporter at yesterday's press conference raised that very theory. "There are people who feel that holding your event at a place like Concordia University with a history of difficulties ... was like waving a red flag in front of these people," she said. "Perhaps that caused the problem." To my delight, Mr. Netanyahu had no patience for this. The cause of riots, he said, is rioters. The cause of thuggery is thugs. "And if it's true that there is a history of problems at a place like Concordia," he added, "then clean it up." It was the best line of the press conference. I only hope someone from Concordia was there to hear it.


Letters - National Post

Wednesday, September 11, 2002

Re: Netanyahu is the Victim, Jonathan Kay, Sept. 10.

Like the rest of the Jewish community in Toronto, we are shocked and disgusted at the trampling of free speech at Concordia University on Monday, when former Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu was prevented from delivering a speech by protestors.

We are shocked that in Canada, where intellectual freedom and human rights are cherished, an individual could be denied the basic right of free speech. We are especially concerned that this occurred at an institution of higher learning, where such rights are held in high esteem.

We are also disgusted by the behaviour of protestors who describe themselves as "peaceful," and who, in an attempt to promote a political message, have hurt their own university's reputation by resorting to intimidation and violence, throwing garbage cans, newspaper boxes, and whatever else they could find at those who had come to hear Mr. Netanyahu.

We pray that the orgy of hate and destruction displayed in Montreal is not repeated elsewhere. We hope that all protestors in future respect the right of Mr. Netanyahu and others to speak, as we respect their right to protest. We believe that many Jewish students, largely fuelled by Monday's incident, will go to hear Mr. Netanyahu and demonstrate their solidarity with Israel and reaffirm not only his right to speak, but the validity of his message.

As Jewish students, we praise the efforts of our counterparts at Concordia. Your efforts to bring a message from Israel and about Israel to your campus is admirable. We admire your endless hours of work dealing with both the Concordia Student Union and the university bureaucracy, not to mention local law enforcement services.

It is from this hard work that we draw strength and we forge ahead with bold new initiatives of our own in an attempt to bring a little bit of Israel to our campus.

Adam Cutler, chair, Student Coordinating Committee, Hillel at the Wolfond Centre for Jewish Campus Life, University of Toronto, Toronto.

Alan M. Dershowitz raises the central overlooked issue in the debate over the proposition of war against Iraq -- deterrence (Is an Attack on Iraq Justified? Sept. 10). He correctly describes the logic that the threat of mutual annihilation prevented war between the Soviet Union and the West.

Yet, he fails to apply this logic to Iraq today. The West's policy of containment deterred a nuclear-armed Soviet regime led by Joseph Stalin that was one of history's most brutal and bloody.

Why would a nuclear-armed Saddam be any less deterrable? Why would a robust containment of Iraq be any less likely to succeed? This is the most important question in this debate -- not whether a pre-emptive attack is "legal" or whether there is "proof" of Iraqi weapons capabilities (the evidence is overwhelming).

We know that Saddam did not use weapons of mass destruction against Israel during the Gulf War because he feared Israeli or American nuclear retaliation. Advocates of preventive war must convincingly explain why the Saddam we face today is less rational than the one we faced in 1991.

David Mendeloff, assistant professor, Norman Paterson School of International Affairs, Carleton University, Ottawa.

It is with astonishment and disgust that I heard of the violent student outburst that sprang up Monday night at Concordia University in protest of Benjamin Netanyahu's lecture. As a first-year education student at York University, I view the university campus as a place of intellectual and rational action and idealistic striving.

Activism is only a laudable pursuit of freedom of expression when it doesn't strip others of their right to hear lectures from visiting dignitaries and allows those dignitaries their right to freedom of speech.

I do, however, applaud the restraint of the disappointed students who, despite being unable to hear Mr. Netanyahu, refrained from lashing out against the antagonists who caused this callous display of intimidation and forced censorship.

On behalf of university students all across Canada, I call for the organizers and perpetrators of this riot to cease governing our campuses by brute force. Our campuses should be diverse and harmonious centres of learning -- isn't that what education is all about?

Aliza Libman, Faculty of Education, York University, Toronto.

It was with incredulity that I read of the Palestinian activists' successful endeavor to deny Canadians the rights afforded them by their Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

Even with my limited knowledge of Canadian law, I find that the Charter recognizes the rule of law, freedom of speech, freedom of peaceful assembly, and freedom of association along with many other fine principles.

I find no disclaimer preventing this Charter from being applicable to the many people that desired to hear Benjamin Netanyahu speak at Concordia University. The activists' lack of understanding regarding a free dialogue in civilized society is both frightening and untenable.

Such behaviour dishonours the very cause they purport to believe in. It is also an affront to the tenets of Western culture which I and many others value deeply. Surely I am not alone in my outrage.

Mary Chambers, Chicago, Ill.

Adam Cutler, chair, Student Coordinating Committee, Hillel at the Wolfond Centre for Jewish Campus Life, University of Toronto.


Letters - National Post

Thursday, September 12, 2002

Re: Former Israeli PM's Speech in Montreal Stopped by 'Peaceful Information Picket,' Sept. 10.

I was among those assembled in Concordia University's Hall Building who were unable to leave the building because the "peaceful" protestor s had resorted to violence. As a Holocaust survivor, the despicable "spectacle" brought back some of my worst memories from 1930s Europe.

As an alumnus of Concordia, it particularly pained me to witness first-hand the fruits of the university's mismanagement, and its blatant inability to control the destructive elements that have emerged from within Concordia.

Monday, the world had a taste of how political debate is conducted by the anti-Israel rabble.

Monday, I cried witnessing those who denounce Israel impose on Montreal their distorted version of political debate. Monday I also witnessed the total bankruptcy of the RCMP, the Montreal police force, and the City of Montreal authorities -- all of whom turned a blind eye while people were spat at, pushed to the ground, and forcibly prevented from entering the campus to hear former Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu's speech.

Monday will forever stand as a black and tragic day for Montreal, Quebec and Canada.

Baruch Cohen, Montreal.

As Minister of Health, I take issue with the assertions in the editorial you reprinted from The Wall Street Journal that social medicine just doesn't stack up (Re: Woe, Canada, Sept. 5).

Despite what the editorial suggests, a 2001 survey conducted by researchers at the Harvard School of Public Health and the Commonwealth Fund reported that the United States generally ranks at the bottom on most indicators of patient views and experiences, in comparison with Canada, New Zealand, Australia and the United Kingdom.

The Canadian health-care system is guided by the conviction that all Canadians are entitled to quality health care based on need, not ability to pay, when and where they need it. If you ask a majority of Canadians, you will find that they rate the health-care system as very good or excellent, which suggests that despite the challenges we face along with other OECD countries, the Canadian health-care system is providing access to quality health care.

The Canadian health-care system has better results in longer life expectancy, lower infant mortality rates, and better access to physicians and hospitals than the United States. Furthermore, in a recent study published in the American Journal of Public Health, researchers concluded that Canada's health system, which provides widespread access to primary health care, is the major reason avoidable deaths from breast cancer, asthma and tuberculosis are lower in Canada than in the United States.

In terms of efficiency, Canada's universal medicare system consumes just over 9% of GDP. In contrast, the U.S. system consumes 14%, even though many millions of Americans are either undercovered or have no coverage at all.

I hope this provides readers with a more accurate picture of the Canadian health-care system than the editorial of The Wall Street Journal.

A. Anne McLellan, Minister of Health, Ottawa.

The Montreal Police Department should be ashamed of its sad display of crowd control and preparation for Benjamin Netanyahu's speech at Concordia University on Monday.

Montreal's police must explain to the citizens of their city (and the country) why they failed so miserably in protecting those who came to hear Mr. Netanyahu speak (let alone protecting Mr. Netanyahu's freedom of expression).

The police had ample warning of the intent of the pro-Palestinian "protestors," not to mention an awareness of the history of anti-Semitism prevalent on Concordia's campus. The country will not soon forget the hatred and anti-Jewish sentiment that the Montreal police allowed to prevail on Monday. Je me souviens!

Brad Neufeld, Toronto.

Unlike police in Montreal, Toronto's police force did a tremendous job protecting free speech in Toronto on Tuesday. A huge "thank you" should go out to Chief of Police Julian Fantino, and to Norm Gardner, chairman of the Toronto Police Services Board for the security they ensured was in place when Benjamin Netanyahu spoke here.

At all times, I felt protected and safe. To see the police cars, personnel, mounted police, surveillance cameras, and vans everywhere, and also the metal detectors at the door, all there to protect me so that I could exercise my right to hear the former head of state of a democratic country speak, was encouraging, especially since that right had been denied fellow Montrealers just the day before. The officers were efficient, thorough, and at all times courteous; a remarkable combination of skills.

Frances Hellen, Toronto.

Concordia's pro-Palestinian student population are not Muslim radicals who support terrorism (Montreal Campus Split by Israeli-Palestinian Passions, Sept. 10).

As a former student of McGill University and having many friends who attend Concordia, I can say with certainty that those who assert such an argument are mistaken. Those fighting for the Palestinian cause certainly include Muslims, but also a large group of Jewish students who organize under the association, Solidarity for Palestinian Human Rights. No doubt, radical groups exist, but they represent only a small minority of the Concordia students that participate in pro-Palestinian demonstrations.

Bridget Hauserman, Toronto.