Concordia University’s student union in Montreal, Canada is deciding between Nov. 25 to 27, 2014 whether they will officially support the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement against Israel. Concordia has a long history of pro-Palestinian and anti-Israel activity on the campus. The Concordia Student Union’s vote will vote be the ultimate, capping years of activity that have made Jewish and pro-Israel students uncomfortable for too long. Concordia’s position seems a contradiction to Canada’s official policy of support towards Israel.
Concordia made waves even back in 2002, when pro-Palestinians activists rioted when Hillel invited then former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to speak at the university. It was the worse riot in the university’s history. The riot and persistent anti-Israel feeling and activities on the campus led it be nicknamed Gaza “U” The intervening years have only hardened their stance, and to go along with the annual Israel Apartheid week celebration, they now feel compelled to officially support the BDS movement. It is a political stance that does nothing to improve campus life or deal with the real issues and challenges college students face today.
The main purpose for the student union supporting the BDS movement was to ensure that they could prevent student organizations from inviting pro-Israel speakers and purchasing Israeli products. Students are voting on the referendum question as part of the Concordia Student Union (CSU) by-elections. The question’s wording caused additional controversy, and was changed twice from “until Israel complies with International Law and Universal Principles of Human Rights,” then to “boycott of all academic and consumer ties with any institution or company that aids in Israel’s occupation of Palestine.” CSU in the end simplified it to read, “Do you approve of the CSU endorsing the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement against Israel?” The language might seem less insulting, but it means the same, with the same ramifications for Jewish students on campus.
Pro-BDS students are so worried about denying Palestinians rights, that they are oblivious that are they are policing the Jewish students on campus, denying them their rights. The resolution, if it does pass will only add to the tension, be divisive, and justify harassing Jewish students for expressing their views. Bradley Martin, a Concordia fellow of the Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting in America (CAMERA) wrote in the university’s student paper, “The Concordian” about the ramifications the resolution would have on campus, “Israeli students and those who identify with the State of Israel will be demonized for their affiliation.” Just taking a course in Jewish or Israel studies could lead to harassment from pro-BDS students.
The Concordia Graduate Student Association had already voted in January 2013 to support the BDS movement. Unfortunately, with even with a pro-Israel government, Canadian universities are radicalizing, like their American counterparts, and in the past couple years have voted on resolutions to support the BDS movement. Most have been concentrated in Ontario, notably York University’s Federation of Students in March 2013, and the University of Toronto Graduate Students Association in December 2012. Concordia remains the only university in Quebec supporting BDS.
The large population of Arab and Palestinian students at Concordia contributes to the anti-Israel culture; the university attracts more Palestinians than other institutions in Quebec and Canada. In 2003, the university had an Arab population of 5000 students, whereas the whole university has 26,000 students. Concordia has a Jewish or Judaic studies as they call it at the university, it is not a separate department instead residing under the Religion department. Additionally, they have an Institute for Canadian Jewish Studies, and the Azrieli Institute of Israel Studies, which offers a minor in Israel studies, but tries too hard to appease Arab students, as to not arouse more protests. There is just not enough students or Jewish students studying the subjects to make an impression on the campus.
When I was a graduate student in the department working toward an MA in Judaic Studies, I was surprised at the number of non-Jewish students taking the Judaic studies programs or courses. With a small department and not enough Jewish support, I never felt comfortable. The department was not varied enough to even support my interest in American Jewish history. The environment was a sharp contrast from my time at McGill University, where the distinctly Jewish environment filled in the Jewish studies department and courses reminded me somewhat of my time in Montreal’s Jewish school system. Although the environment has changed in the intervening years, with Jewish studies shrinking at both campuses and anti-Israel sentiment rising in university campuses all over the country, the persistent activity at Concordia although deplorable is less shocking.
Although many Jewish students end up at the Concordia, in general the tense environment makes one feel like an unwanted guest in your own home, especially if you wear religion or politics on your sleeve. I have had my personal experience with anti-Israel bias at Concordia. As a graduate student I set to be the teaching assistant for the Introduction to Judaism. Even before I could start, I was harassed by email by a Palestinian student who supposedly registered in the class. I would not publicly admit it at the time; it scared me enough not to continue in the position, even though it would have been a valuable opportunity. This student kept harassing me throughout the semester even though I was no longer the TA, and never answered one of his emails. The pro-Palestinian propaganda sent to me was enough to limit my visits to the campus afterwards.
The activity at the university level however, contradicts the general policy towards Israel in the country. Canada staunchly supports Israel, especially Stephen Harper’s conservative government. While so-called condemnations rolled in over the terror attack at the Bnei Torah Kehillat Yaakov synagogue, most countries could not help but speak with a fork tongue condemning the attack, but almost blaming Israel that it was happening, and at the same time urging a renewal of the peace talks. Almost every condemnation from a world leader included the line that peace talks have to resume from President Barack Obama to Pope Francis and everyone in between.
Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper and Foreign Minister John Baird both issued strong denunciations that were the exception rather than the rule in that they did not urge renewed peace talks or negotiations. If a terror attack happened in a place of worship in any other country or to other religion, the condemnation never would have had a caveat added to them; never would they have urged the country to negotiate with their attackers, terrorists. The world seems to be condemning the punishment of demolishing terrorists’ homes more than then their original terrorist acts, when the reprimand is in no terms strong enough considering the crimes.
The editors of the Calgary Herald in their op-ed “Palestinians’ macabre celebrating shows peace not on the agenda” where brave enough to write the truth. This is something world leaders have been afraid to do calling out the Palestinians and their actions for what they really are, heartless people celebrating the horrendous death of innocent people who personally did nothing to them. The editors were able to remind their readers that the Palestinians reaction was no different from Al-Qaeda during 9/11. The editors pointed out that Palestinian Authority president Mahmoud Abbas does incite the violence, something the world does not want to admit. Moreover, as former President George W. Bush stated you do not negotiate with terrorists, the Palestinians have proven themselves repeatedly to be unworthy of any peace negotiations what so ever. The concluding line was priceless and true “The Jordanian legislators and the Palestinians dancing in the streets and distributing candy to their children still don’t love them enough to make that happen.” There needs to be more truthful and courageous voices.
The problem remains, be it world leaders, pro-Palestinian activists they are all caught up in a non-existent romantic notion that the Palestinians need to be saved by the “western” world or else their rights will be trampled on, all the while demonizing the Jews and Israel. The world blinded by the vision and political correctness are relying on age old on anti-Semitism. Reality has gone out the window; they are oblivious that the Palestinians are terrorists, while Israel is victimized, attacked and their innocent citizens suffering. So concerned are these activists about saving the world and punishing oppressors, that they have become oppressors themselves. If the world looked at Canada’s denunciations of Palestinian terrorism and emulated it more, and instead of indulging the Palestinians like children and making them “poor” things, there could be a way to stop the escalating violence and terrorism in Israel.
Bonnie K. Goodman, BA, MLIS is a journalist, librarian, editor, & historian. She writes regularly about American, Israeli and Canadian politics, universities and education, and Judaism and Jewish issues for Examiner.com. She is the editor of Academic Buzz Network, a series of political, academic & education blogs which includes History Musings. She has a BA in History & Art History & a Masters in Library and Information Studies, both from McGill University, and has done graduate work in Jewish history at Concordia University as part of the MA in Judaic Studies program. Her specializations are the North American Jewish community, US, Canadian & Israeli politics, Jewish history, religion and cultural issues.