Bias on Montreal’s Concordia University Campus

Montreal’s Concordia University has grabbed headlines recently, first with campus riots by pro-Palestinian activists preventing former Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu from speaking and more recently with its student union’s banning of the university’s Hillel organization.

October 9, 2002
Pro-Palestinian activists at Concordia University resorted to force and intimidation to prevent Israel’s former prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, from speaking on campus. Blocking the only entry to the lecture hall, student and non-student activists took over the mezzanine and escalators, shoving, pushing, spitting on and, in some cases, hitting and kicking those determined to enter the building to hear Netanyahu speak. Outside, anti-Israel demonstrators broke a series of plate-glass windows, prompting police to cancel the lecture because of safety issues.

In response to the riots, Concordia Rector Frederick Lowy imposed a moratorium on public events related to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, which was lifted at the end of November. Even before it was lifted, however, the moratorium was defied by Concordia students attempting to bring anti-Israel speakers to campus. For example, a speech by Robert Fisk, known for his partisan coverage of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, was billed as a discussion about Iraq and Afghanistan in order to bypass the ban. Once on campus, Fisk spoke also about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Earlier, the University was forced to obtain a court injunction to prevent anti-Israel speakers Svend Robinson and Libby Davis from being brought to campus to speak. The Concordia Student Union (CSU) responded to the moratorium angrily by blaming Rector Lowy and the University administration for the riots in allowing Netanyahu to speak on campus.

The University announced that 19 people involved in the rioting were identified from available videotape footage, 12 of whom were Concordia students. Five of the 19 were charged by the police under the Criminal Code of Canada, and the University announced that the 12 students involved would be charged under the University’s Code of Rights and Responsibilities. Two of the students charged were vice presidents of the Concordia Student Union (CSU) and they, along with the CSU president, immediately held a press conference denouncing the university’s sanctions and accusing it of exaggerating and fabricating the charges. To read more about the press conference by CSU members, click here.

For more articles on the riots and the Concordia Student Union, click here.

December 3, 2002
Concordia’s student union again made the news as it voted to shut down the Jewish student group (Hillel) based on the charge that Hillel was allegedly distributing materials on campus recruiting overseas volunteers for the Israeli military, which they claimed violates Canada’s Foreign Enlistment Act.

It appeared that the rights to due process were denied as the motion was introduced without adequate notice at a student union meeting held at midnight on December 2, the last day of classes for the fall term just before the exam period, with the participation of only one third of the constituents (9 of 27). Although the chair of the CSU ruled the motion out of order, the nine council members present at the meeting overturned that decision, and the motion passed 8 to 1.

The motion banned Hillel activities and froze its funds until such time as Hillel issues an apology “for violating CSU and University regulations on racial discrimination” (because the flyer was allegedly aimed at recruiting non-Israeli Jews) and “a condemnation of the Israeli Army’s practices,” or until the Concordia University administration overrules the student union motion. As councillor Trish MacIntosh put it: “The university could clear Hillel tomorrow and we’d restore everything. Of course, that would make the university an accessory to the crime and that suits us just fine.” (K. Hechtman, Montreal Muslim The university administration, however, declined the CSU request to overturn its decision stating that the administration would not “absolve [CSU] of their responsibility and legal duty to conduct their affairs in a fair, equitable and non-partisan manner.”

Hillel students refused to apologize stating they had done nothing wrong. Concordia Hillel stated that CSU allegations against it were unfounded as the flyer in question was not a Hillel flyer but the brochure of an independent organization with no ties to Hillel, and that the presence of the flyers on the table was not brought to Hillel’s attention before the motion was passed.

The Concordia Hillel has demanded that the Student Union unconditionally rescind the resolution banning Hillel from campus and provide a letter of apology for anguish and hurt. A formal legal demand to the CSU by Hillel outlined the procedural irregularities of the resolution and demanded that the decision be reversed by 5 p.m. on Monday, December 9, but this did not happen.

Meanwhile, the CSU petitioned the Concordia University Board of Governors to support the ban on Hillel.  However, the Board did not have a quorum present to allow a vote on the CSU  resolution.  In addition, members of the CSU, in conjunction with Solidarity for Palestinian Human Rights are approaching the Royal Canadian Mounted Police to launch an investigation into what they claim is Hillel’s violation of Canada’s Foreign Enlistment Act.

On the night of December 12, 2002, the CSU held an emergency meeting wherein they decided to reinstate Concordia Hillel but not to restore its student union funding until it agree to sign a document pledging that it would not “promote war.” Hillel refused to sign because it considered that signing such a document would be an acknowledgement of wrongdoing.

Concordia Hillel is taking legal action to invalidate the original CSU resolution that banned Hillel from campus.  In addition, Hillel will seek to legally prohibit the CSU from “interfering” in Hillel’s activities and will demand restitution of its complete funding, as well as punitive damages.  According to Concordia Hillel Co-President Noah Joseph:

We’re suing the CSU because they have acted unfairly and in breach of their own policies all in an effort to shut down the only Jewish group on campus….The Jewish students at Concordia are not taking this lying down. We have received an outpouring of support from the community at large, and we will continue to fight against this one-sided campaign against us.

 For more information, see Hillel’s website.

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