Conservative MP David Sweet's attempt to obstruct Norman Finkelstein lecture on campus

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Information received through a freedom of information (FOI) request has revealed that Conservative MP David Sweet intervened in February 2011 to help obstruct a lecture by Israel-Palestine expert Dr. Norman Finkelstein. Finkelstein, author of numerous books on the Palestine-Israel conflict -- and often critical of Israel -- was scheduled to speak at Mohawk College in Hamilton, Ontario at an event organized by Canadians for Justice and Peace in the Middle East (CJPME.) Although the room booking had already been confirmed and paid, within days of a meeting organized by Sweet with college officials, Mohawk College quadrupled the price of the room booking by applying an additional $1500 in security fees. As a result of this manoeuvre, CJPME was forced to move the event off the Mohawk College campus.

The FOI, initiated independently by David Cohen, a member of Independent Jewish Voices Hamilton, revealed that Sweet had helped to arrange a meeting between Mohawk College President Rob MacIsaac and representatives of an unincorporated Hamilton group-the Never Again Group (NAG)-opposing Finkelstein's lecture. In an email obtained under the FOI, a NAG representative wrote, "Thanks to David Sweet, MP, for helping to arrange the meeting and for doing battle on our side." From 2009 until present, Sweet has served on the Steering Committee for the "Canadian Parliamentary Coalition to Combat Antisemitism" (CPCCA), a group that recently recommended that there be greater restrictions on political discourse relating to Israel on Canadian campuses. Although members of the CPCCA claim that they are not opposed to legitimate criticism of Israel, Sweet's actions vis-à-vis the Mohawk seem to indicate otherwise.

"CJPME is disappointed -- although not surprised -- to learn of Sweet's involvement," says Thomas Woodley, president of Canadians for Justice and Peace in the Middle East (CJPME). "Sweet and other ideological supporters of Israel in high places cannot openly admit that they want to stop any public criticism of Israel," asserted Woodley, "yet this type of behind-the-scenes intervention by Sweet and others is all too frequent." CJPME issued a Critique of the work of the CPCCA in September, methodically demonstrating that the CPCCA and its leaders sought to limit criticism of Israel on Canadian campuses.

Although Mohawk College refrained from outright cancelling CJPME's room booking for Dr. Finkelstein's lecture in February, the security fees it imposed made proceeding prohibitively expensive. Ultimately, CJPME moved its event to a Hamilton-area church, where 300 people attended without incident -- indicating that the security services Mohawk stipulated were unnecessary. In fact, CJPME has hosted Dr. Finkelstein at 23 lectures over the past three years, without unruliness ever erupting at any of the events.

Click here to read released correspondances between the NAG (Never Again Group) and Mohawk College.

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