Global documentary slams Concordia

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The re-run of a Global CanWest documentary brings back bitter memories of a Concordia protest

I had my reservations when Global Television began shooting a documentary on Israel-Palestine-related tensions at Concordia University, where I served this past year as a Vice-President of the Concordia Student Union (CSU). Concordia was the site of a notorious September 9, 2002 protest that shut down a lecture by former Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, whose visit was sponsored by CanWest-Global chair Israel Asper.

It is no secret that Asper has never looked too kindly on a place like Concordia, where Palestinians have united with Jews like myself and other allies to raise public awareness about the Israeli occupation of Palestinian land. Yet the end result, the one-hour Confrontation at Concordia, re-broadcast with much fanfare on July 2, defied my wildest imaginings.

The documentary goes to great lengths to depict a campus, to quote the narrator, “that has seen a groundswell of hatred and prejudice”, one whose “toxic atmosphere has spread to other universities across the continent.” This toxic atmosphere, of course, is the work of pro-Palestinian students, who have waged a “campaign of intimidation in an effort to ban Jewish student movements” at Concordia. To prove this thesis, the program resorts to a variety of devices that would have impressed Orwell.

The CSU is compared to Nazi Germany for “banning” Concordia Hillel, the campus Jewish group, for the first time “since Nazi-dominated Austria banned the Jewish movement in the 1930s.” The facts are quite different. In December 2002, the CSU Council suspended Hillel, pending its commitment to an un-binding pledge required from all student clubs to denounce racism and to not recruit for military organizations. The decision was taken after Hillel was caught handing out a flyer entitled “Volunteer for the Israeli Defense Forces!”, that advertised a recruitment program for the Israeli army. Although some in the CSU questioned the fairness of the process afforded Hillel, that this was not a “ban” nor a flyer to be taken lightly is not in doubt.

After all, consider whether there’d be any protest if the CSU had suspended the campus Palestinian group for handing out a flyer inviting students to “Volunteer for the Palestinian Liberation Forces!”, promising “5 months of training” in “handling weapons, close combat, combat drills, disguise, etc.” before entering “active PLO service.” Yet for taking action against a flyer that in real-life bears the name of Israel, not Palestine, the CSU’s action is compared to the work of Nazis.

The Nazi comparison is also extended to the anti-Netanyahu protest. I know not one protester who would not condemn the anti-Semitic incidents that occurred that day. These were deplorable, and thankfully confined to a fringe minority. Yet the Global documentary compares it to Kristallnacht, the initial campaign of Nazi terror against Germany’s Jewish population in November 1938, by fading an image of a broken window from Concordia’s Hall building to that of a broken window of a Jewish store attacked during the Nazi pogrom.

This comparison, disgusting in itself, is all the more disingenuous given the facts of the day: the window was broken after the crowd outside reacted to what they saw as police brutality against the protesters inside the school lobby — a group that included the only Jewish people in the vicinity at the time, myself included.

Further examples abound that, judged by the most basic journalistic standards, are equally as deplorable. But more important to consider are the ominous implications that such a program holds for activism on the Israel-Palestine conflict. Benjamin Netanyahu offers an insightful line when, in discussing the history of persecution against Jews, he points out that “any physical attack — pogrom, massacre... was always preceded by a campaign of vilification and slander to prepare the ground for the destruction.”

If the statement has any relevance to the current situation, it is in fact in regard to the “campaign of vilification and slander” underway against Palestinians and their allies, as exemplified in a piece like Confrontation at Concordia. It is a campaign to de-legitimize opposition to the Israeli occupation of Palestinian land, using such methods as cheap and false charges of anti-Semitism and demagogic comparisons to Nazism.

As such, a program like Confrontation at Concordia does nothing to combat anti-Semitism. If anything, it demeans the seriousness of the problem by deliberately confusing it with what is a legitimate criticism of a government’s policies. If the Palestinians who were so maliciously depicted — both in this documentary and elsewhere — were actually consulted seriously, one might find that they protest against Israel due to its illegal and brutal occupation of their people.

And one might also find, as I have in my years at Concordia or in my trips to the Occupied Territories, that most Palestinians respect the legitimate rights of the Jewish people. They are labeled as anti-Semitic only by those who continue to refuse the same rights for Palestinians.

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