Free speech, but not for Palestine
by Mona Dennaoui and Hammam Farah
On Nov. 20, Israel advocacy group Herut Canada at York University held an event with former soldiers from the Israeli Defence Forces (IDF). The IDF has held recruitment drives in Toronto, and it’s illegal for a foreign military to recruit in Canada.
As the Palestine solidarity club on campus, Students Against Israeli Apartheid (SAIA) York, we decided to protest our university administration’s decision to provide space for the event.
Despite us reaching out to the administration with concerns about harassment and intimidation by pro-Israel groups and their allies in the Jewish Defence League (JDL) — classified as a terrorist organization in the U.S. — the event was approved. Our concerns proved to be well-founded as JDL members began physically assaulting protesters soon after the event began.
Among those affected are York students and community members and their families whom the event was intended to intimidate into passivity.
But this is not how local and national media outlets reported the event. Despite there not being a shred of evidence, figures from the political elite as prominent as Justin Trudeau, Michael Levitt, Andrew Scheer and Doug Ford were united in claiming that pro-Palestine activists engaged in racist chanting and violence. But the available video evidence — widely shared over social media — reveals the exact opposite.
On Wednesday night, violence & racist chants broke out against an event organized by the Jewish community at York University. What happened that night was shocking and absolutely unacceptable. Anti-Semitism has no place in Canada. We will always denounce it & all forms of hatred.
Some of the manufactured controversy apparently revolves around our use of the Arabic term “intifada,” which means “uprising.” This is ridiculous, and the JDL and their allies are snowflakes for being offended. The term is to be understood within the context of ongoing Palestinian resistance to Israel’s continued illegal occupation of Palestinian land, violations of international law and documented war crimes. In fact, the majority of resistance activities against the occupation have been incidents of civil disobedience and nonviolent protest in the face of the might of the Israeli army. As late as last week, 34 Palestinians, including eight children, were killed by Israel’s indiscriminate bombardment and collective punishment.
Let us be clear — we believe that the purpose of this event was to harass and intimidate York students and, in particular, Palestinian students. The documented instances of physical assault by members of pro-Israel groups bears this out.
But if members of pro-Israel groups at York University have the freedom to host a lecture by members of a foreign military that violates the rights of York’s Palestinian students and their families, it must also be recognized that Palestinians at York and supporters of their rights have the freedom to peacefully express their opposition to this.
This is our right under the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. And we will fight to protect it should the university administration — or the government — seek to deprive us of it.
— Mona Dennaoui is a former exchange student at York University and member of Students Against Israeli Apartheid and Hammam Farah is a York University alumnus and co-founder of SAIA York
Distributed by PAJU (Palestinian and Jewish Unity)