The Concordia Student Union (CSU) is defending its association with an event called Passover Against Apartheid by pointing out that the initiator is Jewish.
Pro-Israel student organizations and Jewish groups charge that it is offensive to politicize a religious holiday, that it amounts to cultural appropriation, and that it’s counter-productive to dialogue.
“This event was organized by a Jewish undergraduate student. I’m not sure how she would be appropriating her own cultural traditions. The CSU co-presents many different kinds of student events and initiatives over the course of a year,” CSU general co-ordinator Lucinda Marshall-Kiparissis told The CJN.
That student was Marion Miller, a fine arts student, CSU councillor, Concordia student senator and incoming CSU vice-president academic and advocacy.
Passover Against Apartheid, held April 13 in the CSU lounge, was “co-hosted” by Solidarity for Palestinian Human Rights (SPHR), the Fine Arts Student Alliance (FASA), and the CSU, according to a poster for the event. That publicity was discovered on April 10, just before the start of Passover, by pro-Israel student Eden Moalem.
She decried it on social media as “cultural appropriation of Judaism [for] the Palestinian agenda” and “a disgrace.”
If the intent was to promote discussion and dialogue, as stated, holding it during Passover made it difficult for many Jewish students to attend, Moalem said.
Concordia Hillel said it was “appalled” by the event. “The important Jewish holiday of Passover and its traditional seder should never be politicized and used to further a controversial political agenda. We will not stand for it. We are deeply upset,” Hillel posted on Facebook.
Israel on Campus Concordia, another CSU-affiliated group, similarly condemned “the use of a religious and cultural symbol to further a political agenda. The holiday of Passover is about unity, but this event only creates division and ostracizes Jewish and Israeli students from their campus.
“The political appropriation of this Jewish holiday has only succeeded in blocking the road toward a peaceful dialogue.”
Passover Against Apartheid consisted of an art exhibit, followed by two discussions, the first to learn about the holiday through “the lens of BDS” –the boycott, divestment and sanctions campaign against Israel – while the second was geared to Jews critical of Israel and seeking alternative narratives at the seder.
Passover, with its theme of liberation, according to the poster’s text, is an appropriate time to consider the oppression of the Palestinians.
A replacement for the traditional blessing of “Next year in Jerusalem” and how to criticize Israel within “institutional Judaism” or the family was scheduled to be discussed.
A “Hillel sandwich” was offered to participants. The poster was illustrated with a bowl of matzoh balls in which a Palestinian flag was staked.
According to the online invitation, the exhibit was of Miller’s ceramic seder table, which incorporates familiar and non-traditional elements and includes “surprising guests” Emma Goldman and Bernie Sanders.
The artwork was inspired by “liberation seders” created by feminist and LBGT groups. “This seder spread challenges us to bring Palestine to the table in our telling of the story of liberation from oppression,” the invitation reads.
Miller is described as having grown up in “a white, settler, secular Ashkenazi Jewish and Acadian family in rural Nova Scotia.”
She could not be reached for further comment.
Off campus, Passover Against Apartheid was denounced by Friends of Simon Wiesenthal Center for Holocaust Studies (FSWC) and B’nai Brith Canada.
The former accused the presenters of “shamelessly [using] Jewish religion to further [a] pro-Palestinian agenda.” It wants the university to strip the SPHR and the FASA of their “student club” accreditation.
“This is shameful and mocking of the Jewish religion. No other religious group would tolerate such a debasement of its religion,” stated Avi Benlolo, FSWC president and CEO.
Harvey Levine, B’nai Brith regional director for Quebec, said, “This is more than Israel bashing. It’s an anti-Semitic slap in the face to every Jew and I think they crossed the line.”