Roughly a dozen protesters associated with the Jewish Defence League of Canada loudly disrupted – and temporarily halted – a panel discussion Jan. 12 at the University of Toronto titled “Palestinian Popular Resistance: Building the Student Movement.”
The protesters, a few of them wearing clothing marked with the JDL logo, sat scattered throughout the audience in the auditorium in U of T’s George Ignatieff Theatre building and, part way through the first speaker’s talk, several of them, including JDL Canada director Meir Weinstein, began shouting things like, “How many Jews do you want to kill?” “Terrorism” and “Anti-Semitism.”
The event moderator said she would apply a “three strike” system – meaning that after three outbursts, anyone interrupting the talk would be asked to leave – but none of the protesters complied with numerous requests to vacate the room, and the organizers eventually called a recess and cleared out the auditorium.
At that point, most of the protesters lingered outside the theatre building for a bit before heading home, while the bulk of the audience relocated to the OISE building on Bloor Street to finish the lecture.
According to its Facebook invitation, the purpose of the event, which was hosted by the U of T Graduate Students’ Union’s (GSU) boycott, divestment and sanctions committee and endorsed by the Students Against Israeli Apartheid group at U of T, was to inform attendees about “what is currently taking place on the ground in Palestine and what we can do on our campuses to support and continue building the Palestinian popular resistance movement.”
The panel featured, via Skype, Noura Erakat, a human rights attorney, assistant professor at Virginia’s George Mason University and a former national grassroots organizer and legal advocate at the U.S. Campaign to End the Israeli Occupation, and, in person, Nada Elia, a member of the organizing committee of the U.S. Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel, founding member of the Radical Arab Women’s Activist Network and a former representative to the United Nations of the Arab Women’s Solidarity Association.
The JDL posted a call on its website Jan. 6 to attend the event to “confront and expose calls to murder Jews at U of T,” adding that “the word ‘resistance’ is a code word for murdering Jews.”
“What I heard tonight was a total justification for murdering Jews,” Weinstein told The CJN after the lecture had moved locations. “It’s unfortunate that this is happening on a university campus. Students are being indoctrinated to hate Israel and Jews, and [these groups] are giving full justification for what’s been called the ‘knife intifadah.’”
He spoke in reference to Erakat’s talk before it was cut short, which touched on issues such as Jewish settlers taking over Palestinians’ homes and the Israeli government placing restrictions on the movements of Palestinians in Israel and the West Bank.
Erakat also showed a clip of the so-called “wedding of hate” – the now infamous video showing young religious men at a Jerusalem wedding celebrating the firebombing attack on a home in the Palestinian village of Duma in July.
She noted, “I should mention that the Israeli government has roundly condemned this video… yet they continue to let settlers act with impunity.”
Erakat, who only spoke briefly before protesters interrupted her, said she’d read about the JDL’s planned protest of the event and declared, “Anyone who is here to object to calls to murder Jews, you’re wasting your time. But you can be here to gain from learning that BDS is not about calls for the murder of Jews, but for the liberation of the people of Palestine.”
Although a number of U of T campus police officers were present outside the doors of the auditorium, none got involved during the verbal altercation between protesters and event organizers.
On Jan. 7, the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs (CIJA) sent out an email to its supports expressing concern about the event, writing, “For many Palestinians, the term ‘popular resistance’ – particularly in the current context – means acts of violence against Israelis. The use of this term by event organizers can reasonably be construed to endorse the current wave of Palestinain terror attacks.”
CIJA could not be reached for comment.
Shira Gelkopf, U of T’s Hillel coordinator, said Hillel sent a staff member to “monitor the event,” but stressed it and the JDL had no communication prior to or during the event.
She noted that Hillel submitted a formal complaint to the university’s vice-provost and urged the administration to ensure campus security was present.
A spokesperson from U of T told The CJN it told the event organizers they must comply with all university policies and ensure civil dialogue, and that campus police would be present.
The event organizers could not be reached for comment.
The GSU voted in 2012 to endorse the BDS movement, but last fall, the board of the undergraduate University of Toronto Students’ Union (UTSU) decided not to introduce a motion backing BDS at its fall annual general meeting.