A 21-year-old woman has been charged in connection with an anti-Israel incident at Concordia University on Nov. 9.
The individual, whose name cannot be released until she appears in court, may face charges of assault and theft with violence, Montreal police spokesperson Daniel Lacoursière told The CJN Nov. 16. The exact nature of the charges will be determined at that time, he said.
The woman was apprehended near the campus on Nov. 9 after Concordia student Mike Nashen called the police when she tore an Israeli flag off a display in the EV Building atrium and ran out of the building with it. He pursued her, and she pushed him when he caught up with her and also hurled “anti-Israel and anti-Semitic slurs” at him, Nashen said.
He said police have given him the name of the investigator on the case, and he wants to fully co-operate, although he had not at time of writing been able to make contact. He was told the police will consider whether hate was a motivation.
Nashen was the chief student organizer of an activity that featured a New York-based group called Artists4Israel. The three graffiti artists were completing the painting of a large mural that promotes Israel in an apolitical way. They had been there for several hours without any disruption when the incident occurred.
Artists4Israel director Craig Dershowitz told The CJN what he saw: “An angry young lady came and ripped an Israeli flag off the wall and ran away with it.
“She was followed by a student politely asking her to return it and, instead, she stuffed the flag into a garbage can and began cursing at the student saying the flag, the student and any supporters of Israel belong in the garbage.”
Concordia’s Office of Rights and Responsibilities is also investigating the matter, after Nashen made an official complaint last week. That body deals with violations of the code of behaviour for students, faculty and staff.
As of last week, it was not known if the woman is a student or in any way associated with Concordia. Nashen said he did not recognize her.
Concordia media relations director Chris Mota said that if she’s not a student or staff member, Concordia has no jurisdiction in the matter.
The Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs (CIJA) said it’s pleased Concordia is taking the matter seriously.
The dean of students immediately met with the students involved and advised them on their recourses within the university, said Quebec co-chair Rabbi Reuben Poupko. CIJA was also pleased with the co-operation that campus security has shown with the police.
“CIJA-Quebec is deeply troubled that an artistic activity designed to foster dialogue and understanding was aggressively disrupted by an individual,” he said. “University campuses should be havens for freedom of expression and artistic creativity. Campuses must be spaces for respectful debate, and there should be no room or tolerance for thuggish behaviour of this sort.”
Since 2009, the non-profit Artists4Israel has been bringing non-Jewish graffiti artists from different countries to hundreds of North American campuses to present a different, eye-catching image of Israel as a place of culture.
All students are invited to join in the painting and speak to the artists, most of whom have toured Israel, under Artists4Israel’s sponsorship, and can offer a view of Israel as a country that values artistic freedom and living in peace.
This was the first time the program came to Montreal. The day before, another mural was painted at McGill University, outdoors on the main campus, which drew a small group of sign-carrying protesters, but no confrontation ensued.
Artists4Israel’s Concordia appearance was co-sponsored by B’nai Brith Canada, the Jewish fraternity Alpha Epsilon Pi (AEPi), of which Nashen is president, and StandWithUs Canada.
Dershowitz hopes this incident does not overshadow the generally positive impact he believes Artists4Israel had in Montreal.
“While there was this disruption, I don’t want that to take away from all the amazing good of the trip,” he said.
“Over 1,500 people were touched by our project. We gave away over 500 shirts that asked: ‘What does peace mean to you?’ And we created a new and incredibly positive dialogue about Israel. This one misguided, angry young woman’s hate crime should not damper a weekend of positivity and pro-Israel creation.”
Despite the incident, local B’nai Brith director Harvey Levine also has no regrets. “My personal evaluation is that this was a fantastic, highly visible and engaging program educating ‘peace through art’ and I am happy we were part of it.”