Concordia University is investigating a complaint about an anti-Israel incident on Nov. 9.
At the downtown campus, a New York-based group called Artists4Israel was completing the painting of a large mural promoting Israel in an apolitical way.
“An angry young lady came and ripped an Israeli flag off the wall and ran away with it,” Artists4Israel director Craig Dershowitz told The CJN.
“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.”
The Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs (CIJA) said it is pleased that Concordia is taking the matter seriously.
The dean of students met with the students involved, said Quebec co-chair Rabbi Reuben Poupko. At the university’s urging, a complaint was filed under Concordia’s internal code of conduct.
In addition, campus security is “co-operating fully and proactively” with Montreal police, with whom a report was filed.
“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 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 had come 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.
The activity unfolded at Concordia for several hours without any disturbance until the young woman came on the scene. According to Rabbi Poupko’s sources, she pushed one of the organizers who was trying to recover the flag.
Artists4Israel’s Concordia appearance was co-sponsored by B’nai Brith Canada, the Jewish fraternity Alpha Epsilon Pi (AEPi) and StandWithUs Canada.
Mike Cohen, a blogger for B’nai Brith Canada, principal sponsor of the Concordia appearance, said when the young woman ran out of the building with the flag, AEPi president Mike Nashen, who initiated the event, and a few others ran after her down the street. When they caught up with her, she “spew[ed] some anti-Israeli and anti-Semitic slurs” at Nashen.
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.”