Anti-Israel speeches in Montreal

Canadian legislator Svend Robinson delivers an anti-Israel speech Nov. 15 outside Concordia University´s main campus building in Montreal. (Bram Eisenthal)

Canadian legislator Svend Robinson delivers an anti-Israel speech Nov. 15 outside Concordia University´s main campus building in Montreal. (Bram Eisenthal)

MONTREAL, Nov. 18 (JTA) — Blocked by a court order from launching their anti-Israel diatribe from a Concordia University rostrum, a trio of speakers took their act to the streets. The three — Canadian legislators Svend Robinson and Libby Davies, and controversial social activist Judy Rebick — addressed a crowd of some 400 people last Friday outside Concordia’s main campus building in downtown Montreal. Hours before the three blasted Israel before a crowd of pro-Palestinian students, a court had blocked them from making their speeches within the university proper. They were scheduled to speak at the university, but it would have broken a university moratorium on Mideast-related events. The moratorium was imposed after pro-Palestinian rioters forced the cancellation of a speech by former Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Sept. 9. Robinson apparently asked the Concordia Student Union to invite him to speak, and it complied. Fearing violence, and after it already had asked Robinson not to come, Concordia’s administration went to court seeking the injunction to stop the event. The court ruled that freedom of expression is not justified when violence might result. Along with blasting Israeli policies, Robinson devoted some of his speech to an attack on the court injunction. Along with saying “shame, shame, shame” on the university for seeking the injunction, Robinson spoke out on behalf of the Palestinian cause. “We look to the day when we can celebrate the birth of an independent nation of Palestine,” Robinson said as the crowd yelled its approval. The event was peaceful, but there were some tense moments hours earlier, when Jewish students gathered under a Hillel banner held a small rally that was countered by a group of pro-Palestinian students. “This is a protest to decry the Concordia Student Union’s bias and double standard,” Hillel director Simon Bensimon told JTA. The student union, accused of being heavily one-sided in favor of Palestinian rights for several years, has been speaking out against the university’s moratorium on Mideast-related events, saying it prevents students from exercising their right to free speech. “Why is it” that the student union “doesn’t champion freedom of speech for everyone, not just themselves?” Bensimon asked, referring to the violence that led to the cancellation of the Netanyahu speech. Jewish students listened to speakers, unfurled Israeli flags and sang “Am Yisrael Chai” in close proximity to pro-Palestinian activists. Rabbi Reuben Poupko, spiritual leader of Beth Israel Beth Aaron and a community activist, was nose to nose with Samir Eletrash, founder of Solidarity for Palestinian Human Rights and one of the more vocal Palestinian activists at the university. “He told me he was going to get me last year, and he’s too much of a coward to admit it now,” Poupko said, as he called Eletrash a coward repeatedly. Things appeared tense until the two were separated. Eletrash began shouting that the president of Hillel Montreal, Yoni Petel, was falsely accusing him. “You said on the microphone that I spit on Jews” at the canceled Netanyahu event. “Do you have any witnesses to this?”

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