MONTREAL (Dec. 15)
Concordia University’s student government has decided to remove a ban on the campus Hillel, but will continue to deny funds to the Jewish group.
The move, taken Dec. 12, apears unlikely to defuse a crisis brewing since the Concordia Student Union voted to ban Hillel earlier this month.
Hillel leaders have decided to sue if the student union doesn’t apologize and reinstate the Jewish group unconditionally.
Some 100 Jewish students crowded the room at the Dec. 12 meeting of the student union, but they walked out in protest before a vote was taken on the Hillel issue.
The crisis began after a Palestinian activist complained about fliers for Mahal 2000 — a program that allows young Jews to spend several months volunteering in the Israeli army — that were distributed from Hillel’s table on campus.
The student union hastily convened a meeting on Dec. 2 and — with only a third of the union’s members present — voted to ban Hillel from campus and cut off its funding.
The ban followed several other incidents this year and last that made Concordia known as a hotbed of pro- Palestinian, anti-Israel activism.
As the crisis grew, the student union decided to reinstate Hillel, on condition that the group sign a statement pledging not to distribute material that the student union found racist or otherwise offensive.
Hillel leaders voted last week to sue the student union to be reinstated without conditions.
Student union member Naomi Sarna began the Dec. 12 meeting by denouncing the union’s handling of the Hillel issue. She denounced the agreement Hillel was ordered to sign as propaganda, and then led Hillel supporters in walking out of the meeting in protest.
For the next two hours, student union members offered a litany of criticism of Israel, the “racist literature” they say Hillel distributes at its table such as a graphic of a kaffiyeh-sporting Palestinian equated to a white-hooded KKK member and the university administration’s allegedly anti-Arab, anti-Muslim stance.
Concordia’s communications director, Dennis Murphy, scoffed at allegations that the administration is anti-Arab.
The anti-Israel comments at the meeting occasionally became heated.
Hillel was recruiting for an army engaged in a “colonial war,” Trish McIntosh said. “Synagogues around the world are decrying” Israeli actions “as a violent, bloody event,” she claimed.
“These people are recruiting for a brigade that not only built 108 settlements, but helped build more,” said Laith Marouf of Solidarity for Palestinian Human Rights.
There were not many people left in the room to speak in defense of the Jewish state or Hillel.
After 11 p.m., the union voted 10-0 to reinstate Hillel as a student organization at Concordia, but withhold its funding until it signs the document on distributing literature.
Afterward, the president of the union, Sabine Friesinger, said she hopes Hillel will sign the document.
“I’m not sure they realize what’s being asked of them,” she said. “I’m giving them the time to understand.”
She also said the crisis would be a learning experience for everyone concerned.
“I hope when people are asked to sign on to these principles, they start internalizing them and asking questions,” she said.
Hillel is determined to stay the course and stand up for its own principles.
“As of now, we will still be continuing the legal process,” said Noah Joseph, a Jew who cast the lone dissenting vote on Dec. 2 when the student union banned Hillel. “This is a form of blackmail that they are using to force us to sign their document if we want to get our funding back. They are stealing money from us.”
Murphy, the school’s communications director, said the crisis over Hillel was unlike any other situation he could remember at Concordia, even the uproar when pro-Palestinian rioters caused the cancellation of a speech by former Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in September.
“I am receiving about 10-15 angry e-mails per day from as far away as Florida,” Murphy said. “In the past 10 days, I have seen a tremendous outpouring of anger — and, mainly, support for Hillel and the Jewish students — much more so in the United States than in Canada. I have learned very quickly that Hillel is a group unlike any others. It is sacred and attacking it is seen as a type of heresy.”