Demanding a formal apology, an unconditional reinstatement and independent access to its funds, the Hillel at Concordia University in Montreal is continuing its legal battle against a suspension by the student government.
Hillel was expected to file an official complaint in Quebec Superior Court in the coming week. It was not clear when hearings would begin.
The Concordia Student Union on Dec. 2 voted to suspend Hillel and freeze its funds. The move was believed to be the first time in history that a Hillel was barred from a North American campus.
Amid lawsuit threats from Hillel, criticism from the university administration, internal squabbling over whether the suspension had been fair and thousands of angry e-mails from Jews throughout North America, the CSU decided on Dec. 12 to reverse course- sort of.
The CSU, which extended no apologies for its recent actions, apparently offered on Dec. 12 to reinstate Hillel and its funding if the Jewish group signed a document opposing war and promising not to engage in racist behavior.
The group also reportedly is asking the Canadian police to launch an investigation into whether any of Hillel’s actions have been illegal.
According to Hillel officials, no reinstatement offer was made directly to Hillel, and Hillel leaders have not received a copy of the text they are being asked to sign. In addition, they say they have done nothing to require signing such a document: Hillel’s by-laws already adhere to Canada’s bill of rights, and the group does not wish to make a blanket denunciation of all war.
CSU’s offer is "just semantics, a way of appearing to relent without relenting," said Michael Bergman, Hillel’s attorney.
When it voted to suspend Hillel at a late-night meeting with virtually no advance notification, the CSU justified the decision on the grounds that Hillel allegedly had been recruiting students for the Israel Defense Forces, which is against Canadian law.
CSU leaders could not be reached for comment by press time. The group’s office was closed for the holidays, and no one responded to a message left on its answering machine.
Attempts to reach Sabine Frasenger, the CSU president, on her cell phone were unsuccessful.
Hillel leaders and others in the Montreal Jewish community have insisted the allegations against Hillel are specious and that the anti-Israel CSU was simply looking for a pretext to silence the only pro-Israel voice on campus.
Ariela Cotler, the adult president of Hillel of Montreal, said the CSU’s actions in the past month have "way overstepped the boundary."
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"Banning a Jewish club from campus on false charges is not something we’re going to let go," she said.
Hillel in its suit will be seeking reinstatement, an apology, financial damages and the right to have its funds held by an independent third party rather than the CSU.
Hillel is the only Jewish student organization at Concordia, a 22,000-student university with roughly 800 Jews. Home to numerous Muslim and Arab student groups, and with an extreme leftist student government, the campus has long been an uncomfortable place for pro-Israel students.
Student rioting this fall, which included the smashing of university windows, prevented former Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu from speaking on campus.
Unlike at most North American universities, the student union at Concordia is completely independent of the university administration, enjoying the legal status of a labor union.
A spokesman for the university administration, which last week criticized the CSU’s decision to suspend Hillel, did not return calls seeking further comments.
In addition to spurring a flurry of e-mail complaints from Jews throughout North America, the latest conflict at Concordia also has triggered an on-line petition calling for all members of the CSU to resign.
The petition, on petititiononline.com, had 6,576 signatories by Tuesday, although the authenticity of the signers was not clear. For example, amid a list of predominantly Jewish surnames from New York and Toronto appeared signatory No. 6565: a Mr. Yasser Arafat of "Ramallah, West Bank, Palestine."