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At Montreal School, Jewish Student Beaten a Week After Palestinian Riot

September 24, 2002
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A week after pro-Palestinian rioters prevented former Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu from speaking at Montreal’s Concordia University, a Jewish student has been attacked on campus.

A 29-year-old commerce student, who asked that his name not be used for fear of reprisal, was heading to class Sept. 13 when he noticed a Palestinian poster on the wall inside a school building.

“I thought, ‘How could they put this up so soon after the violence last week?’ ” said the student, who immigrated to Montreal from Moldova four years ago. He began to take the poster down when he was accosted by an Arab student.

“I realized it would be a better idea not to confront him, so I started walking away,” the Jewish student said. When the Arab student began calling someone on his cell phone, the Jewish student began to run.

The Arab student chased the Jewish student down the escalator and through corridors crowded with other students. The Jewish student had almost reached the exit when he was jumped from behind and beaten up, he said.

“I was hit in the head with a hard object, probably the cell phone, and punched. I fell down and while I was on my knees, this guy kept kicking me,” the student said. “I was able to get up and face this student when I saw another Muslim student rushing over. I ran outside to the university’s security office and it was then that I noticed how badly I was bleeding from my scalp. The blood was running down my neck.”

Security guards grabbed the Arab student and called police after the Jewish student said he wanted to press charges. Now, however, he is worried about the consequences.

“I’m afraid of what is going on at our university, stunned, actually. I was chased and beaten and not one person came to my aide,” he said. “Where was the extra security we have been told Concordia has put on since last week?”

A university official said no extra security had been added since the Sept. 9 riot.

However, campus security is “on top of everything that’s going on,” said Chris Mota, the university’s coordinator of media relations.

Mota questioned how many of the rioters had been Concordia students. Only two of the five people arrested during the riots were students at the school, she noted.

“What happened has to be put into perspective,” she said.

Concordia long has been a hotbed of pro-Palestinian and anti-Israel activism. Despite the negative attention the riot garnered, the situation at the school remains tense for Jews, the student said.

“These Palestinian students are so well-organized, so professionally equipped to spread their propaganda, it’s hard to believe. If you’re a student here and don’t know the reality of what’s going on in the Middle East, I can see how you might side with them on the issue,” he said. “I don’t know why the Jewish students aren’t better organized. You hardly see Hillel present anywhere.”

Simon Bensimon, director of Hillel in Montreal, challenged that claim.

“Last year, we had information tables up year-round, three or four rallies, five of six speakers, and we also have a very active student executive,” Bensimon said. “The problem is that noninvolved Jewish students have their attention grabbed by the Palestinian tables, so they don’t necessarily notice ours. Plus, we just started the school year and thought bringing Netanyahu in would be starting with a bang. What else do you want us to do?”

That question may now be moot. Concordia’s rector, Frederick Lowy, instituted a moratorium on Mideast-related events immediately after the Sept. 9 riot. The moratorium has been extended indefinitely.

The move prompted Concordia’s Student Union to call for Lowy’s resignation, saying he is denying students’ free speech rights.

Montreal Jewish organizations also have gotten involved, saying serious action must be taken to protect students from more violence by Concordia’s pro-Palestinian lobby.

“We are not in the Wild West of the Arab Middle East, we are in Canada, where there are laws to uphold and respect,” said Stephen Scheinberg, national chairman of B’nai Brith Canada’s League for Human Rights. “These thugs may feel they are empowered by the riot. However, Concordia must make sure that there will be zero tolerance for those who want to make a mockery of Canadian democracy.”

Community leaders met Sept. 13 with Montreal’s police chief, Michel Sarrazin, to express their concern about the lax precautions taken by police at the Netanyahu speech.

“Our community is outraged by the mob scene that prevailed at Concordia,” said Rabbi Reuben Poupko, who took part in the meeting as a representative of the Canadian Jewish Congress’ Quebec region and co-chair of the community’s Montreal Jewish Security Coordinating Committee. “We demanded explanations and a clear assurance of follow-up.”

Sarrazin told committee members that police had failed to properly evaluate and prepare for the riots.

Many faulted police for not setting up a proper security perimeter at the Netahyahu event. To reach the building, guests had to walk through a phalanx of hostile demonstrators who spit on them or, in some instances, even hit and kicked them.

An interim report on the investigation will be issued soon, Sarrazin said. He also appointed an investigator to examine reports of aggression against Jewish community members during the riot.

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