The Concordia University-Netanyahu riots: a look back 10 years ago
September 19, 2012 | Mike Cohen - Quebec Confidential
MONTREAL – As the 10th anniversary of Benjamin Netanyahu’s tumultuous visit to Concordia University came and went on Sept. 9, there was not a great deal of talk about it in the city nor on campus. This probably had to do with the fact it came just after the conclusion of a headline grabbing provincial election
I remember the Netanyahu visit as if it was yesterday. Sept. 9 was a Monday and the editor at the Jewish Tribune was holding space for my story. He was the ‘former’ prime minister at the time, but nonetheless his presence had been making the news. Instead of reporting on a speech though, I was filing a story on the fact that Netanyahu never even set foot on the podium. He was instead ushered out by riot police.
For a group calling itself the Coalition for a Just Peace in the Middle East, it was the achievement of a goal they set before the event: to ensure it never took place. During the previous week representatives from the coalition had boasted that they would take a page out of a planned speech Netanyahu had at the Berkley Campus of the University of California in 2000, which was also canceled.
When the Hillel Student Center announced plans to sponsor a speech by Netanyahu at the downtown Hall Building, Concordia officials tried to persuade them to use the hockey arena in the more secluded West End of town. They reasoned that the seating capacity of 2,000 was far superior to the 600 or so seats downtown and that it would be easier to secure the area. Hillel refused, something which has now come back to haunt them.
Protesters began lining up in front of the Hall building several hours before Netanyahu’s scheduled 1 p.m. speech. Before he could step to the podium some 1,000 demonstrators got violent, breaking windows and gaining entrance into the building and throwing chairs and other objects. Riot Police then moved in and used pepper spray. The speech was immediately canceled, as were classes for all students in that building. Several high-profile members of the Jewish community were physically assaulted. Thomas O. Hecht was kicked in the groin. Rabbi Mordechai Zeitz was spit at and pushed. Rabbi Howard Joseph and his wife Norma, a teacher at the school, were pushed and kicked. “They were all very shaken,” B’nai Brith’s Raphael Lallouz told me that day. “This is absolutely appalling.”
Opponents of the speech had distributed fliers, urging people to block Netanyahu’s speech.
“Let’s make it clear: He’s Not Welcome,” it stated. “Benjamin Netanyahu’s extreme opposition to Palestinian rights is not welcome in Montreal. This opportunity should excite our sense of morality and responsibility.”
Another flier called Netanyahu a bigot and identified protesters as both Palestinian and Jewish.
Further exacerbating the situation was a 320-page agenda, which included a “student survival guide” with opinions pieces on a host of topics ranging from sexual orientation, police brutality and student activism to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. “Intifada. Out of our houses and into the streets,” read the agenda introduction. “Take arms for revolution.” It had been handed out before the Netanyahu visit and featured a page with planes crashing into a room filled with businessmen, titled ‘This is not an agenda called Uprising. It is an agenda for uprising.’
“Is this a blueprint for Osama bin Laden’s youth program in North America?” B’nai Brith Canada Executive Vice-President Frank Dimant would ask at a press conference soon after the violence.
The event, known as the ‘Netanyahu riot,’ made headlines throughout the world the following days and for several weeks. There has not been a high-profile Israeli politician back on the campus since this occurred. In fact, the university blocked a proposed talk by former Prime Minister Ehud Barak in 2004.
Mike Cohen is the Tribune’s Quebec bureau chief. He can be reached at email@example.com