Former Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu did not make it to Concordia on Monday and the university has not seen a protest of this magnitude since the computer riots in 1969. The school was under siege and all around the campus the air was thick with tension.
Controversy over the Middle East within the halls of Concordia is not new, it has been the reality for students ever since the Palestinian uprising began in the Occupied Territories. Students from both sides of the conflict feel passionately about the subject and that is what has contributed to the tension at Concordia.
The relationship between the two camps goes up and down depending on what is going on in the Middle East. Tension between Palestinians and Israelis at Concordia have been high these past three years. There is no denying that the relationship between both groups has reached fever pitch after what happened on Monday. The question is what to do about all this tension and how to relieve it.
A dialogue needs to be opened between the two sides to relieve tension, but there may be some difficulty with that, since neither side is monolithic and people within each group have differing views. Nonetheless it must happen and they must discuss issues such as: how to avoid confrontations similar to the one that happened on Monday, how to deal with controversial speakers in the future and how to increase security for such events.
Most importantly, the university must re-assess the security at the event and decide whether they should hold another similar event. There is no doubt that security failed on Monday, whether it was Concordia security, Montreal police or the RCMP, they all failed the people going in to hear the speech and the protesters. Those going to the speech were assaulted and protesters were assaulted and arrested by police. Neither situation is acceptable.
The administration’s idea of a moratorium on events that deal with the Middle East at Concordia is not the answer to relieve tensions, which may further infuriate groups on campus and increase the tension. Previously, information tables on the Middle East have resulted in nothing more than heated debates. Also, students have a right to express themselves. There needs to be a discussion among various student groups about what is an acceptable solution for having speakers and information tables. And, students will fight a moratorium on events and public discussion related to the Middle East – a violation of their constitutional rights – tooth and nail.
Concordia must diffuse tensions on campus by having a dialogue with student groups and come up with a more suitable manner to deal with similar events in the future. If there is no discussion, then the issue will not be dealt with and will inevitably flare up again.