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Tempers flare at academic boycott panel

by Archives February 12, 2008

Emotions ran high last Thursday night as Concordia’s School of Community and Public Affairs hosted a panel on a proposed academic boycott of the state of Israel. The event, titled “Palestine: Solidarity in the Academy,” was part of “Israeli Apartheid Week,” which took place in more than 25 cities around the world.
The purpose of the event was to promote and discuss the idea of an academic boycott against Israeli educational institutions. Such a move would mean an end to collaboration and cooperation with Israeli universities and government institutions, student exchange programs and suspension of funding and subsidies to Israeli institutions. It would also involve the promotion of Palestinian academic and cultural institutions.
This particular event was sponsored by Montreal-based Lebanese-Palestinian group, Tadamon!
Little of the event actually discussed the boycott. Instead, it turned into a haphazard debate about the broader Israel-Palestine conflict.
“Similar to the same way [there was] the end of white privilege in South Africa, we are calling for the end of Jewish privilege in Israel,” said Toufic Haddad, a Palestinian-American writer and activist who spoke at the event.
The comments resulted in boos from some audience members, identifying themselves as proud supporters of Israel.
The speaker’s presentations unfolded without incident, though the subsequent question and answer session became little more than a shouting match between panelists, organizers and audience members.
Form the outset, members from the Canadian Institute for Jewish Research faced opposition when they attempted to place pamphlets and literature on tables set aside for materials from the organizer groups. They were eventually prevented from doing so.
Haddad took the idea one step further when he mentioned how he thought “the Zionist state Israel should be boycotted in every form of financial, political or military means that goes to sustaining it.”
“When you ideologize discourse, when all you do is present your point of view in a maximally radical way . . . you refuse to mention other opinions,” said liberal arts professor Frederick Krantz from the audience.
“What is your question?” asked moderators.
The professor asked, “My question is, how can you possibly come forward on a university campus and simply spew propaganda?”
The heated exchange continued between speakers and pro-Israeli audience members, until moderators were able to re-establish order.
Speakers on the panel also included Ronald Cameron, President of Fédération nationale des enseignantes et enseignants du Québec (FNEEQ) and Sophie Schoen, an activist with L’Association pour une Solidarité Syndicale Étudiante (ASSÉ).
About 30 people attended the panel, including students, Concordia faculty and people from the community. The panel took place at an especially tense time in the Middle East conflict. Israel currently has a blockade on the Gaza Strip, a Palestinian territory, after mortar attacks from Gaza threatened Israeli cities in the south.
The blockade has created a humanitarian crisis in the tiny territory, which is roughly equivalent in size to the borough of Montreal. Power supply and shipments of goods to Gaza from Israel have been dramatically reduced, resulting in chronic blackouts and food shortages.
In the early days of the blockade, the Egyptian border with Gaza was breached by Palestinians desperate for food and supplies, resulting in thousands of civilians crossing over into Egypt. This past week the Egyptian army, aided by members of the dominant party in Gaza, Hamas, sealed the border again.
Rocket and mortar attacks continue and Israel has declared that if the attacks continue, it would cut the energy it provides to Gaza by one per cent every week. Activist group Human Rights Watch declared that such planned cuts “amount to collective punishment of the civilian population.”
The blockade on Gaza has gone on for nearly a month.

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