Concordia Univeristy, Hillel and the CSU have reached an agreement that will see former Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu give a speech on Sept. 9 in the Hall Building.
According to both the CSU and Hillel, the university administration was uncomfortable with the event because of security concerns. The CSU went a step further, with VP communications Yves Engler alleging that “after we had made our decision to allow Hillel to bring [Netanyahu] in, it was made clear to us that [Concordia] would have preferred it if we had just said no to Hillel’s request.”
Engler believes Concordia fears the bad publicity that may result from anti-Netanyahu protests. “But on the other hand,” he said, “if they try to block Netanyahu, there’s going to be all kinds of people that will be extremely disappointed.”
“They made it fairly clear that this was a very uncomfortable situation for them,” Engler added. “It was a lose-lose situation.”
Noah Joseph, co-president of Hillel Concordia, also said security concerns led the university to hesitate before allowing Netanyahu to speak in room H-110, suggesting the hockey arena on the more secluded Loyola campus instead. Hillel rejected the move, insisting that relocation to Loyola would decrease the accessibility and visibility of the event.
Because of Netanyahu’s prominence and because of the sensitive political situation surrounding the Middle East issue, Joseph says that Concordia “had security assess the situation, [and] with the prospect of having counter-demonstrations there, they deemed [Netanyahu’s speech] as a very high security risk.”
The administration, on the other hand, denied that security or bad publicity were central reasons for the suggested relocation and argued the hockey arena would simply be better suited to hold the throngs of people expected to attend.
Dennis Murphy, Concordia’s executive director of communications, estimated the arena could seat 2,000 people – compared to about 500 in room H-110.
“We looked at the venue in terms of numbers of people it could accommodate,” Murphy said, “and it was in our opinion by far the better venue in terms of numbers of people that could come and hear him.”
Elizabeth Quinn, Concordia’s event co-ordinator, later confirmed that H-110 could in fact seat 650 people.
Murphy also rejected the notion that Concordia had been hoping the speech would fall through, saying he would be “very surprised” if the CSU’s allegations were true.
“It’s unanimous,” he added. “The people in higher administration came to a unanimous conclusion that they would invite [Netanyahu] in H-110.”
Another administration official, who asked not to be named, said Concordia’s main concern about the downtown location was that the area would be too chaotic to accommodate the scheduled Orientation Week, Netanyahu’s speech and the university’s many student-run events and activities, as well as the thousands of students who walk the Hall Building’s corridors each day.
“We offered them the Loyola campus because downtown is jammed,” the official said. “The bottom line is [that] it’s orientation week – it’s a very hectic time. It would have just been easier to stage an event of that level [at Loyola].”
The CSU had originally booked H-110 for the entire week to make room for the orientation activities welcoming new students to Concordia. When Hillel asked for the space, the CSU realized no events were scheduled there at the requested time, and made the room available.
“The CSU as a body, I would have to say was very reasonable,” said Joseph, “especially the president, Sabine Friesinger.” “Their main issue was orientation week and that it wouldn’t interfere.”
Friesinger, when questioned about what seems to be a rare alliance between Hillel and the CSU, said the student union exists to represent all students and student groups and to guarantee the rights of its entire electorate, regardless of politics.
“We’ll be down there ensuring that the speech can happen and if people want to demonstrate that they can also do that,” she said.
Although she refused to speculateabout Concordia’s motives for suggesting the move to Loyola, she did insist that the CSU would support Hillel’s right to invite speakers to the university and would not actively promote any protest activities.
“Rights are rights, and we’ll defend them,” Friesinger added. “It’s political, [but] it’s moral as well.”
Although the title of the speech not yet known, organizers that Israel’s ninth prime minister likely to speak about the Middle East peace process.
For more information and tickets contact Hillel at 845-9171.