In escalation of the ongoing conflict between the CSU and Hillel, members of Hillel’s executive body are suing the student union for $100,000 in punitive damages over the suspension of their club privileges and what they believe to be a history of discrimination against the Jewish student group.
A solution that will please both sides seems improbable as both the CSU and Hillel are waiting for the other to apologize.
The issue began in December when the CSU was notified that Hillel, while tabling in the Mezzanine of the Hall Building, was distributing flyers of questionable nature.
There were written complaints to security, said CSU VP Finance Sameer Zuberi, about pamphlets equating Palestinian suicide bombers with the Ku Klux Klan, another that read “We’re jihad enough” and an information flyer about volunteering for the Israeli Defense Force’s (IDF) three-month Mahal 2000 program.
It was brought to the CSU’s attention that this was against the Canadian Foreign Enlistment Act, which forbids the recruitment of Canadian citizens into foreign armies. The issue was brought to the CSU council of representatives, which voted on Dec. 4 to suspend all of Hillel’s club privileges. Their reasoning was that since Hillel Concordia is not a legal entity, but rather falls under the umbrella of the provincially accredited CSU, it would be the student union that would be held responsible for the material Hillel had on their table, said Zuberi.
Under pressure from both members of the CSU executive and the Jewish community at large, the council voted on Dec. 12 to reinstate Hillel’s club privileges but maintained a freeze on it’s funds until the group signed a statement of principles. The document states that clubs will not discriminate, will promote peace and set out basic governing principles on campus. Funding for each CSU club is being withheld until they agree to sign the statement.
Hillel co-President Noah Sarna believes the statement of principles is actually a clever propaganda move on the CSU’s part and that Hillel should not be forced to sign something to “cover the CSU’s intolerance and stupidity. It’s blackmail. They’re with holding our funds for no legitimate reason.”
Hillel maintains the CSU ignored their own regulations when they passed what CSU councilor Adam Slater described as an “emergency motion” since CSU bylaws state that motions are supposed to be announced seven days in advance. The motion itself was only presented at the meeting. Michael Bergman, Hillel’s lawyer who has acted for Concordia students in the past, said that Hillel is suing for punitive damages arising from the CSU’s wrongful conduct.
Sarna says he does not believe that distributing these pamphlets, which were not approved by Hillel’s executive, constitutes recruiting people into a foreign army. “We didn’t violate the Foreign Enlistment Act, Hillel members weren’t actively engaging people to join the IDF. We didn’t violate anything, but that was never the issue.”
Both CSU VP Academic and Advocacy Ralph Lee and Sarna agree that the issue is much deeper than the matter of pamphlets.
After the violent protests of Sept. 9 which blocked former Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu from speaking at Concordia, Hillel, the CSU, and Solidarity for Palestinian Human Rights (SPHR) met for “peace” talks. According to Lee, Rector Frederick Lowry came up with the idea of both clubs (Hillel and SPHR) signing a reaffirmation of principles to show their commitment to the principles of mutual acceptance and anti-racism set out in the Code of Rights and Responsibilities.
According to Lee, Hillel did not want to sign the agreement right from the beginning, “They say it’s propaganda […] It’s a commitment to mutual respect and a civil campus, it’s what all students want. It’s shocking that a group that was involved in Sept. 9 does not want to sign.
“In my opinion I think Israel is losing the debate, that they shouldn’t be in the West Bank and that Palestinians should have a state,” said Lee. He says he believes Hillel refused to sign the principles from the very beginning in order to keep the moratorium on issues concerning the Middle East in place because they felt they were losing the debate.
Sarna said he believes one of the reasons the CSU revoked their club status and refusing to issue an apology is for political reasons.
“Everyone knows the CSU is dominated by students who disagree with Hillel politically. What they did had nothing to do with federal law and everything to do with the fact that they disagree with us politically. They were looking for any pretext, no matter how weak or illogical, to silence the most vocal opposition to their radical views on campus,” said Sarna
According to Zuberi, the statement of principles is “something that I hope every student would want to sign.”
Lee does not believe the reason behind Hillel’s refusing to sign is simply because they do not believe in the principles. “They [Hillel] have pent up anger over Netanyahu and they truly do want to censor the debate on campus.”
Sarna believes that CSU should issue an apology to the Jewish community of Concordia and correct what they did wrong when they “chucked the reason and rules out the window.”
According to Lee, the confrontation between Hillel and the CSU has started to get out of hand. “We didn’t want it to come to this,” said Lee. “All we wanted was an apology. There is no compromising with this group. If they are successful, they would be taking money away from the CSU and clubs.”
There is no trial date as of yet, but Bergman expects a hearing in the near future.