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CAUT Bulletin Archives

October 2002

Concordia University Imposes Ban on Middle East Events

Concordia University's board of governors voted to impose a moratorium on the use of university space for events related to the Middle East conflict following a protest that forced the cancellation of a speech by former Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu Sept. 9.

Police in full riot gear were called to the university and used pepper spray and batons to beat back the protestors who occupied the downtown Hall building where Netanyahu was scheduled to speak.

Witnesses say some of the protestors smashed windows, tossed furniture and harassed people trying to attend the event.

Police eventually cleared the facility of protestors, but university officials cancelled the planned event after deciding they could not guarantee Netanyahu's safety.

Netanyahu reacted angrily to the demonstrators, accusing them of "mad zealotry."

"They're supporting Saddam Hussein, they're supporting Arafat, they're supporting bin Laden," Netanyahu declared at a news conference called following the protest.

Concordia rector Frederick Lowy said the university would investigate the incident and expel any student who was involved in violence.

In announcing the moratorium, Lowy said that "what is needed now is a period of restraint."

The moratorium includes a ban on public speeches, rallies, exhibits, posters and information tables.

The imposed moratorium also forced the cancellation of a lecture by Norman Finkelstein, a professor of political science at DePaul University and a staunch critic of the Israeli government, who had been invited by Concordia's student union.

CAUT president Victor Catano denounced the violent tactics used by some of the demonstrators, but also expressed concern over the imposition of the moratorium.

"Suppression of speech through violence, the threat of violence, or political intimidation is simply not acceptable," Catano said. "However irreconcilable the differences over the Middle East may be, no resolution is possible without the opportunity for all points of view to be heard and all arguments debated."

He pointed to the decision of the University of Haifa, the Israeli university with the largest percentage of Israeli Arab students, which, while imposing a temporary moratorium on demonstrations after university students were killed in terrorist attacks, didn't limit other features of free speech, such as fliers, information tables or political assemblies.

"These are difficult times, but it is essential that we do not suppress discussion of controversial content because of unacceptable actions," Catano said.