The ‘Netanyahu Riot’ at Concordia University

Few conflicts have proven to be more pervasive among religious groups than the Israel-Palestine conflict. It’s no exaggeration to say this conflict has become the focal point of tensions between Muslim and Jewish communities around the world.  Concordia University grabbed headlines back in September 2002 when tensions reached a boiling point between Israeli and Palestinian student groups resulting in a protest that turned violent.

The trigger for this riot came in the form of (then former) Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who had been invited by Concordia University to speak at their campus in Montreal, Quebec (BBC News, 2002).  Hillel, a pro-Israel student group, organized the event for Netanyahu to speak at during his cross-Canada tour. In response to this, pro-Palestinian groups began organizing a protest against the appearance. Flyers of the impending demonstration were distributed among both students and non-students, and a fake arrest warrant was even compiled for the RCMP to arrest Netanyahu for crimes against humanity (Berzon, 2008).

Police were notified of the potentially combustible situation, and arrived prior to the lecture to ensure safe passage for attendees, as well as the former Prime Minister. Protesters also arrived prior to the speech and began numerous pro-Palestinian as well as several anti-Israeli chants. Eventually numbering in the thousands, the protesters positioned themselves in front of the entrance to Hall Building, where the lecture was taking place. Several people attending the speech were verbally abused by the crowd and some were even physically assaulted (Cohen, 2012; Berzon, 2008).

Numerous clashes with police occurred, including a group who had entered Hall Building through a back entrance and ran into a police barricade at an escalator (Berzon, 2008). Protesters outside the building began to become restless, and broke two windows (Chauvin, 2012). Chairs as well as several other items were thrown while riot police scrambled to form a barricade to contain the situation. Tear gas and pepper spray were eventually used to disarm the situation and break up the crowd (Berzon, 2008).

Confronted with the deteriorating situation, the decision was soon made to cancel Netanyahu’s speech (BBC News, 2002). Police arrested five students who were participating in the riot, and an additional eleven students received charges from the University for violating their code of conduct (Berson, 2008). Soon after cancelling his appearance, Netanyahu appeared outraged and accused the students involved of supporting terrorism (BBC News, 2002). As a result of the incident, the Concordia University administration called a campus-wide suspension on all activism and student activities relating to the Middle East. The ban was withdrawn two months later (Chauvin, 2012).

The riot was the culmination of a hostile environment which had been building at Concordia well in advance of September 2002. The university had previously accepted large numbers of Jewish applicants, but had recently had a rapid increase in Muslim students – many of which oppose the current occupation of Palestine. Factoring in a rise of activism, this caused the Israel-Palestine conflict to take center stage at Concordia in regards to foreign affairs. Many students took up radical positions, and heated arguments alongside bitter discrimination became commonplace on campus from both parties involved (Addelman & Mallal, 2004). The university has subsequently received much attention and criticism for the many incidents of radical activism (Cohen, 2012).

Further analysis of this incident is pending.

Reference List

Addelman, B. & Mallal, S. (Director) (2004)  “Discordia” [Motion Picture]. Canada: National Film Board of Canada.

BBC News. (2002) “Canada protests stop Netanyahu speech”. BBC News World Edition. Retrieved on 16 Oct, 2014 from http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/americas/2248555.stm

Berzon, C. (2008) “Anti-Israeli Activity at Concordia University 2000-2003”. Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs. Retrieved on  16 Oct, 2014  from http://jcpa.org/article/anti-israeli-activity-at-concordia-university-2000-2003/

Chauvin, P. (2012) “A Decade After: A Look Back at the 2002 Netanyahu Riot”. The Link. Retrieved on 16 Oct, 2014  from http://thelinknewspaper.ca/article/3148/

Cohen, M. (2012) “The Concordia University-Netanyahu riots: a look back 10 years ago”. Jewish Tribune. Retrieved on  16 Oct, 2014  from http://www.jewishtribune.ca/features/2012/09/19/the-concordia-university-netanyahu-riots-a-look-back-10-years-ago

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One comment

  1. The biggest loser in this shameful event was free speech. Did the Muslim students have a right to voice their displeasure with the invitation of Benjamin Netanyahu? Of course. Did the former prime minister have a right to speak himself? Absolutely. Perhaps most shameful is the attempt by Concordia itself to fix the problem by barring the groups from postering, etc. Concordia officials recognized this themselves by reversing their stance two months later.

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