This blog post will provide an overview of the Concordia University Anti-Netanyahu protest/riot. This overview will discuss facts of the matter, which includes some contextual information, and a brief critique of the reported events.
To begin, this protest/riot took place September 9, 2002 at Concordia University in downtown Montreal Quebec. It was meant to ensure that the present day Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (who was also Prime Minister from 1996-1999) could not give his speech at the university (Maclean’s, 2002, para 1-2; BBC News, 2002, para 2). The proposed justifications for the protest were as follows: Mr. Netanyahu had “disconcerting views” on the Palestinian issue, he was going to be speaking with no debate or question-and-answer period, and his audience of 500 was pre-screened/handpicked in so far as being pro-Israel, thereby making the speech a “pro-Israeli media event” (What is anti-Semitism, 2003, para 1). With respect to the last two justifications, it appears as though the university had funded a very one-sided political event via tax-dollars (What is anti-Semitism, 2003, para 3). The 1000 protesters in opposition to the speech were comprised of Concordia University students and other pro-Palestinian groups from outside the school. These protestors tried to make their way to the lecture hall in which the speech was to be held. In the process, police arrived to quell the protesters and evacuate the 500 audience members. Thereafter, 200 of the protesters reportedly engaged in the following activities: trying to break through the riot police barriers, shattering glass windows, tossing chairs and newspaper boxes at officers, and physically assaulting several “high profile” members of the Jewish community (Paskey, 2002, para 1-2; Cohen, 2012, para 5). The officers responded by clearing the rooms via pepper spray and tear gas canisters. The speech was cancelled and the protesters were, therefore, successful (CBC News, 2002, para 1-3). Mr. Netanyahu and multiple news outlets regarded the students and other pro-Palestinian groups as rioters, anti-democratic, and intolerant of differing views (What is anti-Semitism, 2003, para 3-4). The incident was henceforth labelled the “Netanyahu Riot” and the university administration prohibited middle-eastern political activism for some time afterwards (Paskey, 2002, para 1).
In the process of trying to create the sequence of events above, I encountered multiple sources that provided contradictory/misleading reports on the incident. This is by no means a setback, rather an opportunity for further discussion. For instance, I said that there were “1000 protesters”, approximately 200 of whom reportedly engaged in unlawful conduct. Most sources only brought up the 200 individuals, not mentioning the 800 non-violent individuals. Dissimilarly, one source, the Jewish Tribune, reported that it was in fact all 1000 protestors who engaged in the unlawful conduct (Cohen, 2012, para 5). And in more general terms, news outlets across the country (including the Globe and Mail and the National Post) reported similarly on the incident in a manner that further antagonized the protesters, thereby illegitimating their message and legitimating the label “rioters” (What is anti-Semitism, 2003, para 4-5). Moreover, note the manner in which I regard the protesters/rioters as both “protesters/rioters”. I am doing this out of reluctance because I do not want to categorize any individuals on the basis of contradictory/misleading information. While it is the case that most sources regarded the 200 more aggressive individuals as the “rioters” (with the exception of the Jewish Tribune), it would be uncharitable to falsely equivocate the other 800 protestors with the actions of a rowdy minority. And in closing, given the methodology behind ensuring that the event’s audience members were pro-Israel in conjunction to the lack of accommodation for differing opinions, it is arguably the case that the event was just as anti-democratic and intolerant of differing views as the protestors were reported to be (What is anti-Semitism, 2003, para 3).
BBC News. (2002, September 10). Canada Protests Stop Netanyahu Speech. BBC News. Retrieved from http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/americas/2248555.stm.
CBC News. (2002, September 10). Montreal Protesters Force Cancellation of Netanyahu Speech. CBC News. Retrieved from: http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/montreal-protesters-force-cancellation-of-netanyahu-speech-1.312529.
Cohen, Mike. (2012, September 19). The Concordia University-Netanyahu Riots: A look Back 10 Years ago. The Jewish Tribune. Retrieved from http://www.jewishtribune.ca/features/2012/09/19/the-concordia-university-netanyahu-riots-a-look-back-10-years-ago.
Maclean’s. (2002, September 23). MONTREAL — A violent protest. Maclean’s, 9. Retrieved from http://go.galegroup.com/ps/i.do?id=GALE%7CA91672920&v=2.1&u=yorku_main&it=r&p=CPI&sw=w&asid=34ddc7b845599ea6b7baa3f58c5ed1d9.
Paskey, J. (2002). Concordia U. Bars Activities on Mideast. The Chronicle of Higher Education, 49(05). Retrieved from http://go.galegroup.com/ps/i.do?id=GALE%7CA147120461&v=2.1&u=yorku_main&it=r&p=EAIM&sw=w&asid=628fcfab2154e6b5fbfa786dbb1317d0.
What is anti-Semitism? (News in Brief: Canada). (2003, April). Catholic Insight, 11(3), 26+. Retrieved from http://go.galegroup.com/ps/i.do?id=GALE%7CA100541414&v=2.1&u=yorku_main&it=r&p=CPI&sw=w&asid=e4140e38066f309bd46a0d81364c26c8.