|Directed by:||Martin Himel||Rating:||TV-14|
|Release Date:||2003||Running Time:||46 mins|
|More Info:||Wikipedia||Category:||World Jewry|
Anti-Israel sentiment is common fare on college campuses in North America today, but never before have things exploded as they did at Concordia University, where anti-Israel riots left campus security helpless, and students feeling vulnerable and betrayed. The riots in response to a Jewish student group’s invitation of former Israeli Prime Minister Bibi Netanyahu to speak on campus in late 2002 form the basis for Confrontation at Concordia, which tells the story of this conflict while exploring the ramifications of extreme pro-Palestinian activism on college campuses.
“The destruction of the Jews has always been preceded by a campaign of vilification,” says Tom Hecht, former governor of Concordia. He recalls being kicked in the groin and spat on by angry students — an experience that brought back memories of the anti-Semitism he experienced in1939 Bratislava. “I was guilty because I was Jewish,” he says of that time. Hecht worries about what this radical activism may portend for the future of Concordia and its Jewish student body. “The perception of Concordia will not be that of an institution of free speech,” he says.
When Concordia’s Jewish Student Union, Hillel, invited Netanyahu to lecture on campus, they understood that the event would draw angry student protests. But few imagined things would escalate as they did.
Outside the lecture hall, hundreds of students surrounded the building’s exterior, shattering its glass windows and chanting “down, down Israel.” Inside the lecture hall, dozens of pro-Palestinian students — led by a major backer of the anti-Israel Concordia Student Union — blocked the escalator, preventing students and guests from reaching the lecture hall. Concordia Security failed to respond adequately and was ultimately forced to cancel the event. The result was a sense of victory for the protestors and one of bitter defeat for the Jewish students and others who had gathered to hear a lecture on a campus that ostensibly supports freedom of speech.
Anti-Israel sentiment at Concordia, as at most college campuses, has come to be expected — but the Concordia Student Union that was active at the time of Netanyahu’s visit was particularly vehement in its attitude towards Israel. For starters, the CSU banished Hillel as a student group, thus essentially stopping any funds from reaching the Jewish student organization. Concordia Hillel president Yoni Patell chillingly declares that this marked the first time a Jewish student group had been banned from a university since Hitler occupied Europe.
The student protesters’ use of propaganda that is eerily reminiscent of the Nazis is perhaps even more unsettling. Some posters depict Jews according to classical anti-Semitic caricatures, as money-hungry world dominators. At other times, the equation is turned on its head: in one poster, a swastika and a Jewish Star of David are drawn side by side with an equal sign between them, suggesting that to be Jewish is to be a Nazi.
The anti-Israel atmosphere on campus, says Patell, is the result of a “fanaticism that doesn’t allow for a free market of ideas.” Instead, it “rigidly controls what people hear and see, so that it can control how they feel.”
It isn’t only Jewish students who feel betrayed by the environment at Concordia. The university administration also feels that the student union went overboard. According to the rector, Frederick Lowy, it was “abusing its power.”
And it could be getting worse. At Concordia now, there is a greater “degree of vehemence, even violence” that students encounter on campus, Lowy says. The student union’s stance during the Netanyahu affair, and the fervor that sometimes pervades the campus, “threatens the core of Canadian values to tolerate people, even those with whom we disagree,” he asserts.
Confrontation at Concordia takes a deeper look at the disturbing political extremism on college campuses, and shows that rather than an isolated outburst, the 2002 riots should be taken as a warning sign.