Canadian politicians are echoing fabricated claims of anti-Semitism after students rallying for Palestinian rights were attacked by a violent anti-Palestinian group at York University in Toronto last week.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has asserted that “violence and racist chants” were directed at Jewish students, and blamed “anti-Semitism.”
But available evidence, including video, paints a completely different picture: It was pro-Israel extremists who attacked students protesting the presence of Israeli soldiers on their campus.
The organizers billed the event as an opportunity to hear from “real Israeli soldiers.”
Campus group Students Against Israeli Apartheid said it decided to protest the event because, it alleges, the “Israeli military, using Herut as a vessel, has been seen actively recruiting on campuses across Canada which is, in fact, illegal.”
Yet when the students showed up to rally for Palestinian rights, they say they were met with violence and intimidation.
“Palestinian students and students who turned up in support were assaulted and violently attacked during the rally,” according to Students Against Israeli Apartheid.
“Marshals and nonviolent protesters were kicked, spat on, shoved and were subjected to racist, sexist and Islamophobic slurs.”
SAIA alleges that “One protester was choked with his scarf” by a member of the Jewish Defense League.
Another was punched in the back of his head and taken to hospital, according to SAIA.
One anti-Palestinian activist was caught bragging on Facebook that “one of my boys knocked one of their guys out” and he was “out cold for like 10 minutes.”
Yet requests that campus security remove the Jewish Defense League members who were “threatening and assaulting protesters” were ignored, SAIA says.
Israel supporters reportedly attempted to steal students’ phones and have admitted to stealing Palestinian flags in order to beat students with the flagpoles.
Yet many prominent politicians have joined Trudeau in falsely portraying supporters of Palestinian rights as the instigators of violence.
“I wish that there was a way for the university and politicians who were echoing these false sentiments to get a better look into what actually happened,” Mohammed William, a member of SAIA and Campuses for Palestine, told The Electronic Intifada.
“We have video evidence of prominent members [of the JDL] saying they were here to take care of the protest, yet we’re the ones that were blamed for the violence that broke out.”
The incident is reminiscent of accusations that supporters of Palestinian rights engaged in “anti-Semitic” protests during a conference at New York’s Bard College last month. Those claims, made by The Forward’s opinion editor Batya Ungar-Sargon, have been thoroughly refuted by multiple witnesses.
Despite evidence that Jewish Defense League members were the ones chanting racist slogans and assaulting Palestine solidarity protesters at York University, high-profile figures in Canada joined the JDL and Israel supporters in a smear campaign against the students.
The Jerusalem Post claimed that “600 violent, pro-Palestinian protesters” chanted “Intifada, Intifada, go back to the ovens.”
No video evidence has surfaced to support this shocking charge.
Avi Benolo, head of the Friends of the Simon Wiesenthal Centre, called the event “an anti-Semitic, violent, racist mob” and demanded that the university, and Ontario Premier Doug Ford “take immediate steps” in response.
Ford tweeted that he was “shocked by the vile hatred that was on display last night at York University,” but aimed that sentiment toward supporters of Palestinian rights.
Michael Levitt, a federal lawmaker from Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s Liberal Party, claimed that Jewish students felt “threatened” at York University due to “anti-Israel, BDS-related and anti-Semitic intimidation.”
John Tory, the mayor of Toronto, also asserted the protest was violent and anti-Semitic.
The next day, Trudeau joined in, accusing the protesters of anti-Semitism.
“Levitt, Ford, Tory and Trudeau have an extensive and shameful record of near unqualified support for the State of Israel,” attorney and activist Dimitri Lascaris wrote.
“So it was hardly surprising that none of them cited an iota of evidence to back up their accusation that pro-Palestinian protesters had engaged in anti-Semitic or violent conduct.”
York University at “fault”
According to Mohammed William of Students Against Israeli Apartheid, “the fault lies in York’s administration – they allowed JDL members to come to the campus and start trouble.”
Since students have video evidence implicating the Jewish Defense League and Israel supporters, William said, “we’re in a better position than those who are calling us anti-Semites and violent – they don’t have video evidence and we do.”
“In no way are we criticizing the Jewish people when we criticize the Israeli army or the Israeli government,” William added.
“We just want to hold a government and an army that has acted with impunity accountable.”
Bringing soldiers to campus
Even some Israel supporters viewed it as inadvisable to bring Israeli soldiers to campus.
The Reservists on Duty event was reportedly seen as “inflammatory” even by the York chapter of Hillel, an Israel advocacy group that has a long history of opposing Palestinian rights.
Hillel had also told Herut that the event should not happen, according to Herut’s director Lauren Isaacs.
But that might only have encouraged Herut.
Earlier this year, in an act of provocation, Isaacs unfurled a Herut Canada flag in front of the Dome of the Rock in occupied East Jerusalem.
JDL’s violent history
Moreover, students anticipated the presence of the Jewish Defense League of Canada, an extremist group whose members have a history of violent threats, racism and harassment against Palestinian activists in the country.
On the day of the event, university attorneys delivered a letter to Meir Weinstein, the head of JDL Canada, warning his associates not to employ “threats and intimidation.”
Weinstein had been previously banned from York University, according to an interview he gave in April.
But JDL thugs, including Weinstein, were allowed on campus and not escorted off the premises.
“We’re getting the job done at York University, the JDL here is in force,” Weinstein says in a video he recorded at the protest, posted to a right-wing YouTube account.
“We’ll do what we have to do,” he adds, an apparent admission that his group came to disrupt the protest.
In the same video, JDL members are clearly heard chanting “Am Yisrael chai,” or “the Jewish people lives,” a Hebrew slogan often chanted by right-wing Israeli nationalists, sometimes as they assault Palestinians in racist attacks.
A man in the same video, wearing a “Make America Great Again” hat, can be heard chanting, “Hey, hey, ho, ho, Palestine has got to go!”
In another video posted to Facebook someone is heard shouting the racial slur “monkeys” in the presence of students, as pro-Israel activists appear to surround them and unfurl an Israeli flag.
A different video is said to show a JDL member threatening a student. The student urges a campus security officer to escort the man off campus.
Following the violence, JDL Canada sent out an email to supporters bragging that it stopped the “anti-Semitic plans” of student protesters by intervening at York University.
The email claims that the group got “positive results” and appeals for donations.
“A right to malign”
Student organizations and trade unions at York University are urging the administration to accept responsibility for letting the JDL on campus.
“If there was advance planning to ensure everyone’s safety, it failed spectacularly,” leaders of the York branch of the CUPE public employees union wrote to university president Rhonda Lenton.
“The safety of our community should be your first priority, not giving members of a foreign military a platform.”
Justin Podur, an associate professor of environmental studies at York, told The Electronic Intifada that the university’s handling of the event – and the deference to Zionist groups by leading Canadian politicians – spotlights the country’s long antipathy toward Palestinians.
“Canadian society at all levels asserts a right to malign, impugn and commit violence against Palestinians, including Palestinian students who are protesting,” Podur said.
“That is how someone can brag on social media about beating a protester up, and have the Canadian prime minister, the Toronto mayor and the Ontario premier all tweet in tacit support.
“Anti-Palestinian racism is an unquestioned norm,” Podur said.
Their message to the JDL is “come to York, assault people, and all levels of government will support you.”