Canadian college cancels workshop critical of Israel

ASSE, a Quebec-wide student union representing 42,000 members, CALEB, a local student group and Tadamon, a Montreal-based social justice group, denounce the decision of a Montreal college to cancel a presentation critical of Canadian support for Israel. The workshop, scheduled to have taken place today, was canceled after the administration of College Bois-de-Boulogne came under pressure from supporters of Israel. This attack on basic freedom of expression is all the more disturbing because it occurs on a campus.

The presentation, hosted at Bois-de-Boulogne by the Comite d’action pour la lutte etudiante boulonnaise (CALEB), was one of a series of workshops taking place in Montreal-area CEGEPS throughout April under the title, “Middle East Popular Education Project.” The workshop series was organised jointly by the Association pour une solidarite syndicale etudiante and Tadamon! Montreal. It is designed to develop knowledge and strategic thinking in Quebec’s student sector about the role that Canada is playing in the Middle East.

The censorship appears to be the result of a campaign led by a small number of pro-Israeli students at Bois-de-Boulogne, who said they objected to the fact that the workshop was being held on the Jewish holiday of Passover. This group also stated that they had been in touch with the Israeli consulate about the workshop.

The decision to cancel was made despite opinion voiced by other students at Bois-de-Boulogne, who believed that space should be given to discuss a valuable perspective on Canadian foreign policy and the situation in Palestine.

A last-minute intervention by the new Alliance of Concerned Jewish Canadians and individuals was similarly disregarded. Their letter to the administration stated: “We write to urge you not to cancel a joint conference by Asse and Tadamon! April 21 on Israel and Palestine. Behind this censorship attempt appears to be a false belief that critics of Israel are anti-Semitic, or anti-Jewish to be precise. The Jewish people in Quebec and Canada are divided on the issues of Israel and Palestine. There are many Jewish people like us who support open discussion and activities for Palestinian human rights, and oppose the Israeli occupation and suppression of the Palestinian people.”

The decision by Bois-de-Boulogne administration to censor valid criticism of the Canadian government and of Israel is part of a discernable and disturbing trend on campuses across Canada.

On being told that they could not hold the workshop inside the school, CALEB moved outside and a discussion took place just in front of the school at noon today. Sitting on the grass, about seventy students discussed the role of the student movement in international solidarity, the historical connection between Canada and Israel as settler-colonial states, and the reality of the apartheid-like system imposed on Palestinians by Israel, as well as strategies to effectively challenge war and racism.

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