Pro-Palestinian activists at York University say they were set upon by members of the Jewish Defense League, a group labeled 'extremist' by the FBI.
A group of international human rights NGOs has decried “violence against human rights defenders at York University” in Toronto, Canada, calling it a move against legitimate protests against “apartheid” in Israel.
The protest took place on November 20 and was a demonstration against a university-sanctioned event featuring Reservists on Duty, an organisation of former Israeli military members that aims to combat the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement.
BDS targets Israel over its treatment of Palestinians, including its settlements in the occupied West Bank and its decade-long blockade of the Gaza Strip.
“We decided to protest this event because the York administration had allowed soldiers from an occupying army to use our campus space”, Students Against Israeli Apartheid (SAIA) at York University said in a statement.
Videos of the event show dozens of counter protesters brandishing posters with pro-Palestine slogans, chanting and wearing keffiyehs, a traditional Arab scarf closely identified with Palestinians.
Violence erupted between the two sides, resulting in police intervention and at least one injury, according to local media.
Some Canadians came out to disparage “violence” and “anti-Semitism” by the pro-Palestine protesters. Ontario Premier Doug Ford said in a tweet he was “shocked” at the “hate-filled protest”.
SAIA at York University claimed in a public statement that members of the Jewish Defense League, a far-right organisation based in the United States that the FBI has called an “extremist” group, initiated the violence.
Tisetso Magama, spokesperson for BDS South Africa (BDS SA), said in a statement delivered to TRT World that the “Israeli lobby is now claiming that the protest is anti-Semitic, as South Africans we find this absurd. To have protested against soldiers from Apartheid South Africa in the 1980s did not make one anti-white.”
South Africa featured the most well-known system of Apartheid against the black majority until its end in 1994.
The fact that Jewish Israeli settlers enjoy better services on Palestinian land occupied by Israel is pointed to as proof that apartheid, or a system of segregation based on ethnic identity, exists in the region.
“Similarly, to protest against Israel's military and its violence against civilians is not anti-Semitic”, Magama continued.
The First Amendment gives US citizens the right to boycott, but new laws are banning people from protesting against Israel as a way to counter the BDS movement. Tune into #DCDirect as we discuss anti-BDS laws with @LataNott, @maxsamarov and @s_saqib_ali pic.twitter.com/9zqeIkFFFJ— TRT World (@trtworld) January 18, 2019
Israeli settlements in the occupied West Bank are a rallying cry for those who think Israel is an “apartheid” state.
These settlements, found in the occupied West Bank and East Jerusalem which contravene international law, are cordoned off from Palestinians and enjoy their own transportation networks, stores and telecommunication systems that are often superior to those offered to Palestinians.
Israel’s settlement policy has been under fire across US universities for years, but recent events have cast a spotlight on the issue.
Israeli Consul General of New York Dani Dayan was invited to speak on the “Legal Strategy of Israeli Settlements” at Harvard University’s School of Law in November.
But more than 100 students at the prestigious university staged a walkout as Dayan began his talk, holding signs saying “Settlements are a War Crime”.
Dayan, himself a settler, was left to speak to an almost empty room.
Student organisers said the walkout was part of a growing trend on universities across the US, according to reports.
Still, Israeli settlements saw a recent victory, with US State Secretary Mike Pompeo announcing on November 18 that the US no longer considers settlements to be “inconsistent with international law”.
The move reversed a position held by the US since 1978.
Wrong ‘side of history’
York University did not respond to requests for comment.
A letter sent by York Presdident Rhonda Lenton said she believes “it is essential to proactively develop strategies for fostering a more productive dialogue around these issues” and she hopes the community will “continue to challenge ourselves, as a university and a community, to debate and protest passionately, but to do so with respect for differing points of view and generosity towards our opponents.”
Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau condemned in a tweet events at the demonstration, which he said featured “racist chants … anti-Semitism has no place in Canada.”
The mayor of a Paris suburb has been banned from the occupied West Bank because of his support for BDS pic.twitter.com/CcrptagbdK— TRT World (@trtworld) April 18, 2018
But according to BDS South Africa’s Magama, Canada should review its anti-BDS position, which includes a 2015 agreement with Israel to combat the BDS movement.
Magama pointed to the fact that Canada largely supported the Apartheid system in South Africa, although it publicly rebuked the regime.
Leftist Canadian author Yves Engler wrote in 2013 that even while Canada placed sanctions on South Africa’s Apartheid government from 1986 to 1993, “Canada’s two-way trade with South Africa totaled $1.6 billion”.
The Canadian government was, for the most part, on the wrong side of history during the struggle against Apartheid in South Africa”, Magam said.
“We humbly invite them to this time round choose the right side of history defending and joining their citizens in opposing Apartheid”, he concluded.