Sunday, February 15, 2009

Hostage Scene

A group of Jewish students were forced to barricade themselves inside York University's Hillel in what the Jerusalem Post called a "hostage" situation.
Jewish students at York University in Toronto were forced to take refuge in the Hillel office last Wednesday night as anti-Israel protesters banged on the glass doors, chanting, "Die, bitch, go back to Israel," and "Die, Jew, get the hell off campus."
[...]
During the clash in the hallway, Jewish students were singled out and pursued by a mob of more than 100 students. Tepper and the 15-20 other Jewish students escaped upstairs to Hillel's offices, where the situation worsened.

While students sat in the shelter of the Hillel office, listening to the "pounding" from the York Federation of Students office below, demonstrators reached the Hillel office, banging on the glass doors and made it impossible for students to leave.

Campus security personnel arrived and advised the Jewish students to stay in the Hillel office.

The police arrived almost an hour after the incident had begun and tried to "remain neutral," Tepper wrote.

The students in the Hillel office were evacuated soon after by police escort, amid cries of "Get off our campus" and "Shame on Hillel."

"I have never in my life felt threatened and hated like I did that night," Tepper said.

Ferman, the Hillel president, who was called a "f*****g Jew" and a "dirty Jew" by the protesters, said, "We were basically being held hostage in our own space."

The incident was somewhat "ironic," Ferman said, because 45 minutes before the press conference, members of Hillel and the Hasbara student organization had met with members of Students Against Israeli Apartheid, in an attempt to "decrease tensions" between the groups.

Ultimately, the students had to leave Hillel under police protection. You can get an eye-witness account by one of the Jewish students here.

The event that precipitated the scenario actually had nothing to do with Israel at all, though the mob besieging the Jewish students nonetheless yelled "Zionism equals racism!", "Viva, viva Palestine" and one student declared "Zionism does not speak for Jews. Zionism is an embarrassment. Shame on the Zionists." Rather, the situation flowed out of a press conference Hillel students participated in support of impeaching the York University student government for its support of a TA strike which had crippled the university for months.

I know nothing about the specifics of the labor dispute, and thus take no position as to what position on the matter is correct. I do know that it is distressing that (a) Jewish political advocacy on a topic of general concern immediately manifested itself into hatred and threats towards Jews qua Jews and (b) those threats manifested themselves in the guise of anti-Zionist talk, even though Zionism had nothing to do with the putative controversy.

This piece from the National Post is reporting a lot of rumor, so take it with some salt, but one thing he mentions is the possibility that the York Federation of Students is trying to change the subject from its support of the strike to the question of Israel and the Gaza operation. That would help explain how a move by Hillel to support an end to the strike was transformed into an opportunity to threaten Jews, and would also explain why Israel was used (as usual) as the "hook" in order to do so. It would be the same thing we're seeing in Venezuela: drumming up rage against Jews to cement shaky political support.

Unfortunately, this event was not isolated. Police already had to be called after death threats were made against a Jewish student earlier in the week. In general, Jewish students have been alleging a rapid deterioration in the security of their environment at the school over the last several years.

9 comments:

PG said...

I wonder who's going to show up at your blog to say there's no "structural" anti-Semitism anymore. Good grief.

ansel said...

@PG: While this is a horrifying incident, I don't see how it demonstrates the "structural" nature of anti-Semitism in Canada or anywhere else. There was a long-running feud between two groups of students on that campus, according to a comment left on this post over at Alas, and the pro-Palestinian/anti-Zionist faction went off the deep end in this case into near-violent anti-Semitism. Now if the authorities at the University, from administrators to the police, had not done their job in protecting the Jewish students, then I think you'd have a case that anti-Semitism is structural or institutional there. My understanding is that an -ism become structural when it is institutionalized into hierarchical systems of power and/or adopted by a significant portion of the population. This incident, again while really upsetting, doesn't rise to that level on either of those counts for me.

Again, still, it's really fucked up and hope folks in that mob are held accountable.

PG said...

Now if the authorities at the University, from administrators to the police, had not done their job in protecting the Jewish students, then I think you'd have a case that anti-Semitism is structural or institutional there.

You think being pursued by a mob and having to barricade themselves in an office indicates that the police had done their job in protecting Jewish students? Would you consider people in the inner city buying guns to protect themselves an indication that 911, contra Chuck D, is not a joke?

If I have to protect myself, that means that someone else isn't protecting me. If the campus police are telling the Jewish students to stay in the office for their own safety, and then have to evacuate the Jewish students instead of dispersing the mob that was threatening them, that's a sign that the mob is running things. That's a sign of structural anti-Semitism.

Joe said...

Semantics are the best part of the internet.

PG said...

Semantics are better than porn?

ansel said...

Hmm. I guess it's difficult, as an American, for you to imagine police de-escalating a tense situation by escorting Jewish students away to safety rather than forcibly dispersing demonstrators with wanton violence, as they might have done here.

Yeah, Chuck D would be all for the police unleashing the tear gas and tasers on the mob. He doesn't rap on '911 (Is a Joke)' by the way. That's all Flavor Fav.

David Schraub said...

I don't know what the proper police response should have been to this incident (namely, whether advising the Jewish students to stay locked in their office until they could be escorted out under armed guard was the right approach), but it is possible to disperse a mob through mechanisms other than tear gas.

Asking honestly, is it an incident of structural anti-semitism if none of the mob participants are sanctioned in any way (either by law or by the university)? If they are still afterwards influential student leaders?

Also, is this the first hip-hop beef in my comments section? A milestone!

ansel said...

Asking honestly, is it an incident of structural anti-semitism if none of the mob participants are sanctioned in any way (either by law or by the university)? If they are still afterwards influential student leaders?

If they aren't sanctioned, then yeah I think so.

PG said...

Hmm. I guess it's difficult, as an American, for you to imagine police de-escalating a tense situation by escorting Jewish students away to safety rather than forcibly dispersing demonstrators with wanton violence, as they might have done here.

If "demonstrators" (threatening the physical safety of others now constitutes speech? I might have to become less of a First Amendment absolutist) don't respect the University's authority over University property when the police tell them to get out of the building, then force might be necessary, in which case it by definition isn't "wanton." If the Jewish students have to be escorted away by police instead of being able to walk out freely on their own, that means they're no longer safe at this university and those purportedly in authority cannot keep them safe. Needing an armed guard just to walk around campus isn't an indication that one is safe -- rather the opposite.