I organized a demonstration against Eyal Dror at Toronto Metropolitan University (TMU). He didn’t show up and the event he was supposed to be speaking at, hosted by the Students Support Israel (SSI) chapter at TMU was canceled.
The demonstration was to protest what he was going to talk about—“humanitarian” work the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) are doing in Syria, though the state occupies it illegally.
This was part of a larger attempt by the speaker to whitewash ongoing and ruthless Israeli crimes against the Palestinian people, misframing Israel as fundamentally “compassionate.” But you can’t be that while you’re carrying out such crimes.
You are first and foremost an oppressor.
What makes Dror’s scheduled talk particularly troublesome is that he served over 20 years in the IDF, during which time over 10,000 Palestinians were killed and at least 2000 of whom were children—overwhelmingly at the hands of the IDF.
Why was TMU, having an express anti-oppressive mandate, allowing Dror to speak on its campus, let alone accommodating SSI—a virtual proxy for the settler-colonial and militaristic force that is Israel—to have a space and operate on its campus? How does that align with the progressive values or nature of anti-oppression?
I was told by staff at TMU that SSI canceled the event on the Friday before it was to take place (the following Monday). That’s more than enough time for the group to have announced publicly on its Facebook page, where it was advertising the event, that it was being canceled and why.
Campus security told me and other demonstrators that there were “security” concerns SSI had (later confirmed to me by a TMU ombudsman via email), informing their decision to cancel. But not much more than that.
Whatever the full reasons for the cancellation, the fact that SSI did not announce that the event was called off says something. It means they have contempt for the public. They don’t care that anyone could’ve seen the event being advertised on Facebook, made plans to attend and took the time to actually do so. What is more important for SSI is that they simply get their way.
That may have been to ensure that other students passing by the demonstration (and there were many) did not learn about Dror’s presence and, by extension, Israeli whitewashing. This of course challenges Israel’s polished image—ever fading as the truth of Israel quickly spreads online (via alternative news outlets, responsible social media, etc.)—that it’s an “exemplary” democracy, while in reality engaged in the ethnic cleansing of Palestine.
Perhaps, SSI thought that this wouldn’t happen if it canceled the event. After all, we were present as counter-demonstrators and without the event happening what would be demonstrating against? They were surely amiss if this was the group’s thinking.
Despite the cancellation, a small but noticeable group of us still demonstrated in solidarity with Palestine. Not only did we draw attention to Dror’s scheduled whitewashing and the problems of having such a speaker at at school that claims to be anti-oppressive, demonstrators—of diverse ethnicities, nationalities, religious faiths (including Jewish brothers and sisters who had lived in Israel and staunchly oppose its violent campaign against Palestine)—raised their voices with the help of megaphones.
They called out past and present injustices committed by Israel against Palestine, the lies it publicly spreads to maintain its “legitimacy” and the hypocrisy of mainstream culture in encouraging solidarity with Ukraine against Russia while opposing solidarity with Palestine against Israel (as if only Ukraine and not Palestine were not being brutally victimized).
This was all totally non-violent and free of any shred of hate. By the same token if this was the “security” concern SSI had they were totally unjustified in canceling the event, as loud and averse to the event it was hosting.
After the demonstration, a TMU ombudsperson approached some of the demonstrators, including me. She was sincere and wanted to know how she might be able to relay the demonstrators’ concerns to the TMU administration.
There needs to be more of this kind of listening at universities internationally, where proponents of Palestinian justice are routinely being harassed, disciplined or fired—often by either administrators or “friends” of the universities, such as generous financial donors. This reflects universities’ wrongly weighing the interests of Israel more heavily than the majority of its members—from students to staff. The latter includes the laudable desire to fight serious forms of oppression, including the crimes Israel perpetrates against Palestine, even when that fight is dishonestly smeared by its opponents (e.g. Israel calling the struggle for Palestinian justice “antisemitic”).
Moreover, to punish those standing up for Palestinian justice is tantamount to anti-Palestinian hatred. For it embodies the message that such justice, honoring Palestinians as full persons, is less important than Israel, which is committed to and routinely treats Palestinians as non-persons, expendable, a “problem” to be eliminated. The message is vile and no university, if it is serious about promoting human rights and the dignity of all, should ever endorse it. Where it does it cowardly bows to Israel—a state that is allowed to violently subjugate Palestinians with impunity.
What actual merit does a university have that does this? Higher education, in large part, is supposed to help students understand how to make the world a better place, including liberating people from oppression.
That necessarily means contesting Israel, as well as entities like it, that operate according to a repugnant lie: some humans are “lesser” than others.
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