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Confrontation at Concordia

Confrontation at Concordia

Confrontation at Concordia is a documentary by film maker Martin Himel which documents the September 2002 protest at Concordia University in Montreal, Canada. The film chronicles how pro-Palestinian student activists staged a direct action aimed to cancel the former Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's address on campus. The talk by the prime minister had been organized by Hillel, a Jewish student organization.

The documentary presents footage of pro-Palestinian activists breaking windows and pushing and shoving to block the only entry to the lecture hall. The pro-Palestinian students had objected strongly to Netanyahu's attempt to give scheduled speech.

In a segment of the film Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu described the conduct of Concordia students:

... what you have is an implantation in North America of this same unforgiving fanaticism that says “we will not allow the engagement of a contest of ideas, we will not allow a free market of ideas,” which is precisely a microcosm of the problem that we have in these societies that spawn and produce terrorism. They rigidly control what their people hear and see so that they can control what they think and feel. And this is the essence of the problem. If the real solution to this fanaticism is ventilation, the aeration of various ideas, then you got a whiff of the underlying root cause of terrorism in Concordia. That is the unwillingness to have a free exchange of ideas. The root cause of terrorism is totalitarianism.

In the film, Thomas Hecht, a former member of the Board of Governors of Concordia University and a Holocaust survivor, states:

This was anti-Semitism. I was the object of their hatred ... which expressed itself with placards; with a kind of venom which I have not seen on the streets of a city since the horrible days of occupied, Nazi-occupied Europe. What happened on the 9th of September was really a dark day for Concordia. And I think that the university will have to suffer the consequences of this. It will not come, the change will not come from one day to the other. The perception of Concordia will not be that of an institution where freedom of speech can be freely expressed. Because the way these thugs behaved was not any better than the people who were condemned for such behaviour in 1939 in Europe.

When I tried to enter, somebody approached me with a masked person. They had a hood or something, or a burka, or a shador on, I don't know if it was man or a woman and they kicked me in the groin. They spat on me. I felt as though I was in Bratislava in 1939 again, where they also spat on me because I was a Jew. But that was Czechoslovakia under German occupation and I was experiencing something which I thought would never happen again: that I was guilty of something because I was Jewish. I was guilty of wanting to hear a speech.

In response to allegations of antisemitism, Samir Elatrash, leader of the Solidarity for Palestinian Human Rights, averred that one can be anti-Israel without being antisemitic. He stated that "Judaism existed before the state of Israel."

Controversy

The film was aired on Global TV in 2003 which is owned by CanWest, the media outlet which in part helped organize the invitation of Netanyahu to speak. This was seen as a conflict of interest by some critics of the documentary.

The film set off a series of debates regarding student politics and whether anti-Israeli/pro-Palestinian political rallies on campuses were antisemetic.

Antonia Zebisias of the Toronto Star has written an article entitled "Global Documentary seems Unfair" which discusses the complaints made by the Solidarity for Palestinian Human Rights (SPHR), the Concordia Student Union (CSU) and the Canadian Muslim Forum concerning what they believe is misrepresentation of the issues, as well as the portrayal of pro-Palestinian activists as anti-Semitic. Zebisias' article explains the unspoken connection between Himmel's documentary and the Asper family, writing:

Himel makes no apologies for his documentary, adding that he is "not aware of the complaints'' against it. Fair enough. He's based in Israel where he reports for Global. But there's no excuse for his not mentioning - or even knowing - that Netanyahu's tour was co-sponsored by the Winnipeg-based Asper Foundation, established by his ultimate employer, CanWest Global chair Izzy Asper. Even a simple search of the Montreal Gazette, also a CanWest news organ, would have revealed that.

Michael Grand, professor of psychology at the University of Guelph, offered ways to counter hate on campuses.

After the documentary was broadcast on Global Television, Canadian Broadcast Standards Council (CBSC) received a number of complaints relating to the program. The complaints were considered under the following provisions of the Canadian Association of Broadcasters' (CAB) Code of Ethics and the Radio and Television News Directors Association of Canada (RTNDA) Code of (Journalistic) Ethics:

  • CAB Code of Ethics, Clause 2 – Human Rights
  • CAB Code of Ethics, Clause 6 – Full, Fair and Proper Presentation
  • CAB Code of Ethics, Clause 7 – Controversial Public Issues
  • RTNDA Code of (Journalistic) Ethics, Clause 1 – Accuracy
  • RTNDA Code of (Journalistic) Ethics, Clause 3 – Authenticity

The CBSC National Conventional Television Panel arrived at the following decision:

The National Conventional Television Panel reviewed all of the correspondence and viewed a tape of the broadcast. The Panel recognizes that the documentary film at issue was not detached and objective in a journalistic sense; however, the Panel is not of the view that its broadcast was in breach of any of the foregoing provisions of the either the CAB Code of Ethics or the RTNDA Code of (Journalistic) Ethics. That being said, the Panel considers that it would have been helpful to the audience to inform viewers that the broadcast was a point-of-view documentary.

References

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