Why Ehud Barak should never grace the halls of Concordia University

By Yahya Abdul Rahman

MONTREAL (5 October 2004) MMN: Let's pretend for a moment that it was the infamous anti-semtic Holocaust-denier Ernst Zundel who was invited to deliver a lecture at Concordia University and not former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak. Would there be a storm ignited over whether the institution is curbing free speech in the name of keeping peace on its politically fractious campus if Zundel was not granted permission to speak?

Would there be talk of the University being "taken hostage by a small and violent group within its campus," which were the words used by Sylvain Abitbol, President of Federation CJA -- Montreal's main philanthropic Jewish organization- when commenting on Concordia University's refusal to allow Barak to deliver a speech on the campus?

Abitbol is also quoted as saying: "A university is a place where students come to debate and challenge ideas from all angles."

Ok, great! Would he be so open minded if Zundel were the guest speaker? I don't think so, and in that instance I would agree with Mr. Abitbol that someone like Zundel should not be allowed on campus.

Abitol further stated that: "A lot of immigrants come to Canada because where they were coming from, they weren't allowed to debate things. Are we allowing some groups to bring their baggage with them?"

His statement seems to imply that immigrants hate free-speech and they are in this country to destroy it with all their cultural baggage. He forgets the fact that many -- including this writer- who oppose Barak's (and Zundel's) presence on campus were born here and have no other place to call home and that this opposition has nothing to do with immigration status.

In my opinion the University has made a responsible decision based upon solid security considerations. In addition, Ehud Barak has a detestable human-rights record and thus there should be no place for him at the podium of a respectable Canadian University.

In its press statement explaining its refusal to allow Barak to speak on Campus, the University did not mention Barak's many past human-rights violations but instead bizarrely characterized him as a person standing for "conciliation, understanding and negotiation," which would require a whole re-writing of history to be made believable.

In fact, Barak was not invited to "debate and challenge ideas from all angles," but to spread his anti-Palestinian rhetoric and fuel the flames of hatred directed at the approximately 4000 Muslims and Arabs who attend Concordia University. It was Barak, we should remember, who made the racist statement, reported in the Jerusalem Post on 30 August 2000, that: "The Palestinians are like crocodiles, the more you give them meat, they want more..."

We must not be fooled by the smokescreen of cries of "denial of free-speech," by those who invited Barak in the first place. In addition, it seems that when Arabs, Muslims and their supporters are defamed and referred to in a racist and demeaning manner -- in this case referred to by Hillel in their October 4th statement as "the violent side," then "free-speech" is fully protected, but if Arabs or Muslims even slip one inch and utter one unfortunate stray remark then the howls of protest can be heard far and wide.

In fact, it must be pointed out -- and to which many human-rights activists can attest -- pro-Israel activists have consistently attempted to stop speakers from delivering lectures on University campus's all across North America because the speakers were merely highlighting the numerous human-rights abuses of Palestinians at the hands of Israeli occupation troops.

It is rather strange that those who defend human-rights, call for the implementation of international law and the establishment of peace and reconciliation between Jews and Palestinians are systematically demonized and characterized as a "threat to free speech" while those who give a space to rapacious war-criminals are seen as the defenders of free-speech. Truly the world is upside down.

If Hillel-niks and their supporters want to invite speakers on campus why not begin by inviting people who are actively promoting true peace and justice between the Jewish and Palestinian people and not detestable human-rights violators with long bloody records? No one would protest such a choice and in fact such speakers would be welcomed by all. I for one have had the privilege to listen to many such speakers- including Jews and Palestinians -- and I have been enriched by their insights and their sincere calls for true peace and reconciliation.

Whether we like it or not, free-speech is not unlimited in Canada and spreading hatred which incites violence and ill-will against a visible group is considered a crime under Canadian law. This is why Zundel will soon rightfully be expelled from Canada and this is why Barak should never grace the halls of Concordia University.

Yahya Abdul is the Editor of Montreal Muslim News and can be reached at montreal@montrealmuslimnews.net

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