Pro-Israel and pro-Palestine activists clashed at Concordia University’s Hall Building on Wednesday. Those on the Palestinian side say the events that took place have been misrepresented in subsequent reports.
Images and videos of the incidents shared on social media showed the two sides shouting at one another and at least one skirmish.
On Wednesday, Immigration Minister Marc Miller posted on X (formerly known as Twitter): “It is sickening to see the violent targeting of Jewish students take place at Concordia University today. In no way is this behaviour acceptable in any context. It must cease immediately!” Liberal MP Anthony Housefather tweeted: “I am disgusted but not surprised. I have been listening to Jewish students at Concordia tell me what was happened to them for the last few weeks. This is not new but has escalated. It is up to the Concordia administration to stop this now. I encourage donors to contact them.”
Miller and Housefather’s tweets were in response to a video showing one of the interactions. An American organization called “Stop Antisemitism” claimed a pro-Palestine student in the video used an antisemitic slur — a suggestion that the student and others who watched the video said was completely false.
Some accounts suggested that the pro-Israel students were targeted by pro-Palestinian activists. CTV News paraphrased vice-president internal of Hillel, a Jewish student group at Concordia, Eitan Kovac, saying: “Shortly after the event started, a group of Pro-Palestinian students showed up and started shouting at them.”
But others who were present dispute that version of events, as well as the suggestions that the pro-Palestine activists targeted Jewish students, as claimed by both Housefather and Miller.
Alex, a Ph.D. student who was at the protest, was shocked to see how the events were described after the fact. She said it was “bonkers” to see it portrayed as a targeted attack by pro-Palestinian activists against Jewish students. That, in her words, was “definitely not what happened.”
Student Sophie Dufresne said the same thing. They had come to the Hall Building for class and saw that police were closing the building down. “I can confirm that what people on social media said about [pro-Palestinian] protesters being violent is completely false,” Dufresne told The Maple. “People were peacefully chanting to call out Canada and Concordia’s complicity in the Israeli genocide of Palestine.”
The group Solidarity for Palestinian Human Rights (SPHR) had booked a table, in accordance with Concordia Students’ Union (CSU) policy, to sell Keffiyehs in order to raise money for the people of Gaza. The group said it had advertised their Keffiyeh sale at least three days prior on Instagram and that the event was widely circulated on social media.
Alex was among those who had heard that SPHR would be selling Keffiyehs on Wednesday. The group also used the table to advertise a walk out that had been planned for the day after. SPHR cancelled the walk out after Wednesday’s events.
Hannah Jackson, external and mobilization coordinator for CSU said that there were about 100 students standing in line waiting to purchase a Keffiyeh from the SPHR table when it opened.
Hillel had also booked tables in accordance with CSU policy. They made one of their tables available to a pro-Israel group called StartUp Nation. Hillel had booked several tables in advance at once, according to Jackson.
On LinkedIn, the president of StartUp Nation at Concordia has described the group as being “on a mission to fight antisemitism differently, through an emphasis on Israeli business, innovation, technology, culture, achievements, identity, and so much more.”
Students with StartUp Nation put up missing-person posters of the those taken hostage by Hamas on October 7 on the escalator and first floor of the Hall Building. They also arrived with protest signs.
One student, who asked that their identity be withheld for fear of being harassed, said that they were surprised to see the posters when they got to campus for class. They said that the posters, “seemed like they were trying to agitate and get a reaction from the pro-Palestinian students and crowd.”
Jackson said the fact that both groups booked tables beside each other at the same time was unfortunate and accidental. It wasn’t noticed because, according to Jackson, the table booking process is administrative, and staff typically don’t look to see if groups that might have problems with one another book tables at the same time. She said CSU would ensure that the two groups don’t book tables at the same time again in the future.
On the group’s Instagram account, StartUp Nation posted, “we would assume the CSU [booked the groups together] deliberately … with their evident anti-semitic history.” The group also insisted: “We had absolutely no way of knowing SPHR would have an event at the same time.”
The two groups held their events more or less calmly alongside each other for about two hours, said Jackson. She was back in her office when two students said pro-Israel activists had approached women wearing hijabs who were standing in line to buy Keffiyehs and asked if they supported terrorism.
Initially, the two groups mostly consisted of students, but, according to everyone interviewed by The Maple, others started showing up from off campus to bolster the numbers of both groups. The pro-Israel group’s activists were more aggressive, according to several people who spoke to The Maple.
Interactions became increasingly tense as the events wore on.
By the time she got to the Hall Building, Alex saw that among the pro-Israel activists there were many people who did not appear to be Concordia students.
In one video seen by The Maple, pro-Palestinian activists grabbed the flag of Israel out of the hands of pro-Israel activists, and a mêlée ensued. A security guard standing on the pro-Israel side tugged at the flag, trying to pry it free from three pro-Palestinian activists.
Then, a man in a red hoodie jumped onto the counter that separated the two sides and, while on his back trying to pull at the flag, kicked at an individual on the pro-Palestinian side in the face.
Pro-Israel activists and a security guard pulled him back towards the pro-Israeli side.
The CSU was made aware of one pro-Palestinian student who is Jewish who received threats of violence after the altercations took place.
The university called the police, and officers arrived in numbers that shocked Alex. The police shut down access to the building.
Jackson is concerned about the police intervention and how their presence ratcheted up tensions between both groups. “Cops make students less safe,” said Jackson. “Definitely, the police escalated this situation. The CSU wants a safe environment for everyone. Our role in this is coordinating when student groups use our tabling spaces for their respective activities. We will make sure people table separately.”
StartUp Nation has been critical of the CSU for allegedly not condemning Hamas. On October 26, they demanded that the CSU issue an “unequivocal condemnation of Hamas’s actions.”
The CSU officially has an anti-apartheid position, after students voted 86 per cent to adopt that position in a referendum in 2022. On Instagram, they announced: “The CSU will officially adopt an anti-apartheid stance in their position book along with a call to action to divest all its investments, as well as to pull vocal and financial support, from states and businesses complicit in apartheid.”
Major human rights organizations, including Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch and B’Tselem, have concluded that Israel practices apartheid, a crime under international law.