Eyewitness to Hatred: Concordia University, Montreal

Today was a sick and sorrowful day not only for the Jewish students and community of Montreal, but for Jews everywhere, the city of Montreal and Canada. Today a man was gagged and not allowed to express an opinion; today hundreds of people were denied the opportunity to listen to him speak. Today a riot broke forth on our peaceful streets, and today no police managed to restrain hate. Today Mon

Contributing Author,

Writing on the wall: Death to Jews
Writing on the wall: Death to Jews
photo

This morning my friends and I set out to Concordia University, in the heart of downtown Montreal, to hear Benjamin Netanyahu (former Prime Minister of Israel) speak. Many articles were featured in the Montreal papers leading up to today's speech, warning of protest action. I had a good idea of what we would face as we approached Concordia, but I could never have predicted what actually happened once we were there.

To enter the building we had to make a giant circle around it, to get to the supposedly "safe" entrance. We had to walk right through a volatile protest of hundreds of Palestinians and their supporters in keffiyehs, with flags, screaming vitriolic hate. Once having run this gauntlet, we waited patiently outside the Bishop street entrance, held back at the gate by security and police. After about an hour they started admitting us inside, but it was too late because a huge group of Palestinian 'demonstrators' had appeared in our midst. I was fortunately right at the entrance, and as dozens of violent protesters pushed their way to the front, I tried to get through. Right next to me appeared the ringleader, who tried to push his way in. The cop in front of me punched him in the face while pulling me through the gate at the same time. I rested against the wall and watched as at least a hundred (I think) red-and-green coloured protesters attacked the barriers and tried to get in. Riot cops appeared, dozens of them, and went to the gate as I and a few others were herded into the building. There was yelling and chanting, drumming and fighting going on outside the doors, with hundreds of our people stuck behind the gate being abused by hundreds of violent demonstrators. A few of us were waiting after the metal detectors for our friends to come through, when all of a sudden we heard loud chanting and yelling INSIDE the building. The riot cops came storming in and up the stairs beside us, and we began hearing fighting, crashing, yelling, punching. Chaos broke out and riot cops made us run for the door to the auditorium - I thought we were going to get killed, I swear. It was the scariest feeling, because I knew that these people wanted to hurt me and anyone who supports Israel or is Jewish.

Once inside the auditorium, we were told to be patient as more people would drift in from the insanity outside. We waited inside for three hours, as the commotion outside grew increasingly loud. We could hear chanting and yelling, and the protesters began trashing the university building. The police tear-gassed and pepper sprayed the entire building and outside, and we began to feel the effects if we stood too near the doors. After hours of waiting, and bomb searches by RCMP sniffer dogs, we were informed that Bibi Netanyahu could not speak after all - too much danger to him and to us. This was an incredible disappointment and we were naturally upset. We, however, managed to maintain a kind of composure and instead of fighting, the 650 of us inside began to sing Hatikvah, the national anthem of the State of Israel. We sang peace chants and then just waited to be let out, in groups of 10, escorted by police.

The scene as we exited was disgusting. Benches were overturned, papers and garbage streaked across the hallways, and broken windows. We were shoved outside directly into a HUGE Palestinian riot, where some of our people were apparently attacked. The cops did nothing. We stood on one side of the barrier, while they stood on the other, and we faced off. On our side, we sang and danced and celebrated being free and Jewish. On their side, they threw bottles at people's heads, screamed hatred, and tried to break the barriers down to hurt us. They started tossing pennies and coins at us - one of the oldest ways to taunt Jews by saying we're all 'money-grubbing'. While we sang Hatikvah arm in arm, they spat at us. Finally we decided to disperse and leave them to their hatred.

Today was a sick and sorrowful day not only for the Jewish students and community of Montreal, but for Jews everywhere, the city of Montreal and Canada. Today a man was gagged and not allowed to express an opinion; today hundreds of people were denied the opportunity to listen to him speak. Today a riot broke forth on our peaceful streets, and today no police managed to restrain hate. Today Montreal Jews were made to feel afraid for our lives, and today Jewish students were threatened in our own home. If we cannot express ourselves here in Canada, champion of free speech and human rights, where on earth can we do so? If we cannot feel safe in our own cities where we have grown up and thrived, where are we to go?

I can answer my own question with what many of us already know - Israel is our place. She is our homeland, and opens her arms to us, willing to protect us at all costs. The Jewish people need Israel, and she needs us.

Even so, we must voice our distaste at the violence which occurred in Montreal today We must all take our own individual stands against this fascism, by which freedom of speech was denied. What happened today in my city cannot be condoned or allowed to repeat itself. We must act. So I am sending you all this long letter, with my own personal feelings and an eyewitness account. Please do what you can to see that this message is spread to anyone you can think of - from friends to work associates, to politicians, and from Jews to non-Jews alike. We have a chance to fix these wrongs, but only if we take action and don't sit back as passive observers. We say NEVER AGAIN, but unless we protest these attacks on our freedoms, it is fruitless to put up that chant.

Last but certainly not least, a personal lament on our situation: today I saw raw hatred, and it cut me to the core. I have never feared for my life as I did today. I have never feared for our free society the way I do today. I wish beyond anything that we can one day fix the agonizing rifts between our peoples, and erase the hate from our and their hearts alike.

Shanah Tovah to all Jewish readers of this letter, and a sweet year. To all non-Jewish readers: thank you for reading, and please understand what I am expressing here. It is most important for you to know what really happened here today, and it is vital that you see this side of the story.
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Sara Ahronheim is a university student in Montreal





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