November 21, 2003
Jews at Langara resist
Israeli guest rebuked, Zionism called "apartheid."
PAT JOHNSON SPECIAL TO THE JEWISH BULLETIN
Jewish students at Langara College are demanding answers after
the student government forbade a pro-Israel guest from speaking,
just days after the college hosted a presentation titled Why Israel
is an Apartheid State.
The community college on Vancouver's West 49th Avenue had not been
a hot spot in the tensions that have developed on campuses across
Canada in the past couple of years, but recent events suggest that
Langara is a new front in the war of words over the Middle East.
The controversy began when members of the college's new Israel Advocacy
Club tried to book a room in the Langara student union building
and were refused. Kinney Butterfield, president and one of the founders
of the Israel Advocacy Club, said she made the requisite presentation
to the Langara Student Union (LSU) officials, explaining the nature
of the presentation to be made by Ishmael Khaldi, an Israeli Bedouin
who speaks about multiculturalism in Israel. The LSU, Langara's
elected student government, controls the student union building
where such events usually take place.
Student union officials refused to grant the club space in the building
on the basis that Khaldi had served in the Israeli military. Butterfield
pointed out that such a precedent would effectively ban any Israeli
citizen from speaking on Langara's campus, since Israel has mandatory
military service. Butterfield said she was told Israelis could speak
if they renounced their past affiliations with the IDF.
Langara Student Union officials did not respond to several interview
requests from the Bulletin, but a college administration official
expressed concern about the incident and a meeting may be set up
between college officials and Jewish students to discuss the atmosphere
on campus. The official stressed that the college has no authority
over LSU or its activities.
In the end, Khaldi was able to speak on campus because a sympathetic
faculty member booked a room on behalf of the club in the
college, not in the student-run union building.
Butterfield, along with Robert Morison, another founder of the Israel
Advocacy Club, said they have experienced discrimination and intimidation
on campus. Because the LSU controls almost all of the public bulletin
boards on campus, the Israel Advocacy Club has been unable to advertise
some of their events, leaving the handful of active members to hand-distribute
notices. When they have been granted permission to post notices,
Butterfield said, they were subjected to ridicule by LSU officials.
Any poster affixed to an LSU bulletin board must be approved by
an LSU official. Butterfield said that when LSU has approved postings,
they have often done so accompanied by disparaging comments, such
as implying that the posters were lies.
Butterfield and Morrison also say they were intimidated by another
student who boarded their bus. Apparently because Morrison and Butterfield
have "We stand with Israel" buttons on their backpacks,
Butterfield said the other student took a button reading "Globalize
the intifada" off his own backpack, placed it on his shirt
and stared menacingly at them.
The booking dispute seems likely to be the beginning, not the end,
of problems on the college campus, but Jewish students are better
prepared this year than last to respond to discrimination or harassment
As a result of deep divisions on Canadian campuses, including violent
clashes at Montreal's Concordia University, national Jewish organizations
and individual donors have made funds available to Jewish campus
groups like Hillel, which operates primarily out of the University
of British Columbia campus.
Eyal Lichtmann, director of Hillel Vancouver, said the Langara occurrence
is a worrisome development on a campus where little conflict was
"What we have at Langara now is what we have at SFU,"
said Lichtmann, referring to the Simon Fraser University campus,
which had been criticized as increasingly inhospitable to Jewish
students last year, due to a series of hostile anti-Israeli newspaper
articles and events. A less hostile student government was elected
this year. After a successful Israel Week at both Simon Fraser and
UBC last year, Jewish students on those campuses were encouraged
by the response they received from fellow students. Perhaps because
of the increased activism of Hillel, anti-Israel activism has moved
out from the larger university campuses into smaller community colleges.
Lichtmann speculates this may be a strategy based on the assumption
that there are fewer Jewish students at smaller institutions. Lichtmann
thinks the strong response launched by Butterfield, Morrison and
their club took the anti-Israel activists by surprise.
"They didn't expect us to organize there," he said.
Lichtmann commended the Langara Israel Advocacy Club members for
what he called their mature, responsible approach to the difficulties.
He also insisted that Jewish and other Zionist students have been
able to respond to such incidents with greater strength because
of additional funding Hillel Vancouver received in the past year,
which has permitted the creation of two new staff positions, including
an outreach co-ordinator and a director of Israel affairs.
Under a surprising new deal reached last month, the structure of
Canada's national Jewish organizations will be massively altered
and a new Council for Israel and Jewish Advocacy (CIJA) has been
created. Part of the impetus for the reorganization was a feeling
that more advocacy needed to be done across Canada, but a significant
part of the new structure is aimed directly at advocacy on campuses,
where some of the most alarming anti-Zionist and anti-Semitic rhetoric
Pat Johnson is a native Vancouverite, a journalist and