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Pro-Palestinian students injured in clashes after Canadian university hosts far-right Israeli event

Pro-Palestinian students stormed the hall where the event was being held [Twitter]

Date of publication: 23 November, 2019

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Clashes have broken out at York University in Toronto as the pro-Palestinian student group SAIA protested an event hosted by a far-right Zionist group featuring Israeli soldiers.
Clashes have taken place between pro-Palestinian and pro-Israeli protesters at York University in the Canadian city of Toronto after the far-right Israeli advocacy group Herut Canada hosted an event featuring Israeli reserve soldiers at the university.

At least one person was injured in the clashes, which took place on Wednesday.

A pro-Palestinian group called Students Against Israeli Apartheid (SAIA) organised a protest against the event, which saw some 100 protesters wave Palestinian flags and chant slogans including “Free Free Palestine”, “Occupation is a crime”, and “Viva Viva Intifada” in the hall of the building.

They were met by pro-Israeli students, including members of the Jewish Defence League (JDL - which is considered a terrorist organization in the United States) who in respone waved Israeli flags and chanted pro-Israeli slogans.

Read more: BDS movement growing in US universities

The groups stood chanting at each other in the hall for several minutes before scuffles broke out. One Syrian refugee who was protesting with SAIA was grabbed, pushed and punched by a pro-Israeli student.

“You go to an educational platform, you do not present any type or any form of aggression, any type of hostility, violence … this is where you teach ethics, morals, knowledge,” the Canadian Jewish News reported the protester as saying.

In a statement published on their Facebook page, SAIA said that other students were also assaulted and verbally abused amid the scuffle.

“Marshals and non-violent protesters were kicked, spat on, shoved and were subjected to racist, sexist and Islamophobic slurs," the statement read. 

"One protester was choked with his scarf by a JDL gang member. A TA was punched in the head and sustained a head injury that landed him in the hospital. An indigenous student was subjected to racial slurs targeting their indigeneity. Other students were sexually harassed and threatened with sexual assault”, it added.

Herut Canada, which organised the pro-Israeli event, is a university-based movement which describes itself as representing “unapologetic Zionism”.

It is named after the Herut Party, a far-right Israeli party which was one of the current Likud Party’s predecessors. From 1948 to 1983, the Israeli Herut party was led by Menachem Begin, a former Israeli prime minister who was implicated in the 1947 Deir Yassin massacre that killed hundreds of Palestinian civilians.

Israeli soldiers from the organisation Reservists on Duty were due to speak at the event about the war in Gaza, combating Palestinian armed groups, and confronting the pro-Palestinian Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) Movement.

BDS groups including SAIA had for days tried to have the event cancelled and successfully gained support from a federal parliamentary candidate from the New Democratic Party, Jessa McLean.

SAIA said that they had protested because “the York [University] administration had allowed soldiers from an occupying army to use our campus space.”

“The Israeli military, using Herut as a vessel, has been seen actively recruiting on campuses across Canada which is, in fact, illegal,” SAIA added.

However Canadian politicians and pro-Israel lobbying groups labelled SAIA’s protest as “anti-Semitic”.

York University said that it would carry out a review on freedom of expression at universities in response to SAIA’s protest.

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