By Paul Salvatori
I organized a demonstration against Eyal Dror at Toronto City University (TMU). He didn’t show up and the event he was supposed to be speaking at, hosted by the Student Support for Israel (SSI) chapter at TMU cancelled.
The demonstration was to protest what he was going to talk about—”humanitarian” work being done by the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) in Syria, although the states insists illegally.
This was part of a larger attempt by the speaker to whitewash ongoing, merciless Israeli crimes against the Palestinian people, misframing Israel as fundamentally “pathetic”. But you cannot be like that when you are engaged in such crimes.
You are a bully first.
What makes Dror’s scheduled speech particularly troubling is that he served over 20 years in the IDFin which over 10,000 Palestinians were killed and at least 2000 of them were children—mostly at the hands of the IDF.
Why was TMU, at expressly anti-oppressive mandate, allowing Dror to speak on his campus, let alone allow SSI—a virtual proxy for the settler-colonial and military force that is Israel—to have space and work on his campus? How does that fit in with progressive values or the nature of backlash?
The staff at TMU told me that SSI canceled the event on the Friday before it was due to take place (the following Monday). That’s more than enough time for the group to be publicly announced on their Facebook page, where it was advertising the eventthat it was being canceled and why.
Campus security told me and other demonstrators that SSI had “security” concerns (a TMU ombudsman confirmed to me via email), informing me of their decision to cancel. But not much more than that.
Regardless of the full reasons for the cancellation, the fact that SSI did not announce the cancellation of the event speaks volumes. It means that they have despised the community. They didn’t care that anyone saw the event being advertised on Facebook, that they made plans to attend and that they took time to do so. The most important thing for SSI is that they get their way.
Perhaps that was to ensure that other students passing by the demonstration (and there were many) did not learn about Dror’s presence and, therefore, about the whitewashing of Israel. Of course, this challenges Israel’s polished image—continually deteriorating as the Israeli truth spreads rapidly online (via alternative news outlets, responsible social media, etc.)—as a “model” democracy, while he is actually engaged in the ethnic cleansing of Palestine. .
Perhaps SSI thought this would not happen if it canceled the event. After all, we were present as counter-demonstrators and without the event happening what would be demonstrated against it? They were definitely wrong if that was the group’s thinking.
Despite the cancellation, a small but significant group of us still showed solidarity with Palestine. Not only did we draw attention to Dror’s scheduled whitewashing and the problems of having such a speaker in a school who claims to be anti-superficial, producers—of different ethnicities, nationalities, religious beliefs (including brothers and Jewish sisters who lived in Israel. and firmly oppose his violent campaign against Palestine)—raised their voices with the help of megaphones.
They called out the past and present injustices committed by Israel against Palestine, the lies it has spread publicly to maintain its “legitimacy” and the hypocrisy of mainstream culture in encouraging solidarity with Ukraine against Russia and opposing solidarity with Palestine against Israel (such as Ukraine and only Ukraine. Palestine was not brutally victimized).
This was completely non-violent and free of any shred of hatred. Likewise, if this was SSI’s “security” concern, if they were not justified in canceling the event, being so vocal and opposed to the event being hosted by him.
After the demonstration, the TMU ombudsman contacted some of the demonstrators, including me. She was sincere and wanted to know how she could communicate the demonstrators’ concerns to the TMU administration.
There needs to be more of this kind of listening at universities internationally, where people who advocate for Palestinian justice are regularly harassed, disciplined or pressured — often by administrators or “friends” of the universities, such as donors generous finances. This is an indication of the Israelis being unfairly favored by the universities than the majority of the members – from students to staff members. The latter includes the admirable desire to fight serious forms of oppression, including the crimes committed by Israel against Palestine, even when that fight is being dishonestly smeared by its opponents (e.g. .Israel calling the struggle for Palestinian justice “anti-Semitism”).
Furthermore, punishing those who stand up for Palestinian justice is tantamount to anti-Palestinian hatred. Because it embodies the message that justice, honoring Palestinians as whole people, is less important than Israel, which is committed to and regularly treats Palestinians as expendable, a “problem” to be eradicated. The message is bad and no university should agree, if it is serious about promoting human rights and the dignity of all. When he does, he relies on Israel – a state that is allowed to violently punish the Palestinians.
What is the value of a university related to this? Higher education, for the most part, is designed to help students understand how to make the world a better place, including freeing people from oppression.
That necessarily means the success of Israel, as well as similar entities, which operate according to a contradictory lie: some people are “lesser” than others.
– Paul Salvatori is a journalist, community worker and artist based in Toronto. Much of his work on Palestine relates to public education, for example through his recently created interview series, “Palestine in Perspective” (The Dark Room Podcast), where he talks to writers, scholars and activists. He contributed this article to the Palestine Chronicle.