Saturday, February 28, 2009
I wake up screaming. Only to discover that I haven't been sleeping.*
*A very pleasant woman from the Canada-Israel Committee was recently in touch with me to offer an all-expense-paid week in Israel in late March. It was to be a bloggers' trip, with the opportunity to meet Israeli political bloggers. I would have jumped at it, even though the West Bank wasn't included (it's considered too dangerous). Alas, this came smack in the middle of my lamentably-delayed studies, and I had to beg off.
Subsequently a little bird in the blogosphere let me know who else had been invited. And now I believe in a God, if only a God of circumstances.
Friday, February 27, 2009
My, what a coincidence. A cooperation treaty between Canada and Poland, which enabled the RCMP to go on a dirt-gathering expedition to Robert Dziekanski's home town in Poland, was unilaterally suspended by the Harper government as soon as the cops returned.
This will effectively block any attempt by Poland to gather information for possible charges against the four officers involved in Dziekanski's death, presently sweating under the bright light of the Braidwood Inquiry.
With the usual transparency, a Department of Justice spokeswoman stated: "Communications between Canada and a foreign country are confidential. As such, it would be inappropriate to comment on the specific circumstances of this or any other matter."
Good to have friends in high places about now.
Academic freedom is under major assault on university campuses in Ontario.
First it was McMaster University, banning the phrase "Israeli apartheid" from the campus last year. Then there was a major behind-the-scenes effort by University of Toronto officialdom to squelch a campus Palestinian solidarity conference.
Now the virus has spread to Ottawa.
Yesterday I was privileged to join a protest at Carleton University against an administration that is determined to stifle criticism of Israeli foreign policy on campus. In an unprecedented attack on freedom of expression, the administration has threatened students with expulsion for speaking out against Israel's policies in Gaza and the West Bank; torn down posters advertising the upcoming Israeli Apartheid Week [see above]; and sent its security goons to confiscate a milder form of the poster from a student literature table.
We handed in a letter to the President, Roseann Runte. She had no wish to engage. "You've been heard," she said, and scuttled back into her office.
The virus has spread further, to the nearby campus of the University of Ottawa. The same poster had been officially approved for putting up around the campus, but the administration, following suit with Carleton, changed its mind and banned the poster as well.
By no coincidence, the presidents of both universities have been recent recipients of lavish hospitality tours of Israel.
The usual lies about "anti-Semitism" are duly being trotted out, even though some of the loudest critics of current Israeli policies are Jews. Evidently we're not supposed to mention the civilian death toll at the hands of the IDF in Gaza, for example. It's the Blood Libel, you see. And the rote arguments against the notion of "apartheid" applying to Israel are sprouting up, in the official student newspaper at Carleton and in the mainstream press.
The executive director of Hillel Ottawa, Alana Kayfetz, said other universities should follow Carleton's lead. B'nai Brith has called for even tougher measures, demanding that campus "Israeli Apartheid Week" activities be banned outright.
We had nothing to do with the posters being taken down. Our students felt uncomfortable with them, and we said, any time a student feels uncomfortable with anything at all, they're supposed to go to equity services, and go to security. Students complained and the university took action." [Emphasis added]
Carleton's Israeli apartheid week will go on, but closely monitored by university officials to ensure that the discussions are "respectful."
Good grief, bring the bubble-wrap. Shut down the dangerous playground of ideas. Nothing must disturb the world-view of any pro-Israel student, lest he or she suffer a mental bruise. And thus it is decreed that comfort and respect will now be enforced where rough debate once raged. It's almost enough to make me join the Speech Warriors™--had they not been sitting this one out.
[Give the universities a (polite) piece of your mind. Email Carleton University President Roseann Runte, and copy Students Against Israeli Apartheid. Email the University of Ottawa President, Allan Rock, and copy the Students for Palestinian Human Rights.]
In his second day of testimony, Constable Bill Bentley changed his story yet again.
Bentley had initially testified that he had feared for his safety when Robert Dziekanski turned and walked away from the officers. He had interpreted that as defiance, he said. But as the lawyer for the Polish government, Don Rosenbloom, pointed out, Cpl. Benjamin Robinson had warned Dziekanski away from his luggage (where he'd stowed his passport), and signaled with a clear hand-gesture to move towards the counter. Bentley was forced to concede that this was the case.
In other words, Dziekanski was doing what he was told--in police language, he was being "compliant." Yet the day before, that very move was held to be non-compliance--and, according to Constable Gerry Rundel, who testified earlier, sufficient justification for a Tasering.
None of this was in Bentley's police notes. Instead, they referred to a combative Dziekanski who ran towards the officers screaming. On his first day of testimony, he insisted that he was in fear of his life, but admitted that his notes were in error. And now he has had to admit that Dziekanski was being compliant after all.
The exhausted Dziekanski must have been terrified as the officers advanced on him. They obviously meant business. Indeed, the lawyer for the Dziekanski family, Walter Kosteckyj (a former RCMP officer himself), got him to admit that the officers had arrived at the airport pumped for a fight. In a deadly error of judgement, Dziekanski grabbed a stapler (which, in another lapse of police procedure, was not recovered from the scene) and held it up to his chest--he didn't "brandish" it or "wave" it--in what could well have been an instinctive defensive move.
Despite established procedure, which calls for a warning before a Taser is used, no warning was given. Kwesi Millington, the man with the stun-gun, just zapped, and zapped and zapped--five times in all. Dziekanski passed out after the officers leapt on him and Millington delivered more jolts. Bentley thought he was faking it. "But when he turned blue, I realized it wasn’t an act." Instead of administering first aid, Bentley started taking pictures and interviewing witnesses.
More inconsistencies were exposed. It had been claimed earlier that the first Taser jolt didn't drop Dziekanski, and that a second one, therefore, was necessary. Corporal Robinson, the man in charge, told Constable Kwesi Millington, who had deployed the Taser, to "hit him again." But Bentley, under cross-examination, admitted that the first shot put Dziekanski on the ground in six seconds--although the order for a second shot might have come before he actually hit the floor.
"So the second Taser shot was not necessary?" asked Don Rosenbloom, the lawyer for the Polish government.
"Yes, perhaps," said Bentley.
He then had to concede that his formal police statement might have been wrong in stating that Dziekanski was brought down by two of the officers because he was "fighting through" the Tasering. Rosenbloom pointed out that, after a 50,000 volt electric shock, Dziekanski would have lost control of his muscles. The look on his face, and his screams, could have resulted from the pain the Taser caused, the lawyer suggested.
And then, another twist: under cross-examination by Rosenbloom, Bentley revealed that the four officers had got together for a "debriefing" a few weeks later to compare notes--apparently after the video was released. This came as a surprise to Inquiry counsel Art Vertlieb, who has now asked for all records of that meeting.
Asked earlier by the Dziekanski family's lawyer if there had been a cover-up, Bentley denied it. Yes, he had changed his statement after the video came out, but just "to set the record straight."
Some record. Some straightening.
Monday: Constable Kwesi Millington, the man with the Taser, will be on the stand.
Thursday, February 26, 2009
Dziekanski, he said then, was running at the officers, screaming. Now, with the video plainly refuting that nonsense, he has revised his position (as reported here): Dziekanski "actually appeared calm and cooperative and wasn't doing anything as the officers approached." Quite a revision.
Bentley testified that he saw Dziekanski's face turn blue after being Tasered. Despite having first aid training, however, he never thought to check his pulse.
One key point about that stapler: despite reports that Dziekanski "brandished" it, justifying a Tasering, the evidence is that he merely picked it up and held it to his body, possibly defensively. His arm swung up--but only after the first 50,000-volt electric shock. Bentley claims that he "waved" it, but this contradicts Rundel's earlier testimony that he was holding it to his chest.
Bentley's lawyer, David Butcher, is worried that tapes and transcripts of the Inquiry might be used by the Polish government to prosecute the four officers. A motion to prevent the materials from leaving the country will be heard later on by Thomas Braidwood. The last thing that these officers want, it would seem, is a criminal trial. And given what we've heard so far, no wonder.
Wednesday, February 25, 2009
How frightfully clever! An ageing enfant terrible who wrote for a couple of screechy rightwing rags that tanked, and writes now for one that's about to, has dissed baby boomers. Why, that's never been done before.
Here's what might laughingly be called the money quote:
These are people who started their working lives at a time when labour unions were strong, taxpayers outnumbered retirees nearly 10 to one, housing was as cheap as borscht and the basic personal exemption covered most of a living wage. They congratulated themselves on building an elaborate "social safety net" at the expense of their children. Their great numbers have allowed their preferences and superstitions to dominate culture and media. They're the ones who burned through tonnes of pot and then launched a War on Drugs when they grew bored with it; they drove mighty-bowelled Mustangs and Thunderbirds in their youth, and only started worrying about the environment when they no longer needed a capacious backseat to fornicate in; they espoused and took full advantage of sexual liberation, but were safely hors de combat by the time AIDS reared its head. The first time I see one shopping for dog food, I doubt I'll be able to suppress a laugh.
Like all of those who think in categories because it's less taxing, Cosh sees my generation (for I must declare interest here) as All One Thing--like Muslims, for example, or immigrants, or whatever haine du jour fills the nooks and crannies of the conservative mind these days.
But it wasn't, of course. The preppy right-wing types who always prowled among us, running our student councils and organizing homecoming dances and taking commerce and engineering degrees and inventing disco because it was music they could understand, are conflated in his article with the dopesmokers, anti-war activists, creative writers, civil rights workers, blues guitarists and scientists who put their stamp on my generation. It was the former who launched wars, not merely on drugs, but on long hair, compassion, dreams, Third World countries and non-white immigration. It was the latter who were never in the ascendancy, but we made them think we were for a while, which was great fun while it lasted.
I drove my parents' VW bus, then didn't drive at all for a while, and finally ended up with a Toyota Corolla in my declining years. Mustangs and Thunderbirds? Those were for the fratboys and engineers. They needed those cars to pick up girls. Meanwhile, we male bohemians, radicals and deviants were being picked up by girls. Setting aside the sexual liberation that wasn't--which rightfully gave rise to a market correction called second-wave feminism--we simply had more of everything that mattered.
No use fulminating now, Colby. Most of us are actually doing pretty well, living on decent pensions while the economy you whiz kids built upon the solid rock of unfettered capitalism is falling apart. Some of us, certainly, are collateral damage in your war against regulation (when aren't you guys at war with something or someone?), and for that you have much to answer for. But luckily the remnants of that social safety net we built are preventing total catastrophe for your victims.
We greet the world with a smile every morning. We buy dogfood, but for our dogs. We tell our kids the truth: the economy will right itself in a year or two, because even conservatives will resort to socialism when they're in a jam. We'll tell ourselves that Schadenfreude is never nice, because we were brought up that way, but we'll feel it keenly nonetheless, when the smart-ass right wingers who helped get us into this mess, or at least promoted the values and ideology that caused it, are unemployed, many probably unemployable, and they're hauling out the begging bowls.
While you're pounding the pavement with fellow chômeur Rick McGinnis, give a thought to the money and services you'll be receiving, from EI to medicare. That's the social safety net you've been sneering at, oh-so-wittily placing the phrase in shudder-quotes. That's where my taxes have been going for decades. It will be too much to expect thanks, of course: but frankly, knowing that you're benefiting will be satisfaction enough. Have a nice life, Colby. God knows we've paid dearly for it.
...and send a little money his way to help him buy a plane ticket home.
Dear Mr. Abdelrazik:
I am enclosing a token contribution to assist in purchasing an airline ticket home.
As one of your fellow citizens, I am sickened by the actions of our government and Foreign Affairs officials in their treatment of you.
The government has apparently warned that helping you out in this way is illegal. If they are serious about this, they know where to find me.
All the best, and, in the near future I hope, Bon voyage and happy landings.
UPDATE: (February 25) As of this writing the Facebook group has a whopping 22 members. Come on, "progressives," stand up and be counted!
Meanwhile the Globe and Mail, in an otherwise sound editorial yesterday, described Abdelrazik as "a citizen, if not an ideal one." Readers are invited to speculate: what does the editorialist think is less than "ideal" about him? Better still, why not write to the Globe to ask? Send an inquiry to the editor.
UPPERDATE: For those with Facebook issues, just send a donation directly to Abousfian Abdelrazik, c/o The Embassy of Canada, PO Box 10503, Khartoum, Sudan.
Defending this suggestion was the bare-knuckled authoritarian Julian Fantino, Chief of the Ontario Provincial Police, standing shoulder-to-shoulder with Charles Momy, head of the Canadian Police Association. When he was just the President of the Ottawa Police Association, Momy distinguished himself by threatening to sue a man who had been brutalized by two Ottawa Police officers and had the temerity to complain too publicly about it. Both leaders, it is safe to say, have a less than perfect commitment to principles of democracy and accountability.
Fantino claimed that there are "150 studies" that show Tasers are perfectly safe. But, like Sarah Palin and her news sources, he couldn't name even one.
It's salutary for Canadians to obtain these fascinating if repellent glimpses into the minds of some police officers and the people who lead them. I suspect, as the Braidwood Inquiry progresses, that we shall be afforded many more. The question is, however, what are we going to do about these "serve and protect" folks when there are no effective means of forcing public accountability on a regular basis, laughably inefficient internal controls, and differential treatment by the judicial system?
Quis custodiet ipsos custodes, indeed. A good question, as always--and no answer in sight.
That famous stapler that no one can see on the video of the event became the focus of discussion. According to Rundel, it was a weapon, about to be deployed by Robert Dziekanski on the four officers who were confronting him.
Rundel has changed his statement about the stapler, as it happens. He had earlier claimed that Dziekanski had raised it over his head: that proved to be a lie, however, as the video subsequently showed.
Asked if Dziejkanski was told to put down the stapler, Rundel replied: "Time did not allow that."
Might Dziekanski have been afraid of the four armed and uniformed men who were closing in on him? Rundel said, "Now that I have had the opportunity to look back at the video prior to us arriving and the information that has been since received, it's possible he was frightened, yes."
One must ask, once again, what training RCMP officers actually receive prior to being given badges and weapons. First, with respect to the rights of civilians. And secondly, on how to read the glaringly obvious.
I'd missed this story on Saturday, but it seems that the Canada Revenue Agency has determined that Edmonton's not-for-profit Pride Centre, which provides support for gay and lesbian people in the community, is "too political" for charitable status.
Meanwhile the Fraser Institute has charitable status. Ditto the militantly anti-gay Focus on the Family. The "outspoken" (read: bigoted) Bishop Fred Henry was permitted to make blatantly political statements during an election, with no tax consequences for his diocese.
But a gay community centre--well, that's different.
We are in the grip of a recession, and donations to the Pride Centre have dropped off, making things difficult--but not impossible. The revocation of charitable status on top of that, however, means almost certainly that it will be forced to close. It has about a month of funding left.
Sounds like the Canada Revenue Agency may be just a little too political itself.
[H/t Slap Upside the Head]
Tuesday, February 24, 2009
Asked to describe what he saw on the video, [Dziekanski family lawyer] Mr. Kosteckyj replied: "I would describe it as something that will be shown to police academies around North America as not the way to intervene in this kind of situation."
Police have described a much more measured response in which officers gave a wildly agitated Mr. Dziekanski two jolts from a taser just to subdue him long enough to put handcuffs on him. The RCMP say they too have videos, but they can't be released because an investigation is under way. [emphasis added]
RCMP Constable Gerry Rundel was first up. And his testimony provides a glimpse into the attitudes of some police officers towards their jobs, Taser use and the public they are supposedly sworn to protect.
When the four officers descended upon the Vancouver Airport, they had no game plan, Const. Rundel stated. He himself was informed that Dziekanski spoke no English, but didn't think to share this information with the other officers. In any case, as reported in the Globe and Mail, Rundel didn't believe Dziekanski's lack of English was a barrier to communications.
Rundell's thinking during the incident itself was exposed to the light by the media today, and those reports make disquieting reading.
Rundel stated that it all began when Dziekanski reached for his luggage. The officer in charge, Cpl. Benjamin Robinson*, barked "No!" and gestured for Dziekanski to stop--which he did. Dziekanski then turned, lifted his hands in the air and started to walk away.
According to Rundel, this made Dziekanski fair game. Somehow, flipping up his hands, turning around and leaving was disobeying a direction from Cpl. Robinson: it was resistant behaviour," he said. According to Rundel, this was a "to hell with you guys" gesture, amounting to what the officer deemed "non-compliance."
"Non-compliance?" What compliance was required? Was he under arrest? In the mind of Const. Rundel, however, this alone would justify the use of a Taser. Never turn your back on the RCMP.
When Dziekanski finally turned around to face the four officers, with a stapler in his hand, he was Tasered, but as Rundel indicated, the intent to Taser, at least in his mind, was already fully formed. "Hit him again," Cpl. Robinson shouted, and Dziekanski, already in pain and shock, was duly zapped once more.
The rest is tragedy. No doubt as the inquiry progresses there will be other such insights into the mentality of the Mounties who got their man.
UPDATE: More. [via The Gazetteer]
Rundel took long pauses when asked repeatedly by Patrick McGowan, a commission lawyer, what command Dziekanski disobeyed that made officers conclude he was resistant.
McGowan noted that Dziekanski stopped moving toward his luggage when he was ordered to.
Rundel eventually replied that Dziekanski "indirectly" disobeyed the officers when he walked away because he should have known they were police and should have stood still.
Rundel was shown a video of the incident, taken by a witness, and asked to point out when Dziekanski lifted the stapler in an aggressive manner, but he could not. [Emphasis added]
*Robinson is currently facing impaired driving charges in connection with the death of a motorcyclist.
Monday, February 23, 2009
This weekend I was accused of it by a professor at UNB because I had been critical of Peter Kent's unseemly intervention in the matter of the recent attack on a Caracas synagogue. Then commenter Jay Currie accused commenter "psa" of it--read the thread for yourself and weep. (Don't feel badly, "psa": Currie has called me an anti-Semite too.) Now CUPE-Ontario is in the news again for passing a resolution in support of institutional boycotts and divestment campaigns against the state of Israel. And Warren Kinsella is all over that one:
With this move, they have embraced bigotry and anti-Semitism. That is so obvious, it isn't even worth debating, now.
As some of you have observed, however, I'm not into small talk about bigotry. I prefer action. I think we need to show CUPE there are consequences for this one.
First, actively seek to decertify the union, as it has arguably violated its own charter and organized labour charters to which it is a signatory. Second, petition for the termination of collective agreements entered into between CUPE and post-secondary institutions, on the grounds that publicly-funded institutions are not permitted to have contractual relations with entities which actively discriminate. Finally, bring human rights code complaints against them, in as many jurisdictions as possible, because that is the best and most logical forum to confront an outrage like this one.
The resolution reads:
CUPE Ontario will:
1. With Palestine solidarity and human rights organizations, develop an education campaign about the apartheid nature of the Israeli state and the political and economic support of Canada for these practices.
2. Support the international campaign of boycott, divestment and sanctions until Israel meets its obligation to recognize the Palestinian people's inalienable right to self-determination and fully complies with the precepts of international law including the right of Palestinian refugees to return to their homes and properties as stipulated in UN resolution 194.
3. Call on CUPE National to commit to research into Canadian involvement in the occupation and call on the CLC to join us in lobbying against the apartheid-like practices of the Israeli state and call for the immediate dismantling of the wall.
· The Israeli Apartheid Wall has been condemned and determined illegal under international law.
· Over 170 Palestinian political parties, unions and other organization including the Palestinian General Federation of Trade Unions issued a call in July 2005 for a global campaign of boycotts and divestment against Israel similar to those imposed against South African Apartheid.
· CUPE BC has firmly and vocally condemned the occupation of Palestine and have initiated an education campaign about the apartheid-like practices of the Israeli state.
This resolution, as it turns out, has gained support from people who might be somewhat surprised to learn that they are bigots and anti-Semites.
There has been, of course, inflamed rhetoric on both sides when the Middle East is the subject of discussion: there have been too many statements made in anger. But again, there is little even-handedness in the criticism that follows. Over-the-top references to Israel's actions in Gaza as a "holocaust," for example, have been denounced as "anti-Semitic." But, of course, it's only "anti-Semitic" if we do it. An Israeli Deputy* Minister of Defence can threaten a "bigger holocaust" in Gaza, and the Usual Suspects fall all over themselves trying to parse his words. (What part of "shoah" do they fail to understand?)
I don't want to delve once more into the evolution of the term. I really can't add much to what I have written here and here. The device has proven, in the recent past, to be very effective in stifling debate and putting critics of Israel on the defensive. But at this point its overuse has rendered it nearly meaningless--it's devolved, in fact, into little more than a synonym for "poopy-head."
Meanwhile there are real anti-Semites around, who need that label hung around their necks like an anchor. Such as the person who has recorded this sort of thing:
Lest your mind automatically reject the words of Hitler out of some political reflexive habit, remember that he witnessed the decline and fall of another multi-cultural state, the Austro-Hungarian Empire, so he knows what he's taking [sic] about...
Here it is,
But the author in question is, alas, untouchable.
ERRATUM: The resolution quoted above is Resolution 50, no less controversial at the time, but passed in May, 2006. The resolution just adopted is described as an "adjunct" to Resolution 50. While I have not located the exact text, it focuses upon collaborative research on weaponry. As reported:
CUPE university workers will be urged to examine the education and research ties of their own institutions with ones in Israel. If members learn their universities collaborate with Israeli universities engaged in weapons research, they are encouraged — but not forced — to mount a boycott campaign.
Ryan said CUPE will also investigate whether its pension plans are investing in companies developing weapons in Israel which could be used against the Palestinians.
*Reader shlemazl notes that the official in question was not the Minister of Defence, but the Deputy Minister.
The Globe and Mail's Paul Koring is hammering at the Abousfian Abdelrazik case again this morning. Abdelrazik, about whom I have posted before, is a Canadian presently marooned in Sudan. He is accused of no crime, but he's been left to twist in the wind for more than five years now by unscrupulous Foreign Affairs officials, the previous Liberal government*, and now the Harper government.
The latest wrinkle in what can only be described as procedural turpitude by the Conservative regime is to offer Abdelrazik--finally--an emergency passport to get him back to Canada. But there's a sadistic catch to it.
To qualify for the passport, he is required to present a fully-paid-for airline ticket. He has no money. The government has warned, however, that it's illegal for anyone to give him the money, under catch-all "anti-terrorist" regulations--despite his having been cleared of any terrorist connections by both the Sudanese government and the RCMP.
As Koring notes, the government had previously offered him the passport if he could obtain an airplane reservation. He did just that last Fall, but then-Minister of Foreign Affairs David Emerson and the weasels in his ministry withheld the promised document and "declined to explain."
And now this latest vicious Catch-22 by a government for whom dark-skinned "Canadians" (to use the shudder-quotes employed by Blogging Tory Raphael Alexander) evidently aren't real Canadians at all. Too bad, as I've said before, that Abousfian Abdelrazik wasn't named "Brenda Martin."
No word as yet from human rights scholar Michael Ignatieff.
*Commenter "Sitsonsix" rightly notes that Abdelrazik's predicament did not begin with the Conservatives: I have made the needed correction above. But the cruel cat-and-mouse games that have been played over the past few months are entirely the responsibility of the Harper government.
Sunday, February 22, 2009
In any case, he checked out a recent post of mine about Peter Kent, and wrote a post of his own entitled: "Dr. Dawg criticizes Peter Kent for his denouncing of synagogue vandalizim." Here are a couple of extracts:
Dr. Dawg, in this rather facile post, conjures up the hypothetical situation of multi-syngogue vandalism taking place in this country -- and that Canadiaans would resent other countries criticisng us for anti-Ssemitic acts going on in this country....
Dr. Dawg's posts are a classic example of "soft", left-wing based anti-Semitism. That is, the voice opposition to criticism of anti-Setmic acts.
He followed this up with a post bearing the title: "Sorry! The mispelled (sic) word is 'vandalism.'"
Tomorrow, presumably, he's back in the classroom.
Police were also summoned after a Jewish student was physically assaulted on campus after confronting a group protesting Israeli polices [sic]. It's the latter...that is most illuminating. I haven't been able to verify that it happened at all; everyone I spoke to said that they'd heard about it, but had nothing to offer beyond hearsay and rumour. Nevertheless, the reports of a student being assaulted, even if it was only a minor scuffle, has the Jewish community at York rattled, and rightly so. Such an assault would cross a line that has been very much thinned by the recent heated protests, but which has remained a line nonetheless. If it has been crossed, then it's a whole new ball game, and it speaks to how poisonous the York campus has become for Jews that they are so readily willing to accept this unconfirmed story. No one is shocked at the thought. Indeed, the prevailing sense is one of resignation, of knowing that it was bound to happen sooner or later. Whether or not it has is almost immaterial in that sense – the fact that so many of York's Jewish students feel it could happen is proof enough of a ruinous environment and a fundamentally broken relationship between the students and their university.--Matt Gurney, National Post
I've been fascinated by the tangled tale--tales, rather--about what happened at York University on February 11. And for some reason I'm reminded of Kafka's story of the giant mole that exists only in pamphlets and comments, and Akira Kurasawa's masterpiece, with all of the contradictory witnesses and their competing narratives, which I'll get to in a moment.
I juxtapose an excerpt from Kafka with a piece by Matt Gurney in the National Post because in some ways they are so strikingly similar. Just as the mole never appears in the Kafka story, only a growing (and conflicting) series of accounts of it, so too is the case with a widely-reported incident on the York campus before the February 11 imbroglio. In fact, Gurney, perhaps unwittingly, espouses a surprisingly postmodern view of the construction of history: there are no underlying "objective" events, only accounts of events, and, indeed, the issue of whether an event "really happened" is immaterial.
Back to Kurasawa. I've always thought that Rashomon was about the construction of history, too, and it was pretty postmodern stuff for 1950. And Kafka was at it 35 years earlier. I've seen this sort of thing on the ground, on the West Indian island of Bequia, where no event, however recent, seemed grounded, where no two stories about an occurrence ever seemed to jibe. In fact they were sometimes startlingly different. The characters, the when and where, the supposedly solid details of "something that happened" all shifted and blurred.
This is the quicksand upon which we build our authoritative accounts. And nowhere is that quicksand more treacherous than university campuses when the Middle East comes up for, well, discussion.
I'm not making light of the passions involved. Readers know that I can wax passionate on the subject myself. But this is not an article about the Middle East. Rather, my intent is to sketch out the radical uncertainty at the heart of what we are pleased to call "events," and the manner in which conflicting accounts are inevitably swept up into larger narratives. In a very real sense, we can watch history being made when we look at the discourses of February 12th at York University. And, like the proverbial sausage, the knowledge can make one queasy.
I just happen to like sausages.
Note on method: except to explain references, I am letting others tell their own stories, with a minimum of commentary on my part. I'll write an ending, if not a conclusion.
A Jewish student.
Anyways, as I arrived at the Hillel [a campus club for Jewish students --DD] I was told that a press conference was to be held on the 3rd floor of the Student Center in regards to the Drop YFS [York Federation of students --DD] campaign. A campaign where numerous student groups on campus, some of which are Jewish got together and collected signatures from over 10% of the student population, which is somewhere between 40,000 - 50,000 students, in order to impeach the current student government over their support of the union which went on strike in November and effectively locked-out all students on campus for 3 months.
The student government on the other hand went on the defensive and stated that the reason why the groups involved with the petition to rid them from office was because we as Jews were upset that they passed a resolution condemning Israel for their action in Gaza. Keep in mind that a large majority of the student government is comprised of students who are pro-Palestinian, anti-Israel supporters. The petition did not come about for that reason, while outside politics should not be something that a student government should concern themselves with during a strike which is keeping students out of classes, the petition came about because of the lack of action and commitment to the students during the strike.
So anyways, the Drop YFS campaign was successful and the required signatures were collected, and as a result of the strike, the local media who is constantly interested with the University and will probably be so for the rest of this school year, were invited to a press conference to talk about the campaign and what was done. The press conference as mentioned earlier was being held in a smaller room in the Student Center that may have had a maximum capacity of 50-60 individuals in a standing room style setting. The press conference was open to any and all students who wished to attend and quickly the room began to fill and when it reached capacity there were still close to 100 more students outside who wanted to come in, and the crowd was growing.
While the next bit of information may seem irrelevant, trust me it is.
Anyways, of those who were inside the room the composition of those inside was a mix of students, there were Jewish students, African Canadian students, South Asian students, Asian students, and Middle Eastern students. As the crowd outside became unruly, it became apparent that the crowd outside were students who would consider themselves pro-Palestinian supporters, and were the same students who opposed the Drop YFS campaign. Of those who were inside the room there was a mixed group of pro-Israeli and pro-Palestinian students of which from both groups some were pro-Drop YFS and some were anti-Drop YFS. But with help from some students, the mob was held back at the door for fear of a fire hazard and it was decided that the press conference was to begin.
Also, just before the press conference started, a Middle Easter pro-Palestinian supporter shouted out loud right next to me, "Let the Colored people in." To which an African Canadian student showed her disgust with this comment and stated to a friend of mine that maybe this pro-Palestinian supporter also wants to place them in the back corner as well. And, after this pro-Palestinian supporter made this comment he followed it up with, "Maybe if my friends bleach their skin they'll be let inside." This comment grew equal disgust as the first by the other students standing around him.
Two minutes into the press conference, loud shouts from outside the room of "Let us in!" and "Zionism is racism," with heavy banging on the walls prompted an immediate halt to the press conference, out of fear that the room may be rushed and people may be hurt. A reasonable response for the situation that was occurring outside of this room.
Now let me preface the rest with me saying that I am a big supporter of free speech and I don't care if there students on campus who wish to support Palestine and even shout anti-Israel slogans but with what happened next went a step beyond free speech and what was said and the actions taken by this individuals bordered on hate speech and discrimination.
As the room was letting out numerous students with cameras, as well as media present, were taking pictures of what was going on outside of the room where the press conference was being held. I myself who always has a camera and likes taking pictures of these types of events proceeded to do the same. The Middle Eastern student who was shouting the racial slurs earlier stepped in front of where I was taking pictures/videos of what was occurring and when he realized what I was doing, and I believe it was only because I was wearing my Yarmulke (Jewish skull cap), he told me that if I take his picture, that he will take my camera and smash it. He only issued this threat to me and no other student so I believe I am fair to state that this threat to break my camera was only done so because I was Jewish and that I am therefore guilty due to association.
So as the Jewish students proceeded up the stairs to the Hillel lounge the crowd that gathered proceeded to shout anti-Israel slogans at us such as "Zionism is Racism." To which I did not care because like I said, in the nature of free speech, each person is entitled to it, and did not think anything of it. And, about ten minutes later is when things began to grow really ugly.
As the mob did not disperse, on the third floor, a worker in the Hillel decided that it was best to lock the door of the Hillel, and only let the Jewish students inside until the crowd thinned out, just to be on the safe side. Not thinking that anything was going to happen, the students in the Hillel lounge went about there typical business, sitting around and doing school work. Ten minutes passed, and before anyone realized what was happening, the mob that was outside the press conference on the third floor was outside the Hillel office on the fourth floor. The students outside of the Hillel were shouting louder their anti-Israel slogans and banging on the floor and walls so hard that the lights outside the Hillel were flickering. As the students in Hillel began to grow uneasy and the feeling of being safe was diminishing, York security was called in to try and help break up the crowd but as any student who has been to York knows, the campus security is severely limited on the force that they can use and they were unable to break up the crowd. And, as a result we were encouraged by Hillel staff to call the Toronto Police to help disperse the crowd. Some students who had the local non-emergency number called that one but as panic was setting in with other students some called 911 as they were truly scared for their safety.
Just as Toronto Police were arriving on campus, one pro-Palestinian student stood at the glass door of the Hillel, visible to the students in the Hillel, with his Kaffeiyah scarf pulled all the way up to his eyes. This is a tactic used by terrorist organizations such as Hamas and al-Qaeda to intimidate others, and quite frankly I was completely taken off-guard by the sight of this student and at that point fear began to trickle into me as well. This is something that goes beyond free speech and being anti-Israel and is tantamount to racism and discrimination. As the police arrived they stated that in a situation like this there is nothing they can do as they did not feel that there was an actual threat of violence, however, it was their belief that the possibility remained. They then told us that because they could not stand watch at the door all night, that it was highly recommended that we vacate the lounge immediately and they would assist us with safe passage through the crowd so as to prevent anything from occurring. And as 20 Jewish student walked single file through this unruly mob, they were pointing, laughing and chanting that we were "Racists on Campus!"
The interesting thing is this, while all of this occurred, primarily because of the press conference, there was media present watching all of this. Of the three members of the press present one was the Excalibur, the largest campus newspaper, whose editorial board tends to be considered slightly pro-Palestinian, a smaller college affiliated paper was there and The Globe and Mail was there, which is a Canadian national newspaper. All three especially the national newspaper but more interestingly, the campus newspaper showed their complete disgust with what happened outside both the press conference and the Hillel.
I reprinted most of this account, lengthy as it is, because it contains all of the elements that have been taken up in other accounts. The three-month strike at York caused a lot of resentment. The York Federation of Students (the student council) allegedly endorsed the strike--it says it didn't, mind you, referring us to this statement in November (see end of third paragraph)--and a student movement to impeach the lot of them gained some traction on campus.
The YFS also passed a resolution condemning Israel for the recent carnage in Gaza. The two issues became inextricably entangled.
A British blogger.
The press conference was cancelled. “It was way too loud and it was disturbing,” he said. Members of the “Drop YFS” coalition moved upstairs to the Jewish Student Center and were followed by a crowd of chanting protesters. One pro-Israel student described “pro-Palestinian thugs gathered outside the Hillel office, some covering their faces with keffiyahs, chanting hateful statements and using intimidation” in a description posted on Facebook. Matthew Harris [vice-president of the Jewish student club on campus --DD] described Jewish students “barricaded” inside the room.
Campus security and Toronto Police were called and students were escorted safely out of the building. Harris alleges that the York Federation of Students hopes to obfuscate the reasons behind the petition calling for the recall of the executive by connecting it to the issue of Israel and Palestine. He asserts the Federation tried to paint those circulating the petition as pro-Israel lobbyists trying to usurp control from a pro-Palestinian council. “[The student government] tried to convince students that it wasn’t about undergraduate representation, but rather that it was about the Gaza issue,” Harris said. But “it had much more to do with the YFS’s support for CUPE during the strike,” Harris said.
At a rally in solidarity with Palestinians on Thursday, a member of the York Federation of Students refuted Harris’s account. “Ever since these individuals involved in the Drop YFS coalition started their campaign there has been an increase in racism and many other forms of discrimination on our campus,” said Krisna Saravanamuttu, the YFS vice president for equity. Saravanamuttu described the gathering that disrupted the press conference Wednesday night as a protest against “racism, Islamophobia, homophobia, and sexism that we’ve seen on our campus in the last two weeks.” The protesting students simply wanted to be a part of the pres conference, Saravanamuttu said. “They just wanted to have their voices heard,” he said.“There was no anti-Semitism involved with yesterday’s protest. It was a peaceful demonstration,” he said, adding that no one blocked access in or out of the Jewish student center. Saravanamuttu said that most people believe that the Drop YFS campaign is a response by pro-Israel student groups to a YFS resolution denouncing the recent Israeli incursion into Gaza.
Dawg's Blawg commenter "forgottobuytinfoil."
OK, this just pisses me off. On January 22, the York Federation of Students affiliated itself with the Right To Education campaign to condemn Israeli attacks on Palestinian educational institutions. http://www.caiaweb.org/node/1091 By the 26th of January a Drop YFS campaign is forming, ostensibly to protest their support for the strike, but building around anger over their support for Gaza. http://secondgenerationradical.blogmatrix.com/:entry:secondgenerationradical-2009-01-26-0003/ By sometime last week, people are yelling at the YFS president; once girl calls out, "I fucking hate you!" This is indavertently documented in an over-cooked propaganda video. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=64kOcqRtOOw&feature=related Yesterday, members of the Drop YFS campaign announce their completed petition to depose the YFS leadership, but get yelled at themselves and take shelter at the Hillel centre, complaining of anti-Semitism. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=64kOcqRtOOw&feature=related Why does this piss me off? Because I dislike mendacity.
The student newspaper.
“The students united will never be defeated!” No truer words have ever been spoken or chanted from the top of someone’s lungs –seriously or in a half-mocking way. While the slogan itself is one of several political catchphrases used by the current York Federation of Students (YFS) executive, there may be something more to it than merely pumping students up for the next big cause – and trust me, there are many. Democracy, racism, accountability, pro-Palestine, impeachment, pro-Israel, politics, anti-Semitism, conflict, Zionism – a few words that have been tossed around lately, but why? And does anyone know the true motives of Drop YFS or the current – slash “outgoing” – YFS executive? Does anyone care? With cries of racism from both sides, rallies in Vari Hall (disrupting students’ last chance to learn anything lately) and smear campaigns, which side do you trust? Or, even more to the point, which side should you trust? I would be so bold as to suggest neither.
The truth is that these buzz words have been tossed around because of political opportunism on both sides. And, yet again, students are playing pawn to two faces of the same coin. Let’s not beat around the bush. Drop YFS is largely supported by members of Hillel at York as well as the Hasbara Fellowship at York – two Jewish student groups that are part of larger parent organizations in the Greater Toronto Area. In the YFS corner of the ring are the “progressive” voices on campus (often referred to as “the progressive allies”). The York University Black Students’ Alliance (YUBSA), Trans Bisexual Lesbian Gays Allies at York (TBLGAY) and Students Against Israeli Apartheid (SAIA) are amongst these voices. Enter good old-fashioned political opportunism.
With such obvious political polarity in the political interests of both sides’ supporters – that is, Hillel and Hasbara versus SAIA – it was only a matter of time before someone cast the first stone. It matters little who struck first. What matters is that something that began as students exercising their democratic right to recall the student government – for engaging in activities that that did not match the interest of some members of the student body – has degenerated into Middle Eastern politics. Like it or not, what students are left with is a choice between a YFS that allegedly supports Palestine through its actions and affiliations and a student group (Drop YFS) that has aligned itself with students who support Israel.Richard L. Cravatts (author of Genocidal Liberalism: The University’s Jihad Against Israel).
More troubling is the invidious language used in this event, mirroring a surge of unbridled Jew-hatred manifested on campuses, as well as on city streets, worldwide since Israel’s recent defensive incursions into Gaza. Parroting the morally incoherent and factually defective exhortations of Israel-haters elsewhere of "Zionism equals racism!" and "Racists off campus!," the York mob, members of both the York Federation of Students and Students Against Israeli Apartheid, demonstrated once again that what is positioned as “intellectual debate” on campuses about the Israeli/Palestinian issue has devolved into something that is not really a conversation at all; rather, it is something more akin to an ideologically-driven shout fest in which a new version of pro-Palestinian brownshirts, employing a revisionist history in which the dark-skinned, third-world Arabs are the long-standing victims of white, European, colonial Zionists, have escalated the debate far beyond discussion of borders, refugee status, and the rights of both Jews and Arabs to self-determination, statehood, and peaceful coexistence.
So now, supporters of the cult of Palestinianism apparently no longer feel even a bit uncomfortable voicing what is actually on their minds when the subject of Israel comes up: when the York Hillel students were trapped inside of locked offices, surrounded by an increasingly violent and aggressive mob, the intellectual “debate” that day included such invidious and raw slurs as "Die bitch—go back to Israel" and "Die Jew—get the hell off campus." The most vicious anti-Semites have of late been able to conveniently inoculate themselves from what had become socially unacceptable in the modern age— hating Jews—by artfully masking any anti-Semitism on their part by stating, “Oh, no, it’s not Jews that I loathe, only the oppressive, genocidal, and racist policies of Zionism and Israel.”
The inflammatory slogans cited above have been reproduced all over the Internet, but I have been unable to track down when--or by whom--they were supposedly uttered. Maybe, as Gurney might say, it's not important if they were or weren't.
[This has, oddly enough, been removed by YouTube for allegedly breaching its Terms of Service. Bizarre--it was just an account. --Ed., November 9, 2010]
Laura Rosen Cohen.
Last week, word broke that Jewish students were verbally accosted by anti-Israel protesters at York University. An eyewitness account of the melee, published here, described a hostage-like situation, where in Orwellian fashion, the Jewish victims of the campus intimidation were punished and asked by security to stop their event -- ostensibly for their own safety.
This is not a Jewish issue – it is a Canadian one. Do we want our university and college campuses to continue on their unfettered deterioration into hopeless cesspools of intimidation where Jews need to wear special T-shirts declaring they are not afraid to be present, or to exist?
Will the Jewish community leadership, in conjunction with our secular, elected government officials finally say enough is enough? Will they finally take a cold hard look at the clearest examples of Judenhass in recent Canadian history and do something about it, or will we be doomed to watch our leaders continue to pursue the ostrich route, continually allocating precious community resources in pursuit of ‘hateful words’ instead of taking on the hateful souls and ideologies that would happily destroy us? Time will tell.
Saturday, February 21, 2009
Light blogging today: it's the celebration of my stepdaughter's thirtieth, and I'm cooking for seven after cleaning the house. Maybe I'll pop in for a snarky comment or two, but that'll be pretty well it until tomorrow.
Thursday, February 19, 2009
Whom do the police arrest?
If you live in Vancouver and your name is "Amir Mohammed"--you.
UPDATE: (February 19) Contrary to earlier reports, Amir has been released and does not at this time face any charges:
Amir's lawyer, John Turner, told The Province that Amir was released about 12:30 Wednesday afternoon.
"He was released with no charges — that's what I understand," said Turner. "It seems to me they've spoken to everyone involved and decided not to charge him. But I can't say whether the police will charge him in the future."
Turner said the family is holding up relatively well given the traumatic events.
"I've spoken with the family, I've spoken with his mother," he said. "His brother [Aleem] is very seriously ill — no one's given the family any information about his condition."
Turner said he spoke with Amir three hours after the 2 p.m. shooting.
"He seems to be doing reasonably well under the circumstances," said Turner.
"He's only a kid."
This would appear to support my point, if admittedly tenuously. Asking Amir to come downtown and give a statement is one thing. Maybe even offer him some counselling while you're at it. Hauling the traumatized kid off in handcuffs is quite another.
I really don’t understand how bipartisanship is ever going to work when one of the parties is insane. Imagine trying to negotiate an agreement on dinner plans with your date, and you suggest Italian and she states her preference would be a meal of tire rims and anthrax. If you can figure out a way to split the difference there and find a meal you will both enjoy, you can probably figure out how bipartisanship is going to work the next few years. --John Cole, Balloon Juice
[via David Ljunggren]
Welcome to Ottawa, Mr. President. Nice to get away for a bit, eh?
Wednesday, February 18, 2009
Canadian Cynic has a good account of OC Transpo official John Donaldson's prevarications. But thanks to Councillor Alex Cullen and the Ottawa Citizen, we can, thankfully, cut to the chase.
OC Transpo discriminates.
It turns out that the wretched officials over there have already approved religious bus ads, which could be appearing shortly.
In 2007, OC Transpo approved ads for Bus Stop Bible Studies, a campaign on panels inside buses quoting scripture and asking life’s big questions. Roughly 2,400 ads have run in Calgary, Burlington and Toronto, but the sponsor has not yet raised enough money to place the ads on Ottawa buses.
The sponsor of the ads seems like a stand-up guy:
Though the group hasn’t yet run the Bible-quoting ads in Ottawa, its founder is puzzled city staff’s rejection of the atheists ads.
“I don’t follow the logic,” said Bus Stop Bible Studies founder David Harrison. “Why would they approve ours and not theirs? If we don’t stand up for (the atheists’) rights, ours will be trampled too.”Meanwhile, Donaldson continues to make it up as he goes along :
OC Transpo frequently rejects ads that might be considered sexist or show “inappropriate body images,” Donaldson said.
“We receive complaints about advertising material of all kinds of different subjects,” Donaldson said. “The same thing applies — if people are offended, and let us know about it, then there’s a provision in the contract to ...remove it.”
But clearly this sexist tripe** is perfectly all right with him.
Now OC Transpo's blatant double standards have been dragged into the pitiless glare of the noontime sun, this story may soon be concluded. But in the meantime, why not send an email (John.Donaldson@ottawa.ca) to let OC Transpo know what you think of their rank hypocrisy. And don't forget to copy it to Councillor Alex Cullen, Chair of Ottawa City Council's Transit Committee (Alex.Cullen@ottawa.ca).
UPDATE: (February 18) The Ottawa City Council Transit Committee has met. By a vote of 3 to 3, and for want of a majority, Councillor Alex Cullen's motion to permit atheist advertising on buses was defeated. On the side of the angels--so to speak--were Councillors Cullen, George Bedard and Jacques Legendre. The knuckle-draggers who prevailed were Rainer Bloess, Doug Thompson and Marianne Wilkinson.
The matter is going to the full City Council on March 11.
For God's sake Please write to the Ottawa City Councillors and the Mayor, and remind them about the benefits of public debate in a democracy, the problem with OC Transpo's blatant double standards, what century we're living in, etc.
UPPERDATE: (February 19) CC got to it first, but this comment from the fossilized Marianne Wilkinson deserves quoting, without further comment:I don’t think we should be demeaning people in advertising at OC Transpo. I think the words are offensive to everyone who believes in God, regardless of what religion they are. To me, as a Christian, it is demeaning. It grates on me.
*Three other cities, in fact. Somehow I missed Vancouver. [H/t commenter beluga2]