November 28, 2003  
Volume 97, Issue 51  

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NEWS

Clashing U of T protests end with arrest
Middle East groups tangle after event cancelled

By Laura Katsirdakis
Gazette Staff

The University of Toronto was the site of competing protests surrounding the Middle East conflict this past Wednesday, resulting in assault and one arrest.

The initial protest included members of the Arab Students’ Collective and the Ontario Coalition Against Poverty. The counter-protest included members of Hillel, a pro-Israel group at U of T.
The pro-Palestinian ASC, along with OCAP, were protesting the fact that Al-Adwa, a group advocating the Palestinian right of return, was denied the use of an on campus facility for their conference last weekend by the university, explained Michael Desroches, an organizer at OCAP who attended the protest.

As reported in The Gazette on Tuesday, the university cancelled Al-Adwa’s booking due to their “Basis of Unity” which, according to the ASC’s Web site, “defined the purpose and direction of the conference.” It included such things as an insistence on a one state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and a statement that “Israel is a racist and apartheid state.”

The protest, according to Jane Sterling, public affairs officer at U of T, consisted of about 50 people. Police were on hand and arrested one person, Sterling said, adding the arrest was made off campus and the suspect was not a U of T student.

“Several Hillel students went to protest the protest,” said Lisa Isen Baumal, director of Hillel. “The [initial] protest was supposed to be about the [Al-Adwa] conference being shut down, but it actually became quite anti-Israel.”

“We were responding to what was being said,” Isen Baumal explained, adding one pro-Israeli man was spat on by a pro-Palestinian woman. “I believe she was arrested by the police,” she said.

“One person was arrested for allegedly assaulting a member of a Zionist group that was disturbing the protest by making racist comments,” Desroches said. “The Zionist group came to the protest with the intention of disrupting it and shutting it down.”

The U of T Police Service confirmed they made no arrests and Toronto Police were unable to discuss any specifics regarding the incident.

“As an organization, we decided to support the [pro-Palestinian] group in their efforts to hold their conference on campus,” Desroches said of OCAP’s reason for attending the protest.

“We were scheduled to be one of the speakers at the conference [that was cancelled] — on the question of Palestinian refugees,” Desroches explained. “A major area of our work is with refugees from many countries — OCAP also deals primarily in issues of social justice and the situation in Palestine is a question of social justice.”

The ASC Web site posted a “call to action” and an “action plan to defend the right to organize.” The following are excerpts from these:

“This is a conference for Toronto student and community activists committed to the struggle for Palestinian human rights, who are united by a common political basis of unity who want to be able to organize together on the basis of the commonality of their interests as opposed to having to waste valuable time arguing with those who support the Israeli occupation of Palestine.

“We demand that a space be provided [for the conference] on Sunday, November 30th, at [Ontario Institute for Studies in Education] on the U of T campus — we call for all supporters to assemble at OISE... to support our right to have this conference with our pro-Palestinian basis of unity.”

Jim Delaney, assistant director of student affairs at U of T, stated that the university would be in meetings with Al-Awda all day yesterday attempting to reach a solution.

 

 

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