Monday, March 16, 2009

On the Inside Looking Out

"Israeli Apartheid Week" 2009

Thursday, March 5th: Part 1
University of Toronto

Arriving early and alone at the University of Toronto, I grabbed some of the "Israeli Apartheid Week" (IAW) printed materials so I would have something to read while standing in line. The booklets also came in handy when I spotted some familiar faces from Monday night's event at Ryerson. (Oh, no, that guy's in my video and there's that rude girl who argued with my friend in the line-up: look away, look away!) Luckily, my cover wasn't blown and I was permitted inside the auditorium.

Once inside, I sat near the back so I could keep an eye out for my friend. I put my coat and bag on the seat to my right, asked the university professor to my left to save my seat, and approached the students and security at the door.

Me: "My friend is late, I'm saving her a seat, please let her in when she gets here."

Bouncer: "I'm sorry, if the room is full, we can't save seats."

Me: "My friend is coming but she's late, I'm saving her a seat, please let her in."

Bouncer: (see above)

Me: "I've got my coat on the seat, I'm saving it for my friend, please let her in, she's a bit late, thanks."

Bouncer: (see above)

Me: "Thanks!"

Hillary Clinton, I feel your pain.

Later, I asked the students at the door how many people were in the audience and they guessed at 150. I'll leave it up to the math geeks to give me a projected estimate based on the following:

If there were 100-150 people in the near-capacity room
And the man on my left was a university professor
And the woman three seats to my right was a university professor
And the woman directly in front of her was a university professor
How screwed is our educational system?

Bonus points for creativity. Due at the end of March Break.

I didn't recognize the music playing over the PA system. It was some kind of rap or hip-hop and I'm pretty sure it wasn't in English. It might have been CBC Radio.

The activists had used abundant amounts of duct tape to attach their decorations to the walls. We're talking at least three long strips of tape per corner and a few more along the top, bottom and sides. I doubt the paint underneath was in good shape after everything was taken down.

But, teacher, it's not my fault: If those sneaky Israelis hadn't prevented the Palestinians from inventing a stick-free, temporary tape for putting up anti-Israel posters, this wouldn't have happened! The international community is complicit! F*** the West!

Surrounding a large Palestinian flag, posters on the wall featured these slogans:

"Free Palestine – Boycott Israel"
"Turtle Island to Palestine – Occupation is a Crime"
"People of Gaza You are not Alone"
"Break the Silence End the Siege on Gaza"
"Israeli Apartheid Week"

A large screen at the front of the room flashed images and charts such as:

"Palestinian Loss of Land 1946-2000" (map)
"60 Years of Israeli Apartheid & Occupation"

Smaller photos and posters at the front might have shown injured or dead people; I couldn't tell for certain from my seat and I didn't want to get any closer to inspect them. I had a seat to save!

Just before the moderator approached the microphone, I repeated my earlier request to the students at the door. They must have been new because they agreed to let my friend in when she arrived. Unfortunately, my friend showed up later at the other door. That's right, the door I didn't know about until it was too late.

Higher Learning Lesson # 5: Scope out the doors; there's usually more than one.

I didn't catch the moderator's name. He was a young man; I don't know if he is a genuine student or if he is one of those part-time, long-term students whose real function is as an anti-Israel agitator.

He showed this video.

I can't have been the only person in the room who didn't understand what the rapper in the video was saying. This is Canada, people: most of us don't speak Palestinian.

For those who do speak it, is "Hitler" the same in Palestinian as it is in English? At about the 0:28 mark, does the rapper say "Hitler"?

The moderator described this year's "Israeli Apartheid Week" as the largest and most successful to date; it was being held in 40 cities worldwide and U of T was the birthplace of IAW.

It was a friendly crowd and the moderator didn't have to work hard to get applause but he received an especially strong response when he disparaged the University of Toronto's President, David Naylor, as a "detractor" of IAW with "firm and strong links to Israeli apartheid".

After showing this video of David Naylor at an Israeli university (with the music – and base – cranked up), the moderator called, "Join me in shaming!" and everyone but me hissed, booed and yelled, "Shame!"

The moderator laughed and proceeded to the night's message.

He said, "Mosques, hospitals and educational institutions are being deliberately attacked" by the IDF in Gaza.

He mentioned the "ongoing illegal occupation" of Israel. He also said to applause that, although various universities have banned the IAW poster and they've had a lot of opposition, the pro-Palestinian/anti-Israel groups are fighting and stronger than ever.

Before introducing the first guest, he went over the ground rules:
  • No video or photography unless you've registered as a member of the media.
  • No disruptions allowed. Following U of T policy, if you cause a problem, you will be given two warnings, then you will be asked to leave.
  • During the Q & A period, free speech & open dialogue are encouraged but racism, sexism or discrimination will not be permitted.
I wondered where the question, "Does Israel have a right to exist?" might fall in the above categories, but I was afraid to ask in case they threw me out or threatened to saw off my head.

Up next: Leila Farsakh and the rebranding of apartheid.

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