In the weeks since the Oct. 7 massacres, Canadian academia has yielded no shortage of voices justifying the attacks and calling for Israel’s ultimate defeat.
But on Wednesday night, a table at Concordia University draped with an Israeli flag and carrying pictures of Israeli hostages was all it took to provoke a crush of anti-Israel protesters screaming, making threats and ultimately resorting to physical violence.
“Go back to Poland, sharmouta!” says one man in a widely circulated video of the incident; “sharmouta” is an Arabic slur for “whore.”
He was later identified as Yanise Arab, a humanities professor at the University of Montreal specializing in “dominance and resistance in the Arab world.”
Another video with 2.4 million views shows a woman screaming a string of obscenities at Jewish students — and went viral in part because she appears to be saying the word “k–e,” a Jewish slur dating back to the 19th century.
The woman was quickly identified as a 29-year-old who uses they/them pronouns, but in an interview with the Montreal Gazette they said they used the word “cunt.” “I didn’t even know what that word meant before this blew up,” they said (the Gazette honoured the woman’s request to remain anonymous).
A video with 1.1 million views shows a crowd of several dozen chanting “ceasefire now” at the Jewish students. And another with more than 1.4 million views shows the moment just before police arrived, with demonstrators from the pro-Palestinian side seen crawling over security guards and attempting to tear an Israeli flag.
Police said a 22-year-old female student was arrested for assaulting a security guard, 54.
“Police were called after two members of our Campus Safety and Prevention Services team who had tried to intervene were physically attacked and an ambulance had to be called,” said Concordia University president Graham Carr in a Wednesday statement. He added that the violence occurred around the same time as swastikas were found graffitied on school property.
Carr also said that “a student group issued a social media post that could reasonably be construed as inciting violence” — although it’s not clear what he was referencing.
According to The Suburban — a Montreal English-language community newspaper — the table was a permitted display organized by the campus Jewish groups Concordia Hillel and Chabad Concordia.
The students had set up a Shabbat table. On a table draped with the Israeli flag, they put out place settings of plates, napkins and plastic utensils to represent the approximately 240 civilians missing after the Oct. 7 massacres and still believed to be held as Hamas hostages.
Empty Shabbat tables have been a common mourning symbol throughout the Jewish world in the wake of the massacres. Just last weekend, enough white-clothed tables to seat 242 people were erected in front of Montreal’s Federation CJA and set with wine glasses and bread — each empty seat representing a missing Israeli believed to be held by Hamas.
But the Concordia Shabbat table was reportedly met by a rival table set up nearby by the group Solidarity for Palestinian Human Rights.
This is the same group that has publicly released statements justifying the Oct. 7 massacres and calling for similar attacks to continue until the Jewish state is destroyed. “We hold the Israeli regime fully responsible for the current violence,” they wrote in an Oct. 11 statement, adding that Gazans had “no option but to resist.”
The statement even seemed to suggest that such “decolonization” attacks should be visited upon Canada — which they refer to as “Turtle Island.”
In a statement after the disturbance, the group blamed the incident on “Zionist” provocateurs and said they would continue to advocate for a “Free Palestine, from the river to the sea” — a slogan meant to explicitly reference Israel’s total eradication.
An edited three-minute video uploaded by The Suburban shows the escalating encounter as demonstrators in keffiyehs — a black and white scarf associated with Palestinian nationalism — and holding Palestinian flags surround the table, eventually coming to fill much of the surrounding lobby. “You came and invaded my land, your land is in Europe!” says one man.
Several Concordia University security guards can be seen forming a line in front of the Jewish students, who are holding aloft Israeli flags and wearing shirts with images of Hamas hostages.
The incident is not entirely out of character for Concordia, which has been a centre of overt anti-Israel sentiment for at least the last 20 years.
Most notably, pro-Palestinian demonstrators staged a riot at the school in 2002 in opposition to a scheduled speech by Israel politician Benjamin Netanyahu, who is now Israel’s prime minister. Rioters broke a window and began hurling furniture from an upper mezzanine, which ultimately led to the speech’s cancellation.
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