Confrontation between Israeli and Palestinian students turns violent

One student arrested and two safety agents injured during altercations

Photo Adam Gibbard

One student was arrested and several injuries were sustained during an altercation at the Concordia University Hall building on Wednesday, Nov. 8.

Tensions began to mount around 11 a.m. at the mezzanine of the Hall Building, when student organizers from Concordia’s Solidarity for Palestinian Human Rights (SPHR) and Israeli student club StartUp Nation set up individual tabling events at the same time. SPHR set up a keffiyeh sale to fundraise for Gaza humanitarian relief efforts. StartUp Nation began their setup by taping up posters of the 240 hostages taken by Hamas on Oct. 7 in Israel. Friction began because the posters were attached to a wall in front of SPHR’s fundraising table.

Both student groups reserved a table with the Concordia Student Union (CSU) for the same day.  

The Link captured and reviewed multiple videos of people removing posters of the hostages. An organizer with SPHR insisted that those removing posters were not from their organization and denounced the act.

“Honestly, they’re a club and we’re a club too. So I don’t condone removing anything,” said the SPHR organizer, who wishes to remain anonymous for safety reasons. “There was a student who got provoked but we instantly stopped him. I was literally right in front of [the students from StartUp Nation] when I told him to stop.”

An organizer with StartUp Nation said they had no intention of provoking any dispute.

“We put up our posters before [SPHR] set up their table. We didn’t know that they would be here today,” said the president of StartUp Nation, who The Link will keep anonymous for safety reasons. “There was one student wearing a keffiyeh sitting here, but she did not say anything. I cannot read minds.”

Concordia security as well as Dean of Students Andrew Woodall arrived promptly after some people removed the posters of the kidnapped. StartUp Nation students were then told that many of the posters had to be removed because they were not in accordance with Concordia’s Postering and flyer guidelines

The Link captured a video of a security guard explaining the guidelines to a student organizer from StartUp Nation, who then asked for an exception to be made.

Campus security then removed the remaining posters at the mezzanine.

“[Security told us] it had nothing to do with the content of the posters, just where we were posting the posters,” said another student organizer at StartUp Nation.

Organizers from both StartUp Nation and SPHR accused one another of deliberately setting up tabling events on the same day as an act of provocation towards the other. Each student club claimed their organization reserved a table first. The Link has reviewed table reservations provided by the CSU, and confirmed that a table was booked through StartUp Nation’s affiliate student club, Hillel Concordia, and another was booked by SPHR. The Link is unable to confirm which student club requested a table first. Both student groups insist they did not know the other group would be holding an event that day.

By noon, student organizers from StartUp Nation had set up a table two spots away from SPHR’s fundraiser. Organizers explained that it was an “artistic representation” of an empty Sabbath dinner with posters to commemorate the hostages.

“The table with empty chairs are replicating and representing what a family would look like but no one is here,” said a StartUp Nation organizer. “We have full families taken as hostages, who we don’t know if they’re alive.”

At the same time, a long line had formed, snaking around the mezzanine from the keffiyeh fundraiser organized by SPHR. At least 100 students were lined up in hopes of buying a keffiyeh or making a donation to Gaza humanitarian relief, due to what Amnesty International and Doctors Without Borders are calling a humanitarian crisis. 

Raz Segal, an associate professor of Holocaust and genocide studies at Stockton University, called the crisis “Israel’s campaign to displace Gazans” and “a textbook case of genocide,” in Jewish Currents Magazine.

The crisis came at the heels of the Oct. 7 Hamas attack in Israel, which the Israeli government reported 1,200 people killed, revised from 1,400 as it previously said. As of Thursday, Nov. 9, at least 10,000 Palestinians, at least 4,600 of whom children, have been killed by airstrikes in Gaza from the Israeli government as reported by the Health Ministry of Gaza.

SPHR selling keffiyehs at 11:30 in the Hall Building. Photo Maria Cholakova

Shortly after noon on Nov. 8, a Palestinian Concordia student, who is not affiliated with any student groups, voiced loud and emotional opposition to StartUp Nation’s tabling event. The student, whose name The Link has decided not to publish for safety reasons, mourned his family who had been affected by the occupation long before Oct. 7, and accused StartUp Nation of insensitivity and provocation. Both the student and the president of StartUp Nation exchanged heated and loud discord as campus security repeatedly attempted to de-escalate the dispute. A separate student bystander then started chanting, “Free, free Palestine,” which was met with loud and enthusiastic support from a large crowd amassed at the mezzanine.

The chants continued, and more heated and emotional shouting was exchanged between students from all backgrounds and sides, including those with campus security staff. 

Around 12:30 p.m., The Link heard students encouraging each other to call non-students from their respective communities to come onto campus. 

All seven of The Link’s student reporters witnessed and documented dozens of student and non-student agitators taunting, threatening, invasively filming, verbally and physically assaulting students starting from around 12:30 p.m.

After people began chanting, The Link reporters witnessed Concordia security form a line of six to eight guards in front of StartUp Nation’s table display, facing the crowd of pro-Palestine protesters, attempting to prevent agitators from conflict on both sides. 

The Link also witnessed and recorded several altercations and physical clashes between campus security guards, students and non-students. Two Concordia security guards and one student were injured. Police were called at around 1:30 p.m., and demanded the crowd leave the premises. Protests continued outside the Hall building and police blocked the main entrance. One pro-Palestinian student was arrested. They have since been released and are expected to appear in court for a hearing.

Just before midnight on Wednesday, Concordia President Graham Carr issued a statement and reported two other incidents “in which violence or incitement to violence took place,” including that “swastikas were discovered in one of our buildings.”

A StartUp Nation organizer told The Link they have been feeling unsafe on campus, citing an increase in antisemitism everywhere. Antisemitism has been on the rise since before Oct. 7, as cited by a 2021 study conducted in the United States and widely reported by news outlets globally.

While islamophobia has been prolific in the last two decades since 9/11, it has seen a sharp rise since Oct. 7 in the United States, Canada and Europe. The Angus Reid Institute found that while “unfavourable views of Islam” are prevalent across Canada, it is highest in Quebec.

After police dispersed the crowd at the Hall building, a video that characterized a Concordia student as allegedly having said an antisemitic slur went viral. A longer video of the incident includes footage of someone who The Link confirms is a middle-aged person who is not a student, verbally assaulting the student with homophobic rhetoric in an attempt to provoke them. 

The video shows the non-student asking the student, “Are you gay?” to which the student — who self-identifies as a member of the LGBTQIA2S+ community — replies, “What does that matter?”

The student in the viral video told The Link that the non-student then said, “You know, they’d fucking rape you up the ass.” The student said they responded by saying, “You know what, that’s pinkwashing, and you’re a fucking cunt.” The student vehemently denies using any antisemitic slur during the altercations.

The student said they left the mezzanine shortly after the altercation, given the physical escalations they had witnessed. Later in the day, some classmates brought to their attention the viral tweets and videos, which the student said was the first time they had ever heard of the antisemitic k-slur.

“I absolutely did not say that word,” said the student, whose name The Link has decided not to publish for safety reasons. “I messaged my friends to ask what the k-word was, because I had never heard the word before.”

By Wednesday evening, several news outlets included the video of the student without the student’s response. The Montreal Gazette reported that it had interviewed the student and was told they “adamantly denied ever using the word, insisting they instead said ‘cunt.’”

The student told The Link they fear for their safety on campus.

“It hurts deeply. Because any kind of slur is not something that I want to be associated with, especially as someone who’s from a marginalized community,” the student said. “I think, ultimately, the university failed to keep us safe.”

According to a spokesperson for Concordia, “Our priority is the safety of our community and campus and given that violence was breaking out and an agent was injured, that required calling the SPVM on Nov. 8.” The spokesperson did not respond to The Link’s questions regarding Concordia’s role in ensuring the safety of its community.

With files from Maria Cholakova, Iness Rifay and Julia Israel.