February 15, 2011
A Montreal-based group hosting a tour by an anti-Israel American scholar is accusing Mohawk College of “administrative discrimination and harassment” after the school demanded a security surcharge for an upcoming lecture.
Canadians for Justice and Peace in the Middle East is accusing Mohawk of trying to block the Feb. 19 lecture by Norman Finkelstein and is warning it will seek an injunction against the school.
Mohawk College says its decision to require increased security for Finkelstein’s speech has nothing to do with his controversial message.
“The issue isn’t the subject matter, it’s the security of people who will be in the room at the college Saturday night,” said Jay Robb, the college’s spokesperson.
The college informed CJPME on Feb. 11 that it would require the hiring of eight security guards — four college security officers and four paid-duty police officers — at a cost of $1,500. The letter says that failure or refusal to pay the fee would result in cancellation of the room booking.
The room was booked Jan. 26 at a cost of $512. The lecture hall holds 190 people.
Finkelstein, the son of two concentration camp survivors, has written several books about the Middle East and has taught political science at Rutgers University, New York University and DePaul University.
His views on Israel and the Holocaust are controversial. He has accused Israel of treating Palestinians much like Jews were treated by Nazis, and he has said the Holocaust has become “an extortion racket” exploiting Jewish martyrdom. Finkelstein has been heavily criticized in some academic and social justice circles.
CJPME president Thomas Woodley says it’s growing increasingly difficult to book speakers at Canadian colleges and universities. The Hamilton stop is the last of five lectures. An event originally booked for the University of Waterloo had to be switched to a church because the school demanded security costs.
“It’s very intimidating what they’re trying to do,” Woodley said.
“It’s an offence to free speech.”
Woodley says an agreement signed with Mohawk made no mention of additional security charges. He says the lectures make no money and the $1,500 Mohawk is demanding is “prohibitive for us.”
In an e-mail sent to Mohawk president Rob MacIsaac and others, Finkelstein says 2,500 videos on YouTube of his lectures show no violence. “It can only be concluded that officials at Mohawk (College) are fabricating an excuse to bankrupt the sponsoring organization in order to prevent me from speaking.”
Robb says the college has very limited security staff on campus Saturday night and that Mohawk decided to hire the extra personnel after hearing from both Finkelstein’s supporters and detractors.
“As a college, we believe Ontario taxpayers shouldn’t be subsidizing the cost of speakers or security for them.
“Making an issue out of $1,500 is one way to drive up ticket sales.”
He said the college will begin to assess all room booking requests for risk and security needs.
Universities are particularly sensitive to controversial speakers since an incident at Concordia in September 2002, when students clashed with riot police in their attempt to stop Israeli politician Benjamin Netanyahu from making a speech.