by Eddie Shostak
In September of 2000 as my fellow McGill University Jewish students, students across the city, and I began another academic year, we were faced with the shock of our young lives. The Second Intifada had broken out and as if the daily horrific news coming out of Israel wasn’t enough, our campuses, 5,000 miles away, became hotbeds for anti-Israel activities.
Aggressive demonstrations, disturbing displays, and heated confrontations met us daily in and around school. Eventually, a letter went out from segments of the Jewish community advocating that Jewish students not wear kippahs and tuck in their Magen Davids while on campus due to safety concerns. The events became the backdrop of the now infamous September 8, 2002 Concordia University Netanyahu Riot (See Videos: CBC News Report – Confrontation at Concordia & Documentary Film – Discordia)
The situation was perplexing for all of us. What did they want from us? Israel was the symbol of our national aspirations, our safe haven, our homeland, the country that made deserts bloom, a beacon of hope. Wasn’t it obvious? How could anybody criticize? How could anyone not take Israel’s side? Israel could do no wrong. These were the questions and statements ringing in our hearts –and we had no answers.
We were caught with our backs against the wall. As products of the Jewish day school system, we were confronted with the harrowing reality that we knew very little about Israel, its history, its multiple perspectives. We passionately loved Israel, but we didn’t really know why. Israel’s very legitimacy was being put on trial and we had very few intelligent things to say about it.
So how did we react? Well, some of us retreated — we put our heads down, went to school quietly, focused on our academic experience and returned home at the end of the day unhindered. Some of us fought back armed with passion and emotion while lacking intellectual credibility. And some of us enlisted mentors, read everything we could get our hands on on the subject, and demanded that our community back us in our situations.