Twittering Candadian students rebut anti-Israel message of York U conference

Canadian students rebut anti-Israel message with over 700 users.

computer 298.88 (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
computer 298.88
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
Canadian pro-Israel students, in the wake of the Iranian "Twitter Revolution," were using the social networking Web site to "expose the lies at the anti-Israel 'academic' conference taking place at York University" in Toronto. Exposing York, started by Hasbara at York, has developed a following of over 700 users since Monday, when the conference opened. Followers include senior Canadian government officials, major international news agencies, and three Israeli embassies in North America. A follower under the name "PM Harper" presents himself to be Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper, but this cannot be confirmed. Other followers include Al Jazeera English and CNN's Anderson Cooper. The three-day conference, "Israel/ Palestine: Mapping Models of Statehood and Paths to Peace" ran from Monday to Wednesday. According to the conference's publicity, ideas discussed included, "One state? Two states? Bi-nationalism, federalism, self-determination, refugees, international law, human rights, transitional justice, gender, and religion." Speakers came under fire for their suspect academic background, most notably the first speaker of the conference, Ali Abunimah, who runs a Web site called the "Electronic Intifada," which according to NGO Monitor's Gerald Steinberg, "specializes in demonizing Israel." In a National Post editorial, Steinberg wrote of Abunimah, "He is affiliated with the Palestinian Center for Human Rights, a political organization based in Gaza that systematically distorts and exploits the language of human rights to attack Israel." A Twitter post from the conference on Monday read, "Ali Abunimah talking about how Israel doesn't have a right to exist as a Jewish state." Sharryn Aiken, from the faculty of law at Queen's University and one of the conference's four main organizers, rejected the criticism brought against the conference and Abunimah specifically. "It's an academic conference aimed at academics. No one has an agenda or an axe to grind," she told The Jerusalem Post in an interview. "We stand by the decision to have Abunimah speak, we think he has a contribution to make." In a National Post editorial, co-chair of Canadian Friends of Peace Now, Prof. Stephen Scheinberg, said of the conference, "Though a handful of respectable speakers have been added to the program in an effort to cultivate some legitimacy, the presence at the event of non-academic advocates of this extreme premise is evidence of the original political objective of the organizers." In an interview with The Jerusalem Post, Executive Vice President of B'nai B'rith Canada Frank Dimant weighed in on the conference. "We're very concerned that this conference is wrapped in secrecy," he said, speaking about the media ban in effect. "This is a conference that touts the notion of free speech and it is encasing itself in order that people do not have the opportunity to get media reports from the event." Dimant also said that speakers have been heard accusing Israel of taking part in "genocide and ethnic cleansing." B'nai B'rith will be releasing a full report summing up the conference. The Toronto Jewish community has banned together in harsh criticism of the conference, which has been referred to as "a continuation of Israeli Apartheid Week" by pro-Israel campus activists. The conference takes place four months after Jewish students were held hostage in the York Hillel building in February, ending with police escorting the group out of the building. "What we're seeing is a hate fest," Sammy Katz, Canadian campus coordinator for the pro-Israel group Hasbara Fellowships said of the situation. "This conference is the culmination of one of the worst years we've seen at York University yet." Pro-Israel students also organized protests at the front gate to the school on all three days of the conference. The Facebook event title for the protest reads, "Students Protest York's Racist Conference - Don't let them get away with this Hate fest." Katz described the scene at the protest on Monday saying, "45-50 people showed up at the protest today, which ran for an hour and a half. We chanted, 'free speech doesn't mean hate speech! And, 'You should be ashamed to have such a conference!'"