By Bill Gladstone
TORONTO, Oct. 20, 2002 (JTA) — One month after pro-Palestinian demonstrators prevented Benjamin Netanyahu from speaking at Montreal’s Concordia University, more than 500 people assembled on another Canadian campus for a forum about the Concordia riot.
The rally came as Nazi-hunter Simon Wiesenthal asked Concordia to reinvite the former Israeli prime minister to speak at the school.
Bob Rae, a former premier of Ontario, was the headline speaker at the rally, which was organized by an interfaith group called Canadians Against Anti-Semitism and filled the largest auditorium at the University of Toronto.
Like the speakers who followed him, Rae linked the Concordia disturbances of Sept. 9 to a growing international climate of hate against Jews and Israel — expressed in union resolutions, divestment campaigns, boycotts of Israeli intellectuals, and pamphlets, posters and pronouncements that appear to meet every definition of hate speech.
Rae, who is not Jewish, called anti-Semitism a "vicious virus" that has not been wiped out in the world.
"There’s not exactly a parallel today to Kristallnacht and Hitler," he said. "But when I see a cartoon in a London newspaper of the Israeli prime minister with a big hooked nose, or a cartoon in an Italian newspaper showing an Israeli tank rolling over the baby Jesus" during a military operation in Bethlehem, "I know that we face a particular challenge that we must take seriously and that we must ask our government to take seriously."
A former leader of the left-leaning New Democratic Party, Rae split from the party earlier this year after its federal foreign affairs critic rushed to Ramallah to embrace Palestinian Authority President Yasser Arafat and to condemn the alleged "Jenin massacre" on Canadian television.
Rae called on the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation and other media outlets to acknowledge that their broadcasts about the mythical massacre had been in error. Several months ago, U.N. officials concluded that despite numerous Palestinian claims to the contrary, Israel had not carried out a massacre in Jenin’s refugee camp during a military operation there earlier this year.
"Don’t jump on every bandwagon every time there’s a headline that an atrocity has been committed until the investigation is completed," he urged. "I’m still waiting for someone at the CBC to say, ‘We were deceived about Jenin.’ Even the United Nations itself got swept up in an investigation."
Newspaper columnist Margaret Wente and Montreal-area member of Parliament Irwin Cotler also addressed the rally.
"Where has the leadership been on campus?" Wente asked.
"Probably the only hate speech that is tolerated now is the hate speech on campus about Israel and about America — and these are linked," she said.
After the Concordia riot, the university administration declared a "cooling-off period" and a moratorium on public events related to the Middle East.
But Wiesenthal has written to Concordia officials from his home in Vienna, urging them to announce immediately their intention to invite Netanyahu back for a second speaking engagement.
"Failure to do so will only embolden those who see violence as the only way to achieve results,” Wiesenthal wrote.
University officials indicated they would consider the request, which was hand-delivered to the school by Rabbi Abraham Cooper of the Los Angeles-based Simon Wiesenthal Center.