On Wednesday, November 9, an Artists 4 Israel event on Lower Field of campus organized by Chabad McGill attracted protesters who denounced what they perceived to be the event’s insensitive concept and erasure of Palestinian voices.
In an event which has subsequently been removed from Facebook, members of the organization Artists 4 Israel erected a temporary wall on Lower Field, decorated it with Canadian and Israeli flags, and the word ‘peace’ in Hebrew and English, and invited passers-by to add their own graffiti to the installation.
They also displayed banners listing statements about Israel, and distributed free refreshments and t-shirts. Initially, Palestinian people, along with any Palestinian flags or symbols, were entirely absent from the event.
Soon however, the installation began to attract opposition. A small crowd of protesters gathered on Lower Field, carrying banners and placards which denounced Israel’s ongoing violence against Palestinian people, and appropriation of Palestinian land. The demonstrators spread out in a line, standing in front of the Artists 4 Israel installation.
Speaking to The Daily at the protest, George Ghabrial, a member of McGill Students in Solidarity with Palestinian Human Rights (SPHR), explained what prompted him and other students to protest the event.
“Me and a couple friends were [at] the Y [intersection], we were all going to class, and we saw this structure […] and then we saw an Israeli flag. […] We went up to some of these student organizers, asked them what was going on, they said it was an event called ‘Artists 4 Israel,’” he explained.
“So SPHR […] said that we should do something – there’s no representation of Palestine, there’s no mention of Palestine, there’s no […] mention of the occupation,” he continued. “It’s an implicitly political event that does not make explicit the occupation of Palestine. […] So we went and got our banners […] and came down to Lower Field.”
“On the surface, it’s supposed to be apolitical,” Ghabrial explained. “I don’t know very much about Chabad as an organization, but I’d say that the event is very normalizing about the occupation. […] And there’s a very strong connotation about who the antagonizers to peace are.”
A member of Artists 4 Israel spoke with The Daily about the intended purpose of the event.
“Artists 4 Israel was brought here by Chabad, Stand With Us, Size Doesn’t Matter and AEπ and […] Hasbara Fellowships, in order to paint a mural about peace and coexistence, and try to bridge all the […] diverse cultures that are here together, and of course express their pride in their own Jewish heritage and sense of Israel with that larger culture of the campus.”
When asked about the response to the protest, he said: “Instead of their protest […] they’ve all been offered the opportunity to spray-paint with us and to have shirts made, the same way the entire student body has been allowed. That they chose to separate themselves and segregate themselves from an event that’s supposed to be about inclusiveness […] I think speaks for itself as to what their true intentions are. We would have loved them to be part of it.”
In a comment sent to The Daily by email, however, Julie, a member of Boycott, Divestment & Sanctions (BDS) McGill said that she had been present at the protest for more than an hour, and had never been invited to write on the installation.
The protesters partly took issue with the statements about Israel on display beside the art installation, which portrayed the nation as a place of tolerance and equality. One section, in particular, alleged that non-Jewish Israelis “enjoy equal rights and freedoms.” In fact, Israel has drawn criticism from minority voices internally, and from the international community for the systemic discrimination that many non-Jewish citizens face.
However, event organizer, Eva Chorna, objected to this characterization, saying, “To have that [statement] on the board I think is very representative of the essence that is Israel, because if there is one country that understands what it’s like to be a refugee, I think it’s Israel.”
“Israel isn’t a perfect society,” she continued, “as no society is, but there are so many instances where they try to be inclusive towards the Palestinians, towards the Israeli Arabs in society, towards all the different religions.”
However, protesters also took issue with the concept of the installation.
“The board itself resembles the Apartheid Wall that runs in the West Bank and restricts access to medical resources and water supplies of Palestinians that live there,” said Julie in her email to The Daily. “The idea of graffiti-ing the ‘canvas’ mocks and appropriates the forms of Palestinian resistance that appear on the Apartheid Wall.”
“Furthermore, the ‘graffiti’ displayed the word peace next to the Israeli flag alongside the Canadian flag as well as the McGill Martlet, which completely disregards the settler-colonial history tied to all three of these,” she continued.
She added that she “was asked to move multiple times.” She was also “asked to leave because they claimed this art (that resembled the Apartheid Wall with flags of Israel, Canada, and the McGill martlet) was not political.”