Mideast tensions hit Ryerson University

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Arab students upset over poster approval

By Jennifer McGregor

As tensions escalated into bloodshed in the Middle East, a poster war on campus reminded the Ryerson community that the hostility between Israelis and Palestinians isn’t so far away. 

With more than 100 people dead after three weeks of gunfights and mob riots in the Middle East, Ryerson’s Jewish Students Association (JSA) hung up posters around campus, asking people to take part in an Israeli solidarity rally.

The posters received RyeSAC’s approval — in order for a notice to be posted on campus bulletin boards, it must be stamped by either RyeSAC or the office of university advancement — but some students were furious when they noticed what the poster said.

A statement on the fluorescent green paper read,  “Peace in the Middle East has been threatened by a spiral of violence unleashed by the Palestinian authorities.”  Some Arab students couldn’t believe RyeSAC allowed such a one-sided message to be displayed on campus.

“I feel provoked.  Something like that could create a big problem on campus,” said Khaled Nasser, a fourth-year mechanical engineering student and president of the Ryerson Arab Student Association (RASA), which as of this year isn’t a RyeSAC-sanctioned organization.  “We were shocked mostly because it was stamped by RyeSAC.”

Jack Gryn, president of the Jewish Students Association, said he received the poster last Wednesday from a representative of B’nai Birth Canada, a Jewish advocacy and community volunteering organization, requesting that he post it around Ryerson.

“The intention was not to provoke,” Gryn said.  “I went to RyeSAC, got them looked over, stamped, approved, and there were a few of them put up around the school.

“I didn’t have any intentions to start up any conflict here at Ryerson or anywhere else.”

In response, RASA hung posters on Thursday sporting graphic images of, among other things, a Palestinian boy with severe gunshot wounds to his head.  The poster was titled, “A Sample of Israeli Peace.”

Nasser said he tried to have the posters approved by RyeSAC but was refused.

“We just had to reply,” said Nasser, who contends RASA doesn’t want to create tension between any students.  “[The JSA] brought this to school.  School is not a political place.”

Leatrice Spevack, RyeSAC’s campus groups administrator, admitted that approving the JSA’s poster was an “error in judgment” and never should have occurred.

“I think that the notice of the information session or a rally is appropriate,” said Spevack, who wasn’t at work the day the poster was approved.  “I don’t think that the message [on the JSA poster] makes for a welcoming atmosphere on campus for Palestinian students.”

As of Friday, RyeSAC had removed both posters.

Cory Wrigth, RyeSAC president, said his staff has to be more cautious about what it allows to be posted around the university.

“I think in the future we are just going to have to be more careful,” he said.  “Especially with issues that are of such a concern.  We want to try and represent all of the students.  We don’t want anyone to feel uncomfortable.”

Sepvack said posters have been defaced in the past, but she has never seen such a problem regarding what’s hung around campus before.

Ryerson politics professor Myer Simeiatcki, said he’s not surprised there’s tension at Ryerson.

“I think this is a reminder,” he said.  “Ryerson is a part of the larger world.”


Vandals spray paint campus Jewish hut

By Tim Cook

It took members of Ryerson’s Jewish Students Association nearly five hours to build a hut to celebrate Succoth outside Pitman Hall.

In a matter of minutes Monday, their work was vandalized in an incident Toronto police are treating as a hate crime.

“It’s bad to see stuff like this,” said Brian Wolk, a third-year computer science student, as he surveyed the damage.  The JSA member worked on the succah, a tiny outdoor hut built to celebrate the seven days of the Jewish holiday Succoth, for about 30 minutes last Thursday night.

“It just goes to show you the stuff in the Middle East affects what goes on here,” he said.  “It’s a shame really.”

During Succoth, which this year runs between Oct. 13 and Oct. 20, Jews celebrate the harvest by eating, drinking, studying and sometimes even sleeping in the succah, which is about the size of a small bedroom.

Ryerson security said that sometime between Sunday at 11 p.m. and Monday at 9:30 a.m., someone went into the succah and spray painted “hay Israel how many kids u kill” on the wall.

Around 11 a.m. Monday, Ryerson security roped off the succah and investigated the incident, which 52 Division police are now investigating too.

Jack Gryn, JSA president, said it cost the association about $300 to build the succah.  He is upset the structure was damaged, especially after eight members of the JSA and Alpha Epsilon Pi, a Jewsih fraternity, worked on it until 10 p.m. Thursday.

“It shouldn’t have happened,” he said.

The graffiti comes as tensions escalate in the Middle East.  More than 100 people have been killed over the last three weeks in clashes between Israeli security forces and Palestinian protesters.

U.S. President Bill Clinton announced Oct. 17 that Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak and Palestinian Leader Yasser Arafat had made “real progress” in committing themselves to end the violence in the form of a three-part agreement.

According the most recently released Ryerson security statistics, there were 23 hate-motivated incidents on campus in 1997.

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