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By Aileen McConville and Joe Friesen

A speaker at Ryerson’s annual activist assembly sparked a controversy by suggesting the state of Israel has no right to exist.

Hanadi Loubani, who represents the Women for Palestine organization, launched the attack during a question and answer session following her address last week.

“The right of the state of Israel to exist is not a question for me,” said Loubani. “Do I recognize the right of the state Israel to exist? No. Why? Because it’s a colonialist state. It’s a racist state.”

Loubani was an invited guest of RyeACT, the Ryerson Activist Coalition of Toronto, and was part of a speakers program at Oakham House designed to encourage new students to get involved with social justice issues.

Hillel, the organization which represents Jewish students on campus, was outraged by her remarks.

“They are openly spreading hate about Israel and the U.S. on campus,” said Hillel president Victor Volfson. “It definitely adds to an atmosphere of conflict when we have to react to something like this.”

Loubani also advocated a university boycott of Israeli academics and urged the members of her audience to ask themselves whether Israel was willing to live in equality with the Palestinians.

“This is the question that the anti-globalization, anti-war movement, peace activists should be asking,” she said. “Not of the Palestinians, but of the Jewish fact.”

The audience applauded her remarks.

Alex Lisman, a RyeACT organizer, said RyeACT opposes anti-semitism, noting that some of its prominent members are Jewish. He also said the media often sides with Israel on issues related to the conflict in the Middle East.

“We don’t have a position on the Israelis not having a right to exist,” said Lisman. “We support universal human rights. We see the Palestinians as those who need the most support, but we’re not pro one over the other.”

Volfson said RyeACT should look at Israel’s human rights record. “[Israel] is the only country in the Middle East that promotes gay rights and where women are free to vote and work and live their own lives,” he said.

Another speaker, Zainab Amadahy, compared Canada’s treatment of the First Nations to the situation in Israel.

“What does that say about Canada?” said Amadahy.

Volfson was concerned that students who attended the assembly would have a false impression of the Israeli situation.

“They should keep an open mind,” said Volfson. “No other country has had to justify its right to exist like Israel has.”

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