Attendees in designer suits and evening gowns strolling into the Fairmont Royal York on November 19 were greeted by Palestine solidarity activists chanting "Turn the tide, end Israeli apartheid."
The gala, hosted by Canadian Friends of Haifa University, was a fundraiser for the study of racism and anti-Semitism. Tickets to the affair, which were tax deductible, started at $500.
According to the Coalition Against Israeli Apartheid (CAIA) and the Jewish group Not In Our Name (NION), protestors targeted the event to draw attention to the occupation and to the Israeli checkpoints that prevent Palestian students from attending classes.
"Fundraising for this program occurs in a larger context," says NION spokesperson Naomi Binder Wall. "You can't talk about anti-Semitism and racism without talking about what is happening to Palestinians. The university is rooted in a discriminatory apartheid system."
Palestinian sympathizers, however, weren't the funder's only uninvited guests. Midway through the demo, a dozen members of the Jewish Defense League clutching "Smash Islamic terrorism" signs showed up to counter-demonstrate. The group's Meir Halevi refused comment.
Organizers of the gala, for their part, say protestors were picketing the wrong affair. Peter Biro, national president of Canadian Friends of Haifa University, says to NOW a few days later, "Everyone in attendance is committed to pluralism, democracy, free expression and peace in the region, and that is what Haifa University is all about.
"You won't find an institution of higher learning with a greater commitment to respectful treatment of the Palestinians," he says. "I would have thought NION would be the first to line up behind Haifa University. They have chosen the wrong event."
Activists, however, insist Israeli institutions of higher learning are a legitimate protest target. The action, says CAIA rep Navyug Gill, "is grounded in the current grassroots boycott, sanctions and divestment campaign."