Assistant News Editor
The brutal wind and the pouring rain did not stop protestors from gathering to rally against a presentation by controversial guest speaker former British MP George Galloway at York Nov. 16.
Boiling cries of “Viva, viva, Palestina!” elicited louder chants of “Go away, Galloway!” from an opposing crowd that was against the York Federation of Students- organized event.
The chants from the anti-Galloway group grew louder through the night and traveled through to the Price Family Cinema, where Galloway was giving his speech to a sold-out crowd of over 500 people.
Galloway is mainly known as an anti-war, pro-Palestinian advocate who was barred by Canadian Border Services from entering Canada back in 2009 because he financially supported the Hamas-led government of Palestine. A recent court decision has lifted his ban, which allows him entry into Canada.
At the lecture, Galloway insisted he never supported Hamas, an organization the Canadian government officially considers a terrorist group.
“I have been asked why I have been dealing with Hamas,” he said. “I have news for the people in Ottawa: everybody else in the world is already talking to Hamas. You don’t need university education to understand that if you want to resolve a conflict, you have to talk to the people who are engaged in the conflict.”
Some critics of Galloway also claim he promotes anti-Semitic views; however, Galloway said that could not be further from the truth.
“How could someone like me be against Jews? Nothing could be more ridiculous,” argued Galloway. “Trotsky was a Jew. Einstein was a Jew. Chomsky was a Jew. I am not against Jews. I am against the racist apartheid of the Israeli government.”
Outside the theatre during the lecture, anti-Galloway protesters equipped with homemade signs that read “from Galloway’s pockets to Hamas rockets” and “Darfur is not a lie,” chanted “peace, not hate” and “not on our campus, not on our dime.”
According to Krisna Saravanamuttu, president of the YFS, the student union is not making any kind of financial contribution to have Galloway speak on campus. Saravanamuttu, said the YFS would, however, be covering any security-related expenses.
About two dozen security personnel, including York security and Toronto police, acted as human barricades and patrolled the corridors alongside the Accolade East building.
Alex Bilyk, director of media relations at York, estimated at least five off-duty police officers must be present for high-profile events like Galloway’s. He estimated costs for five officers would be about $3,500.
Some protesters were slight- ly older than your average York student.
“I’m here to support our people,” said Hana Zimnowitz, an elderly 88-year-old woman who stood on a bench above the crowd in the Accolade East building. “I’m here to support our students,” she yelled as she waved the Israeli flag alongside about 150 others.
Parisa Durrani, a York alumna who attended the event, said the initial ban was unjustified.
“Everybody has a right to say what they want to say, and his words are not killing anybody,” he said. “He is speaking for a group of people who don’t necessarily have a voice. That shouldn’t have been a reason for banning him.”
Several York students came out to the event to express their opinions on Galloway’s presence on Keele campus. “There shouldn’t be these kinds of events here because there are classes being held at Accolade East right now,” third-year biology student Nozhan Rahmani yelled over the chants. She said that she mainly wanted to see different perspectives about the Middle Eastern conflict.
“I don’t agree with Galloway’s opinion on Iran,” she said. “But I do agree with him about human rights violations that are happening in [Gaza].”
Nathaly Schneider, a fourth-year communications studies major, felt Galloway is using York as a podium for spreading hate speech.
“It’s contrary to student unity,” she said. “I am deeply offended that a student union that is supposed to represent an entire student population is bringing a man to further divide the campus.”