Israel does not have a right to defend itself against protesters in Gaza who pose an imminent threat," said anti-Israel activist Norman Finkelstein when he spoke at the University of Toronto Mississauga on March 6.
The author and political scientist was invited to speak by the Association of Palestinian Students (APS) for their 'Make Hummus not Walls' week.
On the event's Facebook page, the APS described Finkelstein as an "acclaimed" political scientist who "specializes in the Palestinian-Israeli conflict and the Holocaust."
Finkelstein focused most of his talk on Gaza, "International law prohibits the use of force by an occupying power to suppress wide-spread popular insurrection for self-determination."
"Israel is not allowed to use any [force] in Gaza," he continued, "whether it be moderate or excessive, whether it be proportionate or disproportionate, whether protestors are unarmed or armed, whether protestors don't or do pose an imminent threat to life."
Finkelstein went on to say that an occupying power has the obligation, under the fourth Geneva convention, to ensure the welfare of the occupied people.
"Does Israel have the right to maintain public order in the face of the Gaza blockade that has made it un-livable? Do they have the right to suppress the resistance against their occupation? No, you only have the right to maintain public order if you are watching over the welfare of the population. You can't strangle a people and then claim you have a right to maintain the civility of that population."
Having authored books with titles such as "Beyond Chutzpah: On the Misuse of Anti-Semitism and the Abuse of History," "The Holocaust Industry: Reflections on the Exploitation of Jewish Suffering, and "A Farewell to Israel," Finkelstein is not new to controversy.
In 2008, he was deported and banned from Israel for 10 years after being interrogated about his contact with Hezbollah, an Iranian-funded Lebanese militia which is considered a terrorist group by Canada.
According to an article in The National Post, during the 2006 war in Lebanon, Finkelstein compared Hezbollah to the Allied resistance against Nazis in the Second World War.
Judy Zelikovitz of the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs said that Finkelstein's invitation to speak was "shocking and deeply disturbing," saying he "shamefully spent his academic career minimizing the impact of the Holocaust, calling those who have sought restitution 'cheats' and 'greedy.'"
Avi Benlolo, President and CEO of the Friends of Simon Wiesenthal Center for Holocaust Studies (FSWC) in Ontario, sent an open letter to U of T President Meric Gertler stating, "Israel Apartheid Week was founded by students on your campus and allowed to procreate and spread like a cancer throughout the world. As a result, each year a new generation of Canadians is taught to hate [Jews] on University campuses across the nation [...] Of course, we all subscribe to free speech. However, in Canadian law and sensibilities there are legal limits."
Both the Robert Gillespie Academic Skills Centre (RGASC) and the Political Science & Pre-Law Association (PSLA) rescinded themselves as co-organizers of the event.