Police, metal detectors and photo-identification checks welcomed those attending a speech at York University in Toronto yesterday by a controversial U.S. scholar of the Middle East, as officials tried to avoid a violent protest.
Students braved the chilly weather and demonstrated peacefully outside, while Daniel Pipes, who had been invited by the Jewish Student Federation at York, condemned what he sees as the chief cause of conflict in the Middle East.
"The key barrier to peace is ongoing Arab rejection of Israel," he told the audience of about 200 people.
In his address, Mr. Pipes criticized what he called "street opposition" to free speech.
"These are barbarians who would close down civilized discourse."
He noted that at Concordia University in Montreal, former Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu was forced to cancel a speech in September after a tumultuous protest by pro-Palestinian demonstrators.
Mr. Pipes is a Middle East expert and director of the Philadelphia-based Middle East Forum, which describes itself on its Web site as a think tank that works to define and promote U.S. interests in that region.
He is also the creator of Campus Watch, a controversial Web site that details what he calls pervasive anti-U.S. and anti-Israel sentiments on college campuses across the United States.
Critics argue that the Web site singles out academics who criticize Israel's treatment of Palestinians and pro-Israeli policies made by Washington. Those academics are then harassed, critics say.
Last week, the student-run centre at York University blocked Mr. Pipes from speaking at its facility. But the university administration decided to accommodate him after Jewish community leaders intervened.
While many attending yesterday's speech agreed with Mr. Pipes's views, a few walked out. "You're a racist and too stupid to even know it," a student said as he left a York gymnasium where the speech was held.
Outside, a small group of protesters had a few shouting matches and debated with those waiting in line to attend the speech.
Student and faculty demonstrators said that although Mr. Pipes has the right to speak, they oppose his Web site, which they say provokes intimidation on campuses. Some had duct tape around their mouths -- to symbolize the silencing effect of Mr. Pipes's Web site, they said.
Those attending the speech and those demonstrating chanted slogans, such as "Shame on York" and "Stop the bombing, stop the hate, maybe then they'll get a state."
Toronto Police officers and campus security guarded the entrance to the building where the speech was held.
After those with tickets filed inside, they had to present photo identification. They then moved into the gymnasium, where they were checked by police using hand-held metal detectors.
Cim Nunn, a spokesman for the university, said the precautions were needed to prevent violence.
"He's a controversial figure, and they prefer to err on the side of being overly cautious," Mr. Nunn said.
At a news conference after his speech, Mr. Pipes said the problem on North American campuses is "intolerance toward alternate points of view."
As for claims of intimidation, he said that he has not seen any proof of threats, and said his Web site does not advocate harassment.
"We denounce it. What I'm seeing here is an attempt to close us down."