A lecture by Philadelphia-based pro-Israel academic Daniel Pipes, scheduled as part of York University's IsraelFest this week, was given the green light Friday by York president Lorna Marsden, reversing last week's veto of the event by the management of York's Student Centre.
The centre had blocked the event because of security concerns. The venue for the Tuesday afternoon program was changed from the Underground, a restaurant in the centre, to York's Tait McKenzie athletic facility, to address security concerns, said Zac Kaye, director of Hillel of Greater Toronto (formerly Jewish Campus Services of Greater Toronto), the umbrella for Jewish students at all Toronto-area campuses.
The lecture, titled Barriers to Peace in the Middle East, would not have happened without the assistance of Canadian Jewish Congress (CJC), Kaye said.
CJC executive director Bernie Farber, who spoke to Marsden directly, said, "She was concerned for the security of the students and the university itself, but, I believe, was very committed to ensuring that the talk went on and was looking for a way to bring that about."
In a news release, Daniel Held, the Israel Affairs co-ordinator of York's Jewish Student Federation, said, "It's very positive for the university to let him speak. They've made a decision that will further perpetuate freedom of speech on campus."
The university's Middle Eastern Student Association (MESA), the main dissenters over Pipes' appearance, object particularly to Pipe's Campus-Watch Web site (www.campus-watch.org), which monitors and critiques specific professors and universities on their approach to Mideast studies.
Campuses are places of civil debate and civic discourse, said Kaye. "Irrespective of the views of any academic, it's important to have the opportunity to hear these viewpoints."
Kaye said he felt good about Marsden's decision and recognized the pressures she was facing both from MESA and because of security concerns. "The spectre of Concordia is uppermost in everybody's minds," he said. "They are taking all the precautions necessary [to prevent the violence that occurred at Concordia University when Israeli Foreign Minister Benjamin Netanyahu came to speak last Sept. 9]."
Ed Morgan, chair of CJC, Ontario region, said that while he was pleased with the outcome of the negotiations, "the whole episode is a signal as to how careful we have to be on our campuses to allow real debate to flourish and to not be deceived into thinking that mainstream debate has to be censored."
Pipes is a "genuine scholar," said Morgan. "One can disagree or agree with him, but he's a genuine scholar He's not a political activist."