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Swastikas shown at NSPIRG endorsed protest

Dozens of people descended on Cornwallis Park in support of Gaza. (Bryn Karcha photo)
Dozens of people descended on Cornwallis Park in support of Gaza. (Bryn Karcha photo)

Protesters brandished swastikas at a rally endorsed by the Nova Scotia Public Interest Group on Nov. 17.

Originally slated as an anti-war rally in front of the hotel hosting the Halifax International Security Forum, the event became an ‘emergency demonstration’ against Israel’s attack on Gaza.

Some of demonstrators at the rally held signs depicting swastikas, and equating Israel to Nazi Germany. One protester held an Israeli flag—but a swastika took the place of the Star of David.

Alia Saied is the resource coordinator at the Nova Scotia Public Interest Research Group (NSPIRG), an organization funded by Dalhousie and University of King’s College students through a levy.

NSPIRG does not endorse or agree with the comparison of Israel to Nazi Germany, says Saied.

She says that the rally originally “was to draw attention to the fact that the Halifax International Security Forum is happening—which is essentially people from over 50 countries here to talk about war, and technology, and developments in homeland security and that kind of stuff.”

She says that the event was planned months earlier. It was transformed into a rally for Gaza only a few days prior to the demonstration.

“This was a good time and space. There were already people coming; the police knew about the protest,” says Saied.

“It was really a spontaneous and organic movement.”

Cornwallis Park filled with dozens of protesters and the rally lasted close to 3 hours. Although security from the conference formed a rank in front of the Westin hotel, the protest was not violent.

Amer Zuheyri is a Dal student, and helped organize the event. He says that the imagery was intended to be provocative, but not anti-Semitic.

“The idea of that banner was that the Israelis themselves were victims of the Holocaust—which we condemn, of course; it was a tragedy. But,” he adds, “they’re doing the same thing to the Palestinians, which is a shame because, they know what it’s like.”

Zuheyri says that he plans on starting a Dal branch of Students Against Israeli Apartheid, a group active on a number of other university campuses. He would like to see a boycott of Israeli goods and investments.

Larry Haiven, a professor in Saint Mary’s University’s department of management, spoke at the rally. Haiven also serves on the national steering committee of Independent Jewish Voices.

He says that the use of the swastika was unfortunate, and that similar images will not be tolerated in the future.

But Zuheyri says that there was little opposition to the banners at the event.

“We had a lot of Jewish people with us and no one said anything. We’re not trying to offend Jews, at all.”

Zuheyri says that he and other participants spoke with Haiven prior to the rally, and that he said the use of the swastika was appropriate.

Haiven disputes this.

“No, no. No,” says Haiven, “I wasn’t in charge of the rally, that was the problem.”

He says that he feels the use of the Nazi iconography is counterproductive.

“I just don’t think it’s a useful analogy. There are so many other ways you can criticize Israel; you don’t need to make the over-the-top comparison.”

“The comparison with Nazi Germany … I just don’t think it’s appropriate. I have no other words to describe it other than unhelpful.”

“Israel’s actions stand on their own,” he says.

Saied says that when NSPIRG endorsed the Nov. 17 rally, it was not yet a rally for Gaza, or against Israel.

“Endorsement is just a way of aligning yourselves, showing, ‘yeah, we agree with this project’ or, ‘we agree with this movement’ or ‘we agree with this group of people,’” she says.

“But when there’s a group of people, there’s no over-arching control.”

Other groups that endorsed the rally include No Harbour for War, the Canadian Union of Postal Workers (CUPW), Saint Mary’s Activist Coalition (SMAC) and Canadian Arabs and Jews for a Just Peace.

“I think there are lots of similarities between the ways Jews were treated during that time with how Palestinians are treated,” says Saied. “But I don’t think they are comparable.”

Saied says that NSPIRG’s board will consider whether or not to endorse the regular, annual anti-war rally again next year.

The UN estimates that the fighting between Nov. 14 and 21 took the lives of over 100 civilians. On Nov. 24, some of the organizers of the rally, including Larry Haiven and Amer Zuheyri, attended a vigil for victims of the conflict. There were no swastikas in sight.

The Gazette has a video of this vigil on YouTube.

Calum Agnew
Calum Agnew
Calum was a News Editor of the Gazette for Volume 146 and served as Assistant News Editor for Volume 145.
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