Conflict between Jewish and Moslem students is not uncommon on campuses around the world, but at one university this week the violence reached new levels: A student activist, supporter of Israel, and his friend, also known as an Israel supporter, were attacked Sunday at Carlton University near the Canadian capital, Ottawa.
They were subject to anti-Semitic curses and even threatened with a machete, and felt lucky to have survived the onslaught, they said. The incident was widely covered in the press and even reached national news channels.
Nick Bergamini (22), vice-president of the university's student association, told Ynet that he and his friend Mark Klibanov (20) left a bar in the campus area late at night, when suddenly ten men surrounded them, speaking English and Arabic, calling them "Zionists" and "Jews."
Bergamini is not in fact Jewish, but is nonetheless active in his support for Israel, as is Klibanov. Both hold posts in various Jewish campus organizations. "Yes, I love Israel," Bergamini shouted back at the attackers.
Bergamini said that he even recognized one of the men, and supposes they were all students at the university. "I told them not to do this because I knew who they were," he said, "but I got hit hard on the back of the head. We ran to the bar entrance because bar security was there."
But things didn't end there. They decided to go to Ottawa from Gatineau, the campus site, when the crowd had dispersed. On the way, as they passed a parking lot, a car stopped next to them containing three men.
"One of them rolled down the window and said: ‘I am the one who hit you, you f---ing Jew,' although I am not a Jew," Bergamini said. "Two guys came out of the car and one of them tried to kick my roommate.
"One attacker said ‘Open the trunk,' and another guy pulled out a machete that glinted in the street lights. I yelled that they had weapons and we started running as fast as we could. I saw the guy wind up with the machete as I looked back."
Klibanov, interviewed by local newspaper Ottawa Citizen, said that the huge blade, generally used to clear a path through rainforests in South America, just missed Bergamini's head. He said they survived only because they managed to run away quickly.
He too recognized one of the men, but didn't remember how many people had chased them. He added that the men must be found, in order to prevent further attacks.
"The first thing they said before punching my friend is that we were Zionists," Klibanov said. "This situation surprised me, but the intentions of these people did not.
"If you are from the right wing or are a supporter of Israel, it gets around pretty quickly, because Carleton is one of the worst campuses for having a division between Palestinian and Jewish students. It is a really polarized campus between left and right, Jewish and Arab students."
Bergamini stressed that he had never spoken to the man he recognized, but added, "It is known at Carleton that I have been to Israel and that I have a Facebook site supporting Israel. My roommate is on the board of the Israel Awareness Committee that does advocacy on behalf of Israel.
"I am happy that I am still alive. We both could have been killed last night because he swung a machete at my neck."
They reported the incident to the police, and intend also to inform the university administration. The police confirmed that an investigation was underway.
Jason MacDonald, a spokesman for the university, said that the institution provides a platform for students to express themselves. "The Israel-and-Palestine issue is one of the things that can cause people to become emotional," he said. "Our job is to make sure that these debates can happen without anyone's personal safety being threatened.
"We have met with student groups on both sides of such issues and told them that we are not here to tell them what to think but certain kinds of behavior are not acceptable."
The incident has already been condemned by the Canadian Jewish Congress.
"Maybe we should consider the impact that words can have in accelerating the argument to the point where people feel that this kind of behavior is acceptable," said Len Rudner, director of the Ontario chapter of the Congress. "If you permit a constant invective and demonization of the Jewish state and people who support the Jewish state, some people will feel that this gives them the permission or responsibility to carry out this kind of attack."
Amichai, an Israeli who emigrated to Canada some 12 years ago, told Ynet that the attack doesn't surprise him.
"I define myself as leftwing, and even leftwing with a lot of empathy for the Palestinians," he said, "but this case is disturbing because it reflects an ongoing demographic trend taking place over the last 20 years, of deep hatred for Israel. It is the result of hundreds of thousands of Moslem immigrants entering Canada, more than a million."
He recalled that during the intifada of 2001-2, there were many expressions of hatred against Israel, including attacks against Jewish students. He gave the example of the kippa-wearing son of a teacher who was almost shoved onto the metro railway line by Arabs.
The peak came during the riots at Concordia University in Montreal, which prevented the lecture due to be given by then Foreign Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. The rioters not only attacked Jews, but also police, who withdrew, leaving the rioters to determine the day's agenda.
Amichai said that Palestine Human Rights Week, or "Apartheid Week," which is marked each March in campuses throughout North America, has become a week of hatred towards Israel.
"Luckily for us, the current Canadian government under the conservatives, led by Prime Minister Stephen Harper, is the most supportive of Israel," he said. "Under their leadership, Canada is not only leading the fight against the Taliban in Afghanistan, but also supports Israel in every international forum at every opportunity. At least under their leadership anti-Semitism is under surveillance."