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Montreal-based Jewish advocate Ysabella Hazan spoke out after being removed from the McGill anti-Israel encampment by police last week while attempting to have a peaceful dialogue with protesters. 

The 24-year-old activist and University of Ottawa law graduate believes that Montreal police’s claim that she was removed to ensure safety amid “tensions” is an admission that the encampment was being violent.

As previously reported by True North, Hazan and Jewish-Israeli rights activist Rudy Rochman went to the McGill encampment Friday, bringing with them two signs: one that read “We witnessed October 7, ask us anything,” and a second that read “There is no future without Israelis and Palestinians, let’s talk”.

However, the anti-Israel protesters made it clear they did not want to have dialogue, as they began “harassing and shouting violently” at Hazan and Rochman, who were subsequently asked by police to leave the premises. 

Hazan and Rochman were evicted despite having cooperated with security and police beforehand and there being no grounds for arrest.

Hazan spoke to True North about her experience.

“We got in to have conversations… we came in with what should be a neutral opening conversation starter,” she said. “My goal was to reduce the polarization.” 

Hazan says that as soon as they arrived at the encampment, protesters immediately began their militant chants. The protesters “were just shouting at us as we were standing there” and subsequently “police made it abundantly clear that we had to leave.” 

“They were telling us, ‘you need to leave now,’” she said. “And they escorted me out.”

The SPVM defended the removal of Hazan and Rochman in an interview with CBC News, claiming that they were asked to leave because “there was some tension between the two parties” and officers wanted “to avoid anything happening.”

Hazan sees the claims of wanting to ensure safety as an admission from police that the encampment protesters are violent. 

“They said apparently that they were doing it for our safety,” she said. “So they acknowledged that the other side was being extreme, the pro-Hamas encampment was being violent.”

“They prioritized the hate speech of the encampments over the peaceful minority of two,” she added. “They protected the violent majority instead of the peaceful minority.”

Hazan said she found the ordeal very disappointing and asked whether the police were “the encampment’s private security guards.”

While Hazan and Rochman were unable to have a dialogue about the conflict in the Middle East with protesters, she says they did manage to have a few conversations with individuals on the street where the gates to McGill’s campus are located.

“We actually did have some impactful dialogue outside the encampment,” she said. “We had a table there, we sat down and we discussed. We did have some good conversations.”

However, that attempt at dialogue was also not trouble-free. Hazan says pro-Palestinian agitators attempted to disrupt their initiative.

“Unfortunately, a lot of people were discouraging people to come and talk to us. Some of the (encampment) organizers would approach (the people talking to us) and say, ‘why are you speaking with Zionists?’”

She also said a man threw a metal can at her and Rochman.

“We got like a metal can thrown at us. And the guy just (ran) away.”

Hazan believes conversations about the Israel–Palestine conflict are critical right now. Those conversations are however not happening enough, amidst weaponized media that has created echo chambers.

“We’re looking at the result of people who are products of their echo chamber,” she said.

“If you want to hear about what a Zionist is, you should hear it from a Zionist,” she noted. “We don’t hear about feminist rights from misogynists, we don’t learn about environmental rights from plastic lobbyists, so we should learn about who Zionists are from Zionists.”

“This is a war, it’s not a genocide,” she added. “People are suffering on both sides, and to blame the consequences of war only on Israel is not only inaccurate and imbalanced, it also feeds the conflict.”  

Despite her fierce criticism of the encampment, Hazan abstained from calling for it to be removed by police. She does, however, want police to conduct themselves differently around the encampment.

“They should, at minimum, protect the rights of those who want to have peaceful dialogue and not prioritize a hateful majority,” she said. “You shouldn’t be shouted at when you’re holding a sign saying, ‘We witnessed October 7th, I witnessed the butchering of my people.’”