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June 10, 2010

A mysterious attack in Ottawa

Reuel S. Amdur

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This is the story of an attack on two students: Mark Klibanov, an Israeli Jew, and Nick Bergamini, his gentile roommate.

It was reported in the Ottawa Citizen, National Post, and Jerusalem Post.  

The CBC interviewed the two men, and B’nai Brith Canada, the Canadian Jewish Congress and the Jewish Defence League all issued condemnations.

In a press release, B’nai Brith Canada Executive Vice President Frank Dimant said: “It is simply outrageous that pro-Israel students have been assaulted in our nation’s capital for nothing more than their pro-Israel views. One of the assaulted students, who is not Jewish, was reportedly first struck in the back of the head, and then chased with a machete swinging within inches of his neck. The Jewish student, who along with his friend was called numerous derogatory and anti-Semitic slurs during the assault, was a local organizer of B’nai Brith’s recent Imagine With Us pro-Israel campus initiative, an initiative which was banned by York University.”

Len Ruder, director of the Ontario Chapter of the Canadian Jewish Congress, told the Ottawa Citizen: “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.”

The JDL promised to establish a chapter in Ottawa “to expose and confront all hate groups in the Ottawa area.”

So, what if anything happened to create this stir?

The story is that these two well-known Israel supporters on the Carleton University campus were leaving Le Volt, a bar in Hull across the river from Ottawa, at 1:45 on the morning of April 5. They were accosted by men yelling at them in English and Arabic, insulting them as Jews and Zionists.

They then went back to the bar for the security of the bouncer. When they felt safe, they walked through a parking lot en route to a bridge back to Ottawa.  They were then confronted by men in a car who swore at them, got out of the car, hit one of them, and then chased them with a machete as they fled across the bridge.

There are some difficulties with this account.

Hull’s late-night watering holes are indeed popular with Ottawa university students, but it is not likely that Muslim students would be coming out of such places at 1:45 in the morning. Yet, it is possible. Not all Muslims are non-drinkers, in spite of religious rules.

Then there are questions about numbers. Klibanov spoke of three assailants on the three of them. Three of them? Where is the third person who accompanied Klibanov and Bergamini? And Bergamini numbered the attackers as 10 or 15, not three.

Inquiries at Le Volt did not produce any support for the alleged incident. There is no record from the camera at the entrance.

The bouncer on duty denied that anyone came to seek protection. He saw no problems. Police have made no arrests, saying that the matter was still under investigation and that there could be no comment till the investigation was concluded.

The whole case depends at this time, it seems, on the credibility of the two students.

We have some evidence about Klibanov’s credibility because of a problem with his candidacy for student office at Carleton. On March 9, 2010, the electoral board of the student council disqualified him from running because he submitted a fraudulent or inaccurate expenditures report.

According to the board: “The secondary receipt submitted to the Elections Office, after you were informed by e-mail of the insufficiency of the first, was determined to be fraudulent or inaccurate because of several inconsistencies. For example, the service reported is not available at the company (Westboro Flooring and Decor) where the invoice came from; the photographer was not an employee of the company; the employees from the company had no record of the receipts; and the multiple receipts from the same company had been submitted with the same invoice number.”

It is hoped that the police investigation will uncover the truth.

If the allegations of the attack are true, they reveal a serious situation on the Carleton campus, requiring immediate action, not only to identify and take action against any students involved, but also to engage in a program to promote of positive relations between Muslim and Jewish students.

On the other hand, if the story proves to be a hoax, the perpetrators need to face the consequences. As well, the Jewish organizations that issued statements will need to retract them promptly.

Many years ago when I was living in Colorado, a neighbour told me that a black man had cut off the penis of a young boy in the community. I called the police, who informed me that the story was a false and malicious rumor that was making the rounds. I immediately let my neighbour know. Such rumors are dangerous.

We do not need inter-group conflict on campuses enflamed by fictitious horror stories. We do not need to suppress campus political advocacy to avoid fabricated hostilities. And Le Volt does not need unjustified bad publicity.

Incidentally, I was able to find Mark Klibanov, who responded by e-mail to my efforts to contact him.

He was under the mistaken impression that I represented a company that was interested in hiring him. I asked for an interview with him and his roommate, and he said he would check back after talking to Bergamini as to a time. I have heard nothing more from him.

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