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Defending Freedom on Canadian Campuses

Campuses Hostile To Jewish Students, Panel Says

By Sheri Shefa, Staff Reporter - February 5, 2009

TORONTO — The Jewish community needs to take universities back from anti-Israel student groups who have created an atmosphere on campus that is hostile to Jewish students and supporters of Israel, says Sean Egan, a University of Toronto medical professor.

Egan, along with Lawrence Hart, a McMaster University medical professor, and Orna Hollander, executive director of the Canadian Israel Advocacy Centre, led a Jan. 21 discussion at the law offices of Cassels Brock & Blackwell titled Defending Freedom on Campus.

It was sponsored by the Canadian Jewish Civil Rights Association and the Speakers Action Group to address concerns about anti-Israel groups that have been organizing “Israeli Apartheid Week” (IAW) events every year since 2004.

Egan, who is Catholic, said it’s unfair to characterize Israel as an apartheid state, because Israeli Arabs are allowed to vote, they have seats in the Knesset, their own newspapers, sit on the Supreme Court, teach in Israeli universities, and practise medicine in Israeli hospitals.

He said that when Israel declared its independence in 1948, more than one million Jews from surrounding Arab countries were expelled from their countries and had their property confiscated, and Jewish communities, which had been in existence for more than 1,000 years before the Arab conquest of the lands, were cleansed of Jews.

“It is particularly ironic that [U of T’s] Arab Student Collective libels Israel as an apartheid state when Arab countries are effectively Judenrein,” Egan said.

“This is more that an issue of unpleasantness on campus. The IAW comes at a time when Israel is being threatened with nuclear annihilation by Iran and Israel is under constant attack from terrorists targeting civilians.”

Hart spoke about an incident last year when the Jewish Student Association (JSA)complained to McMaster’s administration about a banner that was put up by IAW organizers. It depicted a Palestinian youth who was standing next to an Israeli soldier holding a blood-drenched Israeli flag.

The decision by the McMaster administration to have the banner removed prompted the organization of a public forum and rally “in the defence of free speech,” which turned into a “hate-fest against Israel,” Hart said.

“After the forum, out came the banners that read, ‘Viva Intifadah, Death to Israel, Death to Jews.’”

He said that while the JSA did file an official complaint against the university for allowing the incident to take place on campus, a hate crimes police officer in Hamilton, who was not Jewish, asked, “‘Where is the Jewish community? Why are they not doing anything?’ And he took it under his own volition to put in a complaint to the Attorney General of Ontario, pulling together all the aspects of what happened at McMaster,” Hart said.

He said that the complaints, both to the university and the attorney general have yet to be settled.

Hart criticized some Jewish community groups that practise “soft activism.”

“There needs to be a much stronger emphasis on action rather than this passive approach.”

Hollander said that the hostility and intimidation that pro-Israel students feel has reached classrooms as well. Regardless of whether students are enrolled in sociology, biology or history courses, professors and students use class time to condemn Israel.

In addition to the numerous rallies and demonstrations that take place on campuses throughout the year, many anti-Israel activists are on student councils, she said.

“Many past presidents and VPs are actually leaders of the anti-Israel movement, and as we speak, there is a York University student council meeting, and on the agenda today is the situation in Gaza and what resolution they are going to be passing as a result of that.”

On Jan. 21, the York Federation of Students passed a motion condemning Israel for its war against Hamas, calling it “the single largest massacre in Gaza.”

University administrations are choosing to stay out of the on-campus conflict “because they are intimidated as well,” Hollander said.

“Sometimes the administration’s decision not to be involved really puts our students in a bad place. They are told by the administration that they can’t be helped, and many times our community is at a loss as to how to be a resource for the students.”

Hollander suggested that those who make large donations to universities, do so on a condition that the schools work to better protect Jewish students from intimidation and anti-Semitism.

“We have many people that donate to universities without strings attached… I don’t know why people agree to give millions of dollars to a campus that doesn’t do its part in ensuring the safety of our students.”

Egan agreed with Hollander, saying that “publicly funded institutions are being taken over and used to destroy our freedoms, and I think that the university system and the media are places where we all spend a huge amount of money and those are at the forefront of anti-Semitism in Canada and the western world. I think we need to take them back, and the only way to take them back is to put some strings on the public money that universities are going to depend upon.”

Egan added that in no other subject area would a university justify the dissemination of falsehoods on the basis of free speech.

“I don’t think there would be support for free speech if these people were promoting… misinformation about various principles of physics, so why is it acceptable to teach misinformation [about Israel] on the taxpayer’s dollar?” he asked.

Hart suggested that legal avenues be explored.

“Putting the administration into the fire with the threat or the prospect of a possible lawsuit against them for not protecting their students… I think that is something to think about.”

Max Eisen, a prominent Holocaust survivor who was in the audience, commented that the Jewish community needs to be more proactive.

“Where are the Jewish brains who can think about how to go about these things? Why are we fighting our battles in pieces, different groups at a time? Why don’t we come together?” Eisen asked.

“All these things start with words, and believe me, it is not going to get better. This is not only about Israel, it is about all of us here in North America. They are going to come after us,” he said.

“It is not just about Israel, but if something happens to Israel, we are all done for.”

This article was originally published by The Canadian Jewish News on February 5, 2019 and can be viewed on their site by clicking here.

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