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Encampments and Protests on University Campuses: What Do They Say about Where We are and Where We are Going?

By Charles Cooke


A number of universities across Canada have been subject to vigorous protests and encampments on their properties by "students,” including U of T, UBC and McGill. Anti-Israel protests have also been held at U of Calgary, U of Ottawa and U of Manitoba.

 

Jewish students and their allies have increasingly feared for their safety on campus and have had their studies interrupted. Jewish faculty also report experiences of antisemitism, including isolation, doxxing, and threats.

 

We have also seen leaders of at the U of T encampment refusing to leave by the deadline set by the university leadership, and they were met without consequence.


 Antisemitism at universities has increased and the vitriol is demonstrably hateful, such as calling for Jews to “go back to Europe.”


It has been reported by some media that many of the protesters, are not students of the universities and are, in fact,  funded and supported by Qatar and Iran, and other foreign entities intent on disrupting both life on campus and Western liberal society as a whole.

 

Some of the protesters are professional agitators.The words called out by these so-called student protesters, their placards and posted signs are a call to violence and are clearly anti-Israel and express, without shame, Jew hatred.

 

It is clear that calls for "intifada, revolution", "free, free Palestine" and “from the river to the sea, Palestine will be free," are calls for violence against Israelis and Jews worldwide.

 

Make no mistake about it! They are code words for the destruction of Israel, eradication of Jews from their ancient homeland and even violence against Jews here at home.

 

This is unacceptable and must be brought to an end forthwith.

 

University faculty and administrators who support or allow these encampments, argue they should be permitted as expressions of free speech. Nonsense! Brazen calls for violence, for the destruction of Israel, and hateful antisemitic language are not examples of free speech, but of hate speech, and ought to be condemned as such. In fact, it can be argued it is not even speech but verbal violence.


Increasingly, the messages express support for Hamas, a designated terrorist organization in Canada, and thus these protesters but could very well be in breach of sections of the Canadian Criminal Code.

 

Is this protected speech? No.


In response to these encampments, we have seen a total lack of leadership from university leaders and politicians at all levels.  In Toronto, Mayor Chow has deferred to university administrators as has the provincial premier, and neither has done nearly enough to end the encampment at U of T.   The Federal government has also been far too  silent. The lack of moral clarity of our political leaders is astonishing.

 

The Western world is in crisis, with antisemitism as the headwind of the decline in moral clarity of our society. The public has to demand more from its elected leaders. 


A recent American poll by the Anti-semitism Research Center found that April's 619 recorded incidents of antisemitism, 183 (29.6%) took place on university campuses. This represents an astronomical 815% rise in campus antisemitic incidents when compared with April 2023. At Drexel University, local police are investigating the vandalism of the campus Jewish center. "Don’t let her in, she’s a Zionist.’’ At Columbia University, a protesting student on campus promised that "October 7th is going to be every day for you."    


Thus, there needs to be a collective call for action to stop the rise of antisemitism and  the routinization of antisemitic discourse by faculty in courses offered in academia. Senior levels of our governments demonstrates policy inaction motivated by fear snd short-term electoral considerations. As history has well shown, appeasement is no solution. It is "Chamberlainesque".

 

What we are witnessing today does not bode well for our future. In 5-15 years when these "students" occupy positions of leadership in our society, their hateful worldview will be the greatest threat to our democracy, to our freedoms, to the existence of real diversity and the safety of Jews and other  minorities. 


This is not merely a Jewish problem. This is a Canadian, and now, a global problem. 

 

This must change. NOW is the time to get involved, to demand action, to advocate in ways both big and small, to make a difference.  Be the difference, before it is too late.

 

In the last week of April, the U.S. House of Representatives passed the Antisemitism Awareness Act (AAA), which would codify the IHRA Working Definition of Antisemitism into Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. 

Is this not an example of a model for action by our federal government?  


OUR ACTION STEPS

 

  1. Write directly to the respective University Presidents and political leaders, demanding they restore order, and request the police evict everyone from the encampments. Organizers of these unseemly and illegal protests should be charged with mischief, hatred, and illegal use of private property and also required  to pay all costs for damage, security and clean up of university property.

 

  1. Demand an emergency summit of university presidents to deal with the astonishingly high levels of antisemitism at the universities.

 

  1. Demand that Universities adopt the IRHA definition of antisemitism or have the provincial governments which fund them and have some level of oversight, to impose this.

 

In summary, as we previously stated in our statement to all university presidents:

 

“We call on university leadership to:


  1. Be proactive. Make it clear that the breaking of laws and codes of conduct will not be permitted.

  2. Ensure real consequences for any students, faculty and staff involved in the violation of university policies and hate speech. Such consequences must Includesuspension if they violate calls to disperse.

  3. Put campus groups inciting disobedience and disorder under immediate review regarding their continued status within the university framework.”

 

In the medium term, we also need to launch a provincial inquiry to investigate the connection between university funding and education curriculum and the radicalization of our institutions of higher learning. We also need to have public funding tied to an assurance by universities to no longer, by neglect and indifference, permit Jew hatred to grow on our campuses.

 

As well, we need a wholesale review of the criminal code to strengthen provisions of hate speech, as may be needed.

 

In the end, there may be a silver lining. As the protesters become more vocal and brazen in their hate, the vast majority of Canadians will come to see them and their like for what they are. Purveyors of hate.

 

Just 31 per cent of people who took a recent Leger  said they support the encampments, while 48 per cent were against the demonstrations. About one in five said they don’t know.


And in this context, light shall win.

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