I write this in fear of what we have become and accepted as our norms. I write this reflecting on the anti-Semitism I was privy to on my university campus.
I am a student at a Ryerson University. On Tuesday, November 29, 2016, I attended the Semi-Annual General Meeting (AGM) to show my support for a motion that stated that, the Ryerson student union should provide programming to educate people during Canadian Holocaust Education week.
To be clear — this was not a political statement or a controversial topic. This was simply to raise awareness to learn from the past in order to better our future. Meant to educate, it shows that less than a century ago, people were burned, gassed, and killed for being different. They were persecuted for having a different religion skin colour, or sexual orientation. Things we millennials are fighting for today!!
Today’s millennials pride ourselves on social justice. We pride ourselves on fighting for the oppressed, don’t we?
At the meeting, I was trying to actualize my calling, to be deserving of the hero cape I wear so proudly everyday, and to let people know that hate and division lead to the worst atrocities ever committed by humanity.
I lined up to speak at the microphone in favour of this motion. Three people including the President of the Muslim Student Association (MSA), and vice president of Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP), were ahead and opposed the motion. SJP claims to be against anti-Semitism (after tonight I can attest that it clearly does not live up to that standard) and stand up for social justice of the oppressed.
I stood behind them, politely welcoming them. I was then aggressively told by the president of the MSA and Vice President of SJP to “sit down” because there are too many people with my opinions. Excuse me? You think that just because I wear a Jewish star on my necklace you can assume my positions? Well, unfortunately for these individuals, they attacked the WRONG Jewish girl.
We attempted to clarify that by morphing all of these genocides together, we pose the issue of degrading them. These genocides are different and deserve individual attention. Ryerson can hold awareness weeks for these at other times, Holocaust education week doesn’t have to be the only one.
Moving on, the opposition quickly realized that the more they continued to speak, the more controversy they created. Their strength is in numbers, and they chose to use that against us.
As if rehearsed, they formed an unofficial walk-out in which they guarded the doors, patrolled the hallways and aggressively pressured attendees to leave the room so that there would not be enough people present to hold a vote or hear the “pro” voices. The president of the MSA then called for a recount on quorum. Out of a room of 200 of my peers, the audience was reduced to less than 50.
The meeting was adjourned.
This act was motivated purely by anti-Semitism and an attempt to try to erase our past. They weren’t interested in discussion or the chance to hear us speak. They were not interested in providing education to the Ryerson community. Their only interest was to walk out of that meeting to ensure the Jewish voices not be heard.
How is this social justice?
NOTHING is more inclusive than history. History has proven repeatedly to be cyclical. By raising awareness of the holocaust we wanted to make sure that as a race no one should ever suffer the way we did. This education would benefit everyone in our campus community.
Our screaming of “never again” as all social justice leaders screamed in the past, has been silenced by these groups against the motion.
As we were trying to express our hope for a better world and pay our respects to the ones that paved the way to our freedom, 200 students walked out making sure that quorum would not be met.
Those students, confident in the justice of their action, walked out not only on the Jewish students, but they walked out on history.
They walked out on every minority that was ever persecuted for being different. .
Holocaust Education Week could have paved the way to discussions on genocide, awareness, and unity.
By walking out, they turned their back on social justice. They turned their back on equity. They showed us tonight, that they only stand against “some”‘forms of oppression. They showed me that their definition of anti-Semitism is non existent, because to them, it is irrelevant and doesn’t exist.
These student leaders are repeating the same exact mistakes that lead to the worst moments of our history.
Tamar Jaclyn Lyons is a StandWithUs Canada Emerson Fellow 2016-17