Mike Fegelman

Concordia Student Union Atones For Antisemitism

Once again, Canadian Jews have the dubious distinction of being the most targeted group for hate crimes. In a report released on March 29, Statistics Canada revealed that Jewish Canadians were the single biggest victims of religiously motivated hate crimes across the country in 2019.

In the wake of this report’s release, on April 6, the Concordia Student Union (CSU), the official representative of all students at Concordia University, released an unprecedented apology to the Jewish community.

The apology, posted on their Facebook page, acknowledged that the CSU had missed opportunities to actively address issues of antisemitism taking place on campus, and as a result, allowed continued discrimination against Jewish students to fester.

“Overall, our mistakes can be described in one word, indifference. Indifference to one of the world’s oldest forms of discrimination. Indifference to the concerns of our Jewish students. Indifference to the struggles they have faced. While a common topic of our meetings has been how the CSU can tackle other forms of discrimination or support certain minority groups, the Jewish Community and Antisemitism are seldom brought up. This indifference has led to numerous opportunities being missed by the Concordia Student Union to help the Jewish Community and to tackle issues of Antisemitism on our campus head-on. By doing so, the CSU has assisted in fostering a campus culture where Jewish students are afraid to openly identify as Jewish,” the post read.

Our silence on these issues only benefits the oppressors and sets the belief that these acts are somehow justifiable which encourages the oppressors to continue this behaviour,” the post continued.

As was reported by The Suburban newspaper, CSU councillor and incoming Hillel Concordia president Nicole Nashen, along with her friend Harrison Kirshner, commendably “‘worked tirelessly on this issue… they brought in experts and community professionals to help educate their fellow councillors and after years, if not decades of antisemitism, they convinced the CSU to turn its back on years of shameful action.'”

It would be hard to overstate how significant this statement on the part of the CSU is, particularly on a campus with a history as troubled as Concordia University, which has an earned reputation as a hotbed of campus anti-Israel extremism and virulent antisemitism. As the Montreal Gazette reported in 2018: “Concordia’s student union, years ahead of the BDS movement, passed anti-Israel resolutions and transformed the student handbook into a radical pro-Intifada manifesto called Uprising. Later that year (2002), an address by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at Concordia was cancelled following a riot.” Last month, Jews worldwide celebrated the holiday of Passover, bringing to mind how in 2017, the CSU hosted an odious “Passover against apartheid” anti-Israel event which was condemned for cultural and religious appropriation.

The official body of all Concordia students has now, for the first time on record, apologized and recognized that their past actions, behaviours and inactions led to the victimization of Jews on campus. Importantly, the CSU has also formally abandoned its support for the antisemitic BDS movement according to B’nai Brith Canada. As well, the CSU courageously and commendably committed to chart a new course by initializing antisemitism training and implementing various protocols to safeguard Jewish students on campus.

Concordia’s student union has taken a bold and important step, and it should be rightfully acknowledged and praised as such. But there remains far more to be done across the province of Quebec. Tragically, Montreal Mayor Valerie Plante has refused to take the important step of adopting the official International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) definition of antisemitism.

The IHRA definition of antisemitism, adopted by the Trudeau government, the province of Ontario, along with the municipalities of DDO, Westmount, Hampstead, Cote-des-Neiges-Notre-Dame-de-Grace, Cote-Saint-Luc and more than 30 other countries, recognizes that anti-Jewish discrimination and hate speech can sometimes be cleverly couched as anti-Israel. This morphing of Jew-hatred from the individual antisemitic discrimination to the collective demonization of the Jewish state has become known as “the new antisemitism.” If antisemitism cannot be properly recognized, it cannot be combatted.

As important as the Concordia Student Union’s apology is, the failure of Montreal’s municipal government to adopt IHRA is a potent reminder of the task which lies ahead for advocates against antisemitism in the province of Quebec. The provincial Legault government, and all municipal governments, including the Valerie Plante administration of Montreal, must follow the lead and example set by the Concordia Student Union and acknowledge their past failures in addressing antisemitism.

The best way to combat antisemitism and fight to protect the rights of Quebec’s nearly 100,000 Jews is to adopt the IHRA definition of antisemitism, as the federal government has done and which the CSU should also do. Nearly 20 years after the disgraceful riots at Concordia, the student union on campus has turned over a new leaf and has taken an unprecedented leadership role. If they were able to do so, our province’s politicians can certainly follow suit and it’s high time our media hold our political leaders accountable.

About the Author
Mike Fegelman is Executive Director of HonestReporting Canada, a non-profit organization which ensures fair and accurate Canadian media coverage of Israel.
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