This has been – to put it mildly – an eventful few weeks for Jewish and pro-Israel campus advocacy in Canada.
Last week began with an evacuation of York University’s Glendon campus in Toronto due to a bomb threat. While no explosive devices were discovered, we later learned the threat was actually antisemitic in nature. This incident brought to mind a similar challenge at Glendon last spring, when a spate of antisemitic graffiti appeared in campus washrooms.
Glendon’s Principle Donald Ipperciel strongly condemned this most disturbing act of antisemitism, saying: “We firmly and forcefully condemn anti-Semitism. Any anti-Semitic or other forms of bigotry and hate are unacceptable. They are an affront to the values of respect and inclusion that are the very foundation of our University, and will not be tolerated on our campuses.”
The statement further listed proactive measures the school will undertake to counter hateful activity on campus, including the hiring of additional security personnel and the formation of a committee on inclusion to “make recommendations on…teaching programs and practices, with a focus on inclusion, diversity and equity.”
Then there was the now infamous situation in Montreal where the Students’ Society of McGill University (SSMU) voted to remove several Board members associated with opposing antisemitism or engaging in pro-Israel activities. One was Jewish and, after the meeting, penned an impassioned Facebook post articulating his belief that he was targeted simply for being Jewish.
In the days following, the University administration announced that it is investigating the incident and assembling a task force to address the issue more broadly. They have also announced an independent review is underway. And, just yesterday, the SSMU itself took some positive first-steps to right this injustice by suspending the decision to impeach these students until a full review can be undertaken.
We then saw a Facebook post from a student at the University of Manitoba who shed light on a series of nasty antisemitic remarks he endured from a few of his classmates. And a day later, Alt Right posters were discovered on the University of Victoria campus. In both cases, campus officials and police are investigating and searching for those responsible.
As shocked as we may be by events at Glendon, McGill, the University of Manitoba, and the University of Victoria, one thing is clear – despite the challenges Jewish students on campus face; we have many friends. In fact, I would argue that while most students on campus are disinterested in the politics of the Middle East, the vast majority of those on campus, and especially those in university leadership, have no tolerance for the antics of a handful of hateful individuals.
In the midst of a challenging few weeks, it’s also important to remember that there are tremendous opportunities for our students on campus. This was certainly my conclusion after spending much of the past week interviewing candidates for the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affair’s Israel Young Leaders Program (IYLP).
This annual trip, which takes non-Jewish campus leaders on an intensive fact-finding mission to Israel over the December break, has become a hallmark of CIJA’s campus advocacy initiatives. Listening to nearly 40 student leaders (all of whom can only be described as superstars) explain their motivations for wanting to visit Israel is my annual reminder that most students are good people with open minds. And when they see Israel firsthand, many return to Canada with the knowledge and determination to speak the truth on campus – and stand up against those who would violate the rights of Jewish students.
If we review Jewish community press or the social media feeds of pro-Israel campus activists over the last few weeks, it’s clear that this has been an incredibly challenging period. That said, we must not forget that, for every enemy on campus, we have countless champions.