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Bonnie K. Goodman
Historian, Librarian, and Journalist

I am being punished for being a Jew and Zionist on a university’s campus

McGill University Arts Building, Source: Wikimedia Commons
McGill University Arts Building, Source: Wikimedia Commons

Post-October 7 antisemitism on university campuses: administrators are making students’ lives a nightmare

By Bonnie K. Goodman, BA, MLIS

 

The situation in North American universities and colleges can be summed up in one word: a nightmare. Four months after the horrendous and brutal Hamas attacks on Israel, the attacks on Jewish students on campus continue. One cannot go a day without hearing about another incident, whether vandalism, harassment, protests, speakers, or, in extreme cases, physical attacks. An increasing trend to fight back is litigation, whether individually or by class action lawsuits or government investigations into accusations of discrimination. Most of the cases revolve around students’ safety on campus. Among the universities being sued in Canada are Queen’s University, York University, Concordia University, Toronto Metropolitan University, McMaster University, and the University of British Columbia. McGill University has been at the center of legal action for a few years. As someone who has extensively researched the history of antisemitism at McGill and been at the center of their ire, I can say with certainty that McGill rightly deserves the mantle as one the most antisemitic of the universities, and it is because of their administration. The old antisemitic adage no Jews allowed, by McGill, it is no Zionists allowed.

On February 2, 2024, a group of over 100 students from McGill and Concordia came together outside the McGill Arts Building, the heart of the campus, among them professors. More telling is an image posted on the page of the student paper, the Tribune, of the students on the step accompanied by a significant number of professors, and the signs almost all accusing Israel of genocide. The protest culminated a week of action against Israel. Although the university administration claims that Solidarity for Palestinian Human Rights McGill – SPHR McGill cannot use the McGill name, they can still use McGill’s buildings and protest on campus. They called upon on their social media page to “JOIN THE STUDENTS OF MONTREAL ON FRIDAY TO WALKOUT FOR PALESTINE! Leave your classes and join us to rally for the people of Gaza who remain steadfast despite the monstrous genocidal campaign at the hands of the Zionist regime. All out for Palestine.”[1]

Although the Anti-Defamation League last surveyed campus antisemitism in November, publishing their results, Campus Antisemitism: A Study of Campus Climate Before and After the Hamas Terrorist Attacks,” the situation is not any better or safer. On November 29, 2023, it determined, “A plurality of Jewish students do not feel physically safe on campus.” According to their results before 10/7, 66.6% of Jewish students felt physically or emotionally safe on campus, while post-10/7, less than half (45.5%) felt safe. Emotional safety also decreased significantly, with 65.8% feeling safe before 10/7 and 32.5% after.[2]

Just this week, Brandeis University statistician and the expert on the Jewish communal world Leonard Saxe wrote about the statistics behind the wave of antisemitism at American universities. Saxe’s article, “Why Campus Antisemitism Matters,” indicates there is proof that:

“Studies and polls of American Jewish students reveal a startling degree of anxiety and fear.” Saxe argues that university presidents and administrators have a legal and moral obligation to keep students on campus safe. Saxe notes the growing concern among Jewish students about the increasing prevalence of antisemitism, with Jewish students afraid to be “identified and acknowledged as Jewish.” Saxe found that the level of hostility towards Jews on campus has doubled since 2016. However, there is considerable variation among schools, with the most hostile schools being prestigious private universities in the Northeast and large public universities in California and the Midwest. This variation implies that by identifying factors that contribute to anti-Jewish hatred, we can better address and combat it. [3]

As a journalist, my articles on Judaism shaped my path to becoming an American Jewish historian. I developed a voice for writing about American and Canadian Jewish history, particularly antisemitism. One news issue close to my heart was antisemitism and anti-Zionism on university campuses. For me, this fight is personal. When I first attended Concordia University as a master’s student in Judaic Studies, it was just after the Second Intifada and just as IAW began. I had a pro-Palestinian stalker that contributed to interrupting my academic career. I was set to be a teaching assistant in the Introduction to Judaism course offered by the Department of Religion. I was listed on the syllabus as the TA, and then before classes started in the fall semester, a pro-Palestinian student kept harassing me on my email. I mentioned the incident once but did not want to cause a conflict. Instead, I dropped TAing the course and slowly went to campus. I wrote about the issues confronting Concordia and McGill University students, particularly in Montreal. I saw fear take over these students, as it did me a few years ago.

For nearly ten years, I have been covering antisemitism and anti-Zionism campus news. When I went to McGill as an undergraduate and my first graduate degree, neighboring Concordia University was the hotbed of anti-Zionist activity. I first reported on the situation as McGill’s SSMU attempted to pass a BDS motion on campus. However, in 2019, as the SSMU executives were kicking out Jewish student Jordyn Wright for accepting a free trip to Israel, the articles turned into an entire book-length history of how McGill went from philosemitic to antisemitic to anti-Zionist. My research was supposed to be a blog post for the Times of Israel, but ended up being a book-length history of antisemitism and anti-Zionist policies and activities on McGill’s campus, “A Constant Battle: McGill University’s Complicated History of Antisemitism and Now anti-Zionism.”

After my mother died in November 2022, I had a difficult time getting a job and thought I should go back to university to bolster my credentials to teach. This past semester, I attended McGill University in Jewish studies. In October, I participated at the Center for Jewish and Israeli Affairs Antisemitism: Face it or Fight it conference in Ottawa. Happening barely two weeks after Hamas attacked Israel, it was a unifying and incredible learning experience that upset my professor; what had been a good relationship became strained because of my activism and participation in the conference and subsequent articles. What surprised his reaction was that he was a Jewish studies professor who should support and advocate for Jewish students. I have been having a more difficult time than some other students have had because of my public profile, my reporting, and my research on antisemitism and anti-Zionism at McGill. The challenge of the balance of respect for my work’s historical writings and the distaste for any Zionist activism on campus today has been almost impossible. His decision to stop teaching me mid-semester and his intimidation, as some called his behavior, consumed my time at McGill. This professor admitted that after the October 7 attacks, he had too much going on in his personal life, and my submitting an essay he did not ask for was too frustrating for him, and he did not want to deal with me as a student.

I faced so many challenges in my life; my mother got a chronic heart condition when I was twelve, and my father died three months after being diagnosed with cancer when I was sixteen. As an only child, my mother and I worked together through life’s challenges. I was sick in my 20s. Six years ago, I was paralyzed for six weeks, had two blood transfusions, and had to relearn to walk. These challenges forced me to rethink my life and refocus on academic writing. My mother fell and lost her eyesight during the pandemic, requiring a seven-month hospital stay. I advocated for my mother at a French hospital far from the Jewish community. My mother lost her mobility while hospitalized at a period when hospitals were more concerned with repopulating nursing homes after COVID-19 deaths rather than their recovery. I always helped my mother and was a support to her, but in the last months, I was her caregiver. The whole situation, however, was too much and cut my mother’s life short. The trauma of her sudden death and discovering her dead in her bedroom, barely an hour after I took a nap at night, and then being alone was challenging for anyone, and I developed anxiety. Because one cannot display weakness, I hid my learning disability. I am registered with the Student Success and Accessibility Office to ease fair access to my studies.

I tried reasoning with my professor, but after an hour and a half of discussion, he blamed me for his actions and wanted to start the course with an incomplete clock ticking over my head. Handling everything with this professor felt impossible, and I sought university assistance. Instead, I followed their advice and dug myself a hole, meeting with an associate dean in graduate studies who wanted me to quit my studies. She did not mind my professor dropping me mid-semester, which is unprofessional. She revoked my request to do my reading course and thesis prep remotely while campus tensions persisted. North American human and civil rights laws support disabled students, oppose discrimination, and allow reasonable accommodations. We still live in a backward society with mental health and disability stigmas. Still, schools and universities should not tolerate that attitude, and the legal system usually sides with students. Yale and Stanford Universities recently learned that lesson. [4]

The Associate Dean ignored that she had a double standard and was harsh with me. She was okay with a professor who stopped teaching me for personal reasons, leaving me academically stranded. I followed his October outline and kept working, but she returned with his revised method to evaluate me, changing the course’s content after it ended. The Charter of Students’ Rights, a vital part of the McGill Handbook on Student Rights and Responsibilities, dictates professors’ syllabi have to be given at the start of the semester. All this happened while a law student represented my case. We then met with the Dean of Students, who seemed sympathetic to my situation. He promised to work with the Student Accessibility and Achievement Office to accommodate me and remedy the course outline discrepancies. The SAA supervisor said she works with the Dean of Students to help Middle East-affected students. She wrote, “Dean… and our office will often work together regarding specific student requests. Requests for support that are related to the war in the Middle-East, is one such example. In these situations, it is the Office of the Dean of Students that works with students and faculty.”

The Dean of Students took two weeks to decide and, in the meantime, would not let me meet with my supervisor online to proceed with the thesis prep course. A course defined a “Bibliography and research proposal formation.” He gave the excuse,” I apologize for the long delay; we have had several major, complicated issues over the last few weeks that have taken much of our time.” Why the Dean of Students refused all my requests and refused to meet me halfway baffled my student advocate. The same Associate Dean of Graduate Studies who tried to get me out of school was already in charge, promising me a Failure for the thesis prep course. Yesterday, the decision arrived. Instead of accommodating me, they would punish me for being a Jewish student and Zionist and not let me make up the time in the course. They held me back from starting the course and penalized my grade. According to my professor, “Deans… have been in communication with me to make clear the in-person university policy. It has also been communicated to me that the time missed thus far for JWST 696 cannot be made up retroactively.” I was granted a “Reasonable Consideration Request: Extensions,” so McGill revoked all my disability accommodations. How can we still punish a Jew for being Jewish and fearing campus antisemitism in the 21st century? This violates Quebec’s Charter of Human Rights and is discriminatory.

This fall, I wrote an article about the position of Jewish studies professors in the campus debate. One scholar I cited summed up my experience at McGill. Jarrod Tanny, an associate professor and Charles and Hannah Block Distinguished Scholar in Jewish History at the University of North Carolina, Wilmington, and the founder of the Jewish Studies Zionist Network, just published an article criticizing Jewish studies professors. Tanny’s article entitled “Silence of the Lambs: Dissecting the Failure of Jewish Studies Programs” discusses blacklisting. I am known for my outspoken and controversial history on campus, anti-Zionism, and my frequent works on antisemitism. Activists throughout history have been punished for trying to change the status quo or injustice, and although I do not consider my waves that overwhelming, we as a Jewish community still have that fear that if we go beyond the outside’s view of how we should be, it could be detrimental. McGill Historian Gil Troy’s article, entitled “Our Failed Colleges: Time to Get Radical,” describes the problem with the politics at these universities and why pro-Israel Jewish students, especially those declaring themselves as Zionists, are shut out in the cold. [5]

This past semester, I again felt unsafe on campus with a heightened profile as a Zionist writing about Zionism after the October 7 attack, where Zionism has become an even dirtier word than ever on university campuses. All Jewish students need to feel safe on campus regardless of their viewpoints. We are living in a time when antisemitism on campus has reached a dangerous level. No student should feel pressured to opt out of their education or any activity because of their Judaism or support for Israel, which is precisely what McGill’s administration is doing to me. They want me out. They want to ruin my academic career and my professional brand because I am a Jew and Zionist with a disability. We should all be outraged. This is antisemitism, no matter what they want to call it.

The double standard remains: we, as Jews, are killed, harassed, bullied, and mistreated; others can accuse us of genocide, but we are the ones at fault and punished. The administration thinks they will ruin me, that I will shrivel up and leave, but what they do not know is every hardship I experienced made me stronger, made me a fighter, an advocate against what is in just, because they did it to me, they can do to the next student or employee and so forth. If I stay quiet and ashamed, they have accomplished their goal; I did nothing wrong, and neither does any other Jewish student fearful of the university campus. As Jews, we should all be in this fight together. Antisemitism and anti-Zionism on university campuses has to end. Until something is done to stop campus antisemitism and anti-Zionism and university administrators and officials are held accountable and protect all their students, pro-Israel Jewish students will not feel safe and comfortable on university campuses, and this repeating cycle has to stop. Harvard and the University of Pennsylvania had it right: the administration needs to be fired, and next should be McGill.

Bonnie K. Goodman, BA, MLIS, is a historian, librarian, journalist, and artist. She has done graduate work in Jewish Education at the Melton Centre of Jewish Education of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and in Jewish Studies at McGill University. She has a BA in History and Art History and a Masters in Library and Information Studies from McGill. She has done graduate work in Jewish history at Concordia University as part of the MA in Judaic Studies, where she focused Medieval and Modern Judaism. Her research area is North American Jewish history, and her thesis was entitled “Unconditional Loyalty to the Cause: Southern Whiteness, Jewish Women, and Antisemitism, 1860–1913.” Ms. Goodman has been researching and writing about antisemitism in North American Jewish History, and she has reported on the current antisemitic climate and anti-Zionism on campus for over fifteen years. She is the author of “A Constant Battle: McGill University’s Complicated History of Antisemitism and Now anti-Zionism.”

Ms. Goodman is also the author “Silver Boom! The Rise and Decline of Leadville, Colorado as the United States Silver Capital, 1860–1896,” and “The Mysterious Prince of the Confederacy: Judah P. Benjamin and the Jewish Goal of Whiteness in the South,” among others. She contributed the overviews and chronologies to the “History of American Presidential Elections, 1789–2008,” edited by Gil Troy, Arthur M. Schlesinger, and Fred L. Israel (2012). She is the former Features Editor at the History News Network and reporter at Examiner.com, where she covered politics, universities, religion, and news. She currently blogs at Medium, where she was a top writer in history, and regularly writes on “On This Day in History (#OTD in #History)” Feature. Her scholarly articles can be found on Academia.edu.

[1] https://www.thetribune.ca/news/students-demand-mcgill-divest-from-companies-supporting-israels-siege-on-gaza-in-national-week-of-action-06022024/

[2] https://www.adl.org/resources/report/campus-antisemitism-study-campus-climate-and-after-hamas-terrorist-attacks

[3] https://www.tabletmag.com/sections/news/articles/why-campus-antisemitism-matters

[4] https://bonniekgoodman.medium.com/bell-lets-talk-about-mental-health-discrimination-at-universities-208be2356e98

[5] https://jewishjournal.com/commentary/opinion/366505/our-failed-colleges-time-to-get-radical/

About the Author
Bonnie K. Goodman, BA, MLIS, is a historian, librarian, journalist, and artist. She has done graduate work in Jewish Education at the Melton Centre of Jewish Education of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and in Jewish Studies at McGill University. She has a BA in History and Art History and a Masters in Library and Information Studies from McGill. She has done graduate work in Jewish history at Concordia University as part of the MA in Judaic Studies. Her thesis was entitled “Unconditional Loyalty to the Cause: Southern Whiteness, Jewish Women, and Antisemitism, 1860–1913.” Ms. Goodman has been researching and writing about antisemitism in North American Jewish History, and she has reported on the current antisemitic climate and anti-Zionism on campus for over 15 years. She is the author of “A Constant Battle: McGill University’s Complicated History of Antisemitism and Now anti-Zionism.” She contributed the overviews and chronologies to the “History of American Presidential Elections, 1789–2008,” edited by Gil Troy, Arthur M. Schlesinger, and Fred L. Israel (2012). She is the former Features Editor at the History News Network and reporter at Examiner.com, where she covered politics, universities, religion, and news. She currently blogs at Medium, and her scholarly articles can be found on Academia.edu where she is a top writer.
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