Jay Solomon

Mounting challenges at the University of Toronto

This week, the Scarborough Campus Students’ Union (SCSU) passed a motion to reaffirm their commitment to the Boycott, Divestment & Sanctions campaign. 

The language of the resolution mirrors that of a similar one passed a year ago by the same union. Of course, the motion – and the possible ramifications of the motion – are discriminatory, deplorable and condemnatory. 

In passing this latest antisemitic attack, the SCSU specifically committed to:

“refrain(ing) from engaging with organizations, services, or participating in events that further normalize Israeli apartheid in ways including, but not limited to: 

  • Inviting speakers who are representing the Israeli Defense Force (IDF), or support the military occupation of Palestine, the displacement, incarceration and/or killings of Palestinian people
  • Note: Individuals with a history of service in the IDF but no current ties or support of the institution should not be held accountable for their required duty to serve
  • Note: Efforts should be made to source Kosher food from organizations that do not normalize Israeli apartheid, however recognizing the limited availability of this necessity then excemptions can be made if no alternatives are available.”

Simply put, the SCSU has again aligned itself with a global campaign to normalize the hatred and alienation of Jews.  Even simple communal needs, like access to kosher food, are viewed through a lens that sees basic and common Jewish practices as deserving heightened and targeted scrutiny.

As part of the largest Jewish student group in the world, Hillel UofT has been working tirelessly to support a group of courageous Jewish students — on a campus with very few Jewish students to begin with — in an attempt to steer the union in a more equitable and welcoming direction. While we are deeply disappointed by the union’s position, and call on its executive to take immediate steps to reverse this shameful resolution, we also commend the advocacy efforts of Jewish students who successfully passed a separate resolution titled a Re-Affirmation of Rights of Jewish Students; which passed despite the union’s policy committee which struck key language from the document.

What did pass, however, should not be overlooked. 

Thanks to the dedication of these Jewish students, the union also endorsed a resolution that in many ways contradicts its endorsement of BDS. By virtue of this resolution, the SCSU will be required to “oppose conditions that discriminate against, or significantly impede, full Jewish participation in political, religious, cultural, academic, or social life on and off campus”, including “eschew(ing) the use of union participation in the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement as an inhibition of student participation in campus organizations like Hillel, or community organizations like UJA…”

Securing the approval of this resolution is a significant accomplishment given the landscape.

All of this goes to prove that  the issues at the University of Toronto are varied, complex and mounting.  In response, Hillel UofT, supported by Hillel Ontario – the largest Hillel in the world – is working closely with senior members of the university administration to ensure students are protected from the kind of antisemitism that has been on the rise in recent months. We are in regular contact with the President’s office and have reached out to the President this week to urge him to condemn the latest BDS language of the SCSU.  In addition, Hillel UofT has been actively engaged with the university’s Antisemitism Working Group, and we are anxiously awaiting their upcoming report.

Like all students, Jewish university students in Canada deserve to study, live and socialize in an environment free from harassment and discrimination. Hillel, which is the only Jewish student club with full-time staff on campus 365 days per year, will continue forcefully calling out antisemitism and building the essential relationships on campus to help advance well-being of the students we so proudly serve.

About the Author
Jay Solomon is the Chief Advancement Officer for Hillel Ontario.
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