Pro-Israel at York? We’re Making a Difference

Our community would be remiss to believe that hatred of the Jewish people is not an issue at York University. The passing of BDS (Boycott, Divest & Sanctions) against Israel by the York Federation of Students (YFS), regular U of Ramallah-style hate rallies in Vari Hall, terrorist-glorifying murals, speakers and programs to demonize Israel are institutionalized, and they are daunting. Admittedly, this can at times make York U seem too hostile for any possible hope for redemption.

However, the battle for our human rights and fair treatment as Jewish and Israeli students is not lost at York. The passing of a bigoted BDS motion should never be viewed as anything but a temporary setback, as yet another small obstacle in the long history of the Jewish fight for freedom, and a world free from hate. The first step in defeating BDS is getting Jewish students to come out of the bubble and get with the pro-Israel program. Students Against Israeli Apartheid (SAIA), the propagandist student group that incessantly harasses, harangues and sows hatred against Jewish Yorkies, thrives on Jewish inaction.

Among Jewish students, a fear of confrontation, along with this delusional “someone else will do it” attitude, is rampant at York. They know there is an issue, and yet have generally declined to stand up against the same bigotry that has seen our ancestors shot, maimed, gassed, burned and turned into soap. For example, take what happened (or didn’t) this January with the Excalibur, York University’s student press. After the publication of an editorial “In Response to Charlie Hebdo”, in which Excalibur writer Abdul Malik calls for “a society free of Zionism” (a pleasant sounding euphemism for Judeocide), and hideously compared the intolerance of misogynist ultra-Orthodox to that of the two Islamist terrorists that murdered 12 people that day, Jewish students were still unmoved to take action.

That week, I saw Jewish students impotently sit around the Hillel@York office kvetching about the editorial and the paper, lamenting the woes of living in a world that they perceive to be lining up against the Jews. It was absolutely pathetic and completely unacceptable. There are two pro-Israel groups at York, both of which I am currently an executive member: HasbaraYork, a declaredly independent Israel advocacy and education student group, and York Students for Israel (YSI), a student club under the auspices of Hillel’s Israel Advocacy and Engagement program. I am also an Emerson Fellow for StandWithUs, the Israel education and advocacy organization.

While the situation at York looks grim, these two groups work tirelessly organizing campaigns and events to fight BDS and anti-Zionism by means of culture, education, demonstration and recreation. Here’s an example that combines all four of these methodologies. This was the first year HasbaraYork officially participated in the YFS’ Multicultural Week programming and represented Israel. We attended the multiculturalism parade (amid some easily brushed off pro-Palestinian heckling), proudly waving our Israeli and Canadian flags in the very environment we acknowledge as hostile to us, and the “World Tour”, where we set up a table along side other clubs and showcased the Israeli ethnic, religious, and cultural diversity that we cherish. The reception to our presence was almost uniformly positive. After the parade, the Indian Cultural Association approached us with their flag for a photo with us holding ours, a photograph that was featured in the centre of Excalibur’s coverage of the parade. At the World Tour, students from all backgrounds, including those from countries declared as enemies of Israel, politely and pleasantly approached our table with a curiosity about us and our culture. All of these wonderful, new pro-Israel experiences would not have happened unless we actually went as proud Zionists and actually showed up. Because that’s exactly what Zionism is: showing up. It’s showing up to the collective, whether it be in a student union or on a global scale, and declaring that we are Jews and we are equal unto the other nations of this world.

Look at what happened at Trent University in Peterborough last month: it was the first time a BDS motion was rescinded and defeated at a Canadian university. The students of Trent4Israel stood up and organized against hatred. These student leaders proved that BDS in Canada can be beaten, and their success must be replicated at all other campuses wherein the student union has (temporarily) sunk into the malice of anti-Semitism. We just need everyone to take up their arms.

Jewish students at York: you can make a difference. Do not sit around moping about anti-Semitism when the avenues to combat such malice are so apparent. Hatred and misinformation about Israel exists at YorkU. It is extremely unfortunate. Israeli Apartheid Week (IAW) is coming up, and it needs to be countered. Breaking this apathy and jettisoning your trepidation is the first battle in our war against anti-Semitism, SAIA, and BDS. This year I have seen so many new faces get involved, and it would please me to no end to see pro-Israel students continue to get involved and make a difference.

About the Author
Willem Hart is a social science and Jewish studies student at York University in Toronto. He is an active member in the pro-Israel scene, and a lifelong disabilities service worker and advocate.
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