Richard L. Cravatts

The University of Toronto’s Jewish Problem

As if to confirm the depth of its anti-Israel animus, the Student Union of the University of Toronto at Scarborough (SCSU) passed a poisonous motion during its virtual November 24th meeting stipulating that the student union “reaffirm its commitment to the BDS movement by . . . rais[ing] awareness about Israel’s ongoing occupation of Palestine and war crimes against Palestinian peoples;” in light of this, the union decided the University must “refrain from engaging with organizations, services, or take part in events that further normalize Israeli apartheid . . ,” and even ban speakers from campus who “support the military occupation of Palestine.”

More insidious was an item from an original motion passed in 2013 that will require that any kosher food brought to campus must be sourced from firms that do not support “Israeli apartheid,” not to mention the creation of a pernicious “BDS List” that will serve to blacklist organizations that support Israel.

This recent vote is the latest in a long campaign of anti-Israel, anti-Semitic actions at the University of Toronto, activism which has created a hostile climate for Jewish students, a situation which has not gone unnoticed. In June of 2020, for example, B’nai Brith Canada’s League for Human Rights, together with two U of T professors, Stuart Kamenetsky and Howard Tenenbaum, produced a lengthy and substantive report, “Confronting Antisemitism at the University of Toronto: A Path Forward,” written for the University’s president, Meric Gertler. That report, which fastidiously reviewed a long list of anti-Israel events and their deleterious effect on Jewish students, went largely ignored by the university’s administration, troubling in light of the many bigoted events cataloged in the report.

At this particular university, specifically, the University of Toronto Graduate Students’ Union (UTGSU) has the dubious distinction of being the only student union in Canada with a committee dedicated solely to promoting the anti-Semitic Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) movement, and in 2019 outrageously rejected Hillel’s request to recognize the “Kosher Forward” campaign to have kosher food offered on campus since, as the Union decided in their grotesquely anti-Semitic way, Hillel is pro-Israel and therefore kosher food should not be allowed.

What is next for the purge of anyone who might be considered pro-Israel? No Jews allowed in cafeterias that use Soda Stream products? The removal of Jewish names from endowed professorships or campus buildings if those benefactors supported Israel? Will “Open Hillel” centers—those renegade Hillels which allow pro-Palestinian, anti-Israel dialogue and events to take place in their spaces—be allowed to remain on campuses but conventional, pro-Israel Hillels not?

Will professors who teach Jewish studies courses, or within Middle East studies departments, have to confess their opposition to Israel and Zionism in order to remain on the faculty? Will pro-Israel students be allowed to run for student government positions at all, given that they have admitted their support for and allegiance to what is alleged to be a racist, militaristic, colonial, apartheid regime? Will these pro-Israel students even be allowed to participate in the activities of other campus student clubs and organizations?

These future prohibitions seem irrational and improbable now, but a campus of woke students who feel empowered by their own sense of righteousness and moral rectitude—and who have the temerity to banish Kosher food from a campus to injure their fellow Jewish students—might well enforce even more pernicious regulations to purge campuses completely of any Jewish supporters of Israel in the name of Palestinian self-determination. Why would they not take these actions in the name of social justice once they have deluded themselves with a false narrative of the irredeemable guilt and immorality of the Jewish state and innocence and worthiness of the Palestinian Arabs?

If Israel is the new Third Reich—as many of its enemies assert—then who would not support moves to purge its supporters from polite society?

That is the precise danger of such campaigns to marginalize and expel individuals, or, in this case, a country—Israel—from the academic community: that as it ratchets up in intensity and reach, it becomes more destructive, more bigoted, more fanatically anti-Semitic because it focuses only on one country’s behavior and politics, even though many other countries are worse human rights abusers and have far more egregious and long-standing records of oppressing minority or fringe groups in their respective societies.

If the U of T students focus only on the so-called “occupation” of Judea and Samaria but ignore China’s occupation of Tibet or Turkey’s of Crete; if they are silent about China’s treatment of Uyghur Muslims languishing in veritable concentration camps; if they ignore the treatment of gays in Iran where offenders are hung from cranes or thrown off tall buildings; if they close their eyes to gender apartheid and the repression of women in Saudi Arabia and throughout the Middle East; if they refer to Palestinian terrorism as “resistance” and excuse its use in the murder of Jews—if they fecklessly side-step judgment about any or all of these serious current human tragedies but singularly obsess, as they do, over Israel and its supporters, then they are exhibiting anti-Semitic behavior and speech as outlined by the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IRHA) definition of anti-Semitism.

Given the stench of anti-Semitism that has been emanating from UT’s student government for several years now as a result of the school’s repugnant anti-Israel activism, Jewish students responded at the November 24th meeting with a motion of their own, “Re-Affirmation of Rights of Jewish Students at UTSC,” written to help insulate them from further anti-Jewish bigotry. Despite the good intentions of the Jewish students submitting the motion, however, Israel’s opponents in the student government outrageously redacted key language in the motion which would have protected pro-Israel Jews from being targeted, maligned, and excluded from campus dialogue.

One key section deleted from the motion, for example, reasonably requested the student union to “re-affirm its commitment to ensuring that Jewish students are unencumbered by discriminatory policies or actions by the union or its officers . . . by recognizing the right of Jewish students, like all students, to organize & advertise events to express their political, cultural and/or religious views.” For any other minority group of campus, this language, of course, would never be controversial; when the debate is about Israel and Jews, however, normality disappears.

One tactic of campus anti-Israel activists—groups like Students for Justice in Palestine, for example—is to attempt to suppress any pro-Israel views or any efforts at answering back to the calumnies spread about the Jewish state. Free speech and the opportunity to openly debate important issues are, of course, fundamental to the role of universities, but the pro-Palestinian camp has been determined to allow only one narrative—one which portrays Israel as a racist, militaristic, colonial occupier of stolen land. So it was unsurprising that another section of the Jewish students’ motion that was excised was the section that requested that the SCSU “Defend the principles of academic freedom” so students, faculty, and staff would be able to “attend lectures, workshops, and films about Israel and/or Palestine;” “participate in joint research with Israelis and Israeli institutions;” “enroll in classes in conjunction with Israeli universities;” and “travel and study abroad in Israel or with organizations that support Israel or Zionism.”

No other country in the world is targeted by woke students as being such a global pariah that students are forbidden from visiting, yet this entire benign section was deleted precisely because it allowed students to create and maintain an academic or spiritual affiliation with Israel.

Imagine if a student government yanked accommodations for halal food on campus because Islam can be linked to terrorism, the same spurious linkage these social justice cretins have created for “apartheid” Israel, Zionism, and Kosher foods from pro-Israel companies. The campus-wide howling about Islamophobia and bigotry would be deafening. And since when are Jewish students—who may not support or even care about Israel—responsible for the political behavior of a foreign country thousands of miles away from campus and made to suffer for it?

This campaign, of course, is part of a broader effort to marginalize Jewish students, malign Israel and Zionism without debate, contort history and facts to elevate the Palestinian cause and denigrate the Jewish state, and promote hatred and hostility to any supporter of Israel. So, in addition to denying Jews access to Kosher food on campus, Israel-haters have made moves to: reject the IHRA working definition of anti-Semitism, as well, claiming it suppresses Palestinian solidarity; decide who are “bad” Jews and who are “good” Jews based on their support or opposition to Israel; proclaim, mistakenly, that anti-Zionism never amounts to anti-Semitism, although the IRHA definition designates the denial of Jewish self-determination as actually being anti-Semitic; claim they speak for Jews in deciding that Zionism has nothing at all to do with Judaism; or announce that Zionism itself is anti-Semitic; in other words, that these toxic, bigoted activists want to continue to be anti-Semitic and reject any steps taken by others to reveal and sanction that hatred.

“A poisoned atmosphere of antisemitism has been allowed to fester for years at the University of Toronto. And it continues to roil campus life for Jewish students, faculty and staff,” observed the authors of the B’nai Brith report in a subsequent article. “It is beyond scandalous that a prestigious university officially committed to ‘diversity, inclusion, and respect’ could have permitted antisemitism to become, by its own admission, a systemic form of racism on campus.”

The fact that this same situation exists on campuses throughout Canada and the United States represents a grave moral failure and is a shameful reality for which administrators will someday have to answer.

About the Author
Richard L. Cravatts, Ph.D., a Freedom Center Journalism Fellow in Academic Free Speech and President Emeritus of Scholars for Peace in the Middle East, is the author of the forthcoming book, The Slow Death of the University: How Radicalism, Israel Hatred, and Race Obsession are Destroying Academia.
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