Scars yet to heal on Canada hate cam­pus

The Jewish Chronicle - - World News - BY BLAKE LAM­BERT TORONTO

A MONTH into the new aca­demic year, Toronto’s York Uni­ver­sity is at­tempt­ing to re­store the con­fi­dence of the Jewish com­mu­nity af­ter an­tiJewish and anti-Zion­ist ha­rass­ment and in­tim­i­da­tion dom­i­nated its cam­pus last year.

Canada’s third-largest uni­ver­sity is be­lieved to have be­tween 4,000 and 5,000 Jewish stu­dents, com­pris­ing about 10 per cent of its stu­dent body. Un­til re­cently, it was con­sid­ered a par­tic­u­larly wel­com­ing en­vi­ron­ment for Jewish fac­ulty mem­bers and stu­dents, hous­ing Canada’s first Cen­tre for Jewish Stud­ies and of­fer­ing a Jewish teacher ed­u­ca­tion pro­gramme, whose grad­u­ates fill the lo­cal Jewish day schools. It is sit­u­ated close to ma­jor Jewish ar­eas and its orig­i­nal fac­ulty and lead­er­ship were heav­ily Jewish.

Yet there is lin­ger­ing bad feel­ing over a nasty cli­mate for Jewish stu­dents in 2008-2009.

“Many Jewish stu­dents were afraid to ex­press their affin­ity for Is­rael,” said Howard English, UJA’s vice pres­i­dent for cor­po­rate com­mu­ni­ca­tions. “And some, though I’m not sure it was a ma­jor­ity, were afraid to be vis­i­bly Jewish.”

In June, B’nai Brith Canada pub- lished an ad­ver­tise­ment ac­cus­ing the uni­ver­sity of be­com­ing “in­fa­mous for en­abling ra­bid anti-Is­rael and anti-Jewish sen­ti­ment”, and al­low­ing Jewish stu­dents to be­come marginalised and in­tim­i­dated.

The crit­ics re­ceived a boost from Canada’s Min­is­ter of Cit­i­zen­ship and Im­mi­gra­tion, who, at a fundraiser for a Jewish day school last month, said that acts “rem­i­nis­cent of the an­cient pogroms” were di­rected at Jewish stu­dent com­mu­nity or­gan­i­sa­tions at York.

The anger largely stems from an in­ci­dent last Fe­bru­ary, which started as a protest against stu­dent gov­ern­ment in­volv­ing Jewish stu­dents, but mor­phed into a crowd of 100 protestors bar­ri­cad­ing stu­dents in the Hil­lel lounge, shout­ing anti-Jewish and an­tiIs­rael slo­gans.

Toronto Po­lice had to be called in to es­cort the stu­dents out of the lounge.

The next day, emo­tions were fur­ther in­flamed by a demon­stra­tion by Stu­dents Against Is­raeli Apartheid, and a counter-demon­stra­tion by Jewish stu­dents.

Those two events led York’s pres­i­dent to cre­ate a task force to seek ways of pro­tect­ing free speech without caus­ing con­flict. The task force pre­sented its fi­nal re­port last month.

Both UJA-Fed­er­a­tion, Toronto’s um­brella Jewish or­gan­i­sa­tion, and Hil­lel at York, seemed pleased with the re­sult, say­ing that the re­port in­cor­po­rated sev­eral of their sug­ges­tions, and that the ad­min­is­tra­tion is now will­ing to act on them.

“But Jewish stu­dents on cam­pus are still anx­ious and con­cerned about the re­cur­rence of last year’s cli­mate,” said Matan Hazanov, pres­i­dent of Hil­lel.

He said his group will be watch­ing and work­ing closely with the ad­min­is­tra­tion so that no Jewish stu­dent feels in­tim­i­dated.

But even if York suc­ceeds in cre­at­ing a bet­ter ex­pe­ri­ence for Jewish stu­dents, some in the com­mu­nity may not for­give. They point to the ad­min­is­tra­tion’s de­ci­sion to end its 34-year prac­tice of can­celling classes on Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kip­pur. In ad­di­tion, in April, the uni­ver­sity hosted a con­fer­ence which had been sched­uled long be­fore the ten­sion be­gan, ex­am­in­ing a on­es­tate so­lu­tion to re­solve the Is­raeli-Pales­tinian con­flict.

It is still un­clear how the events have im­pacted Jewish en­rol­ment, as York is still cop­ing with the fall­out of a three­month strike last year which af­fected en­rol­ment across the board. But anec­do­tal ev­i­dence sug­gests that Jewish stu­dents are beginning to steer away from what was once Canada’s most pop­u­lar uni­ver­sity for the com­mu­nity.

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