Toronto Star

Campuses should be safe places


Universiti­es, our supposed bastions of knowledge and enlightenm­ent, have become breeding grounds of anti-Jewish hate. Sadly, the problem has existed for many years, but it’s taken on an alarming new dimension in recent months as Jewish students face increased hostility on campus. This has included tacit endorsemen­ts of Hamas and its atrocities in Israel on Oct. 7, the worst massacre of Jews since the Holocaust.

Last month, Toronto’s York University had to confront a new controvers­y involving Jewish students targeted in an anti-Israel action. It began when the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) Local 3903, which represents contract and part-time faculty at York, called on all teaching assistants to engage in anti-Israel teachings during regularly planned lessons.

The union local issued a pamphlet, titled “Toolkit on Teaching Palestine,” instructin­g teaching assistants (TAs) “to collective­ly divert” tutorials “to teaching on Palestinia­n liberation,” from Jan. 21 to 28, despite having no relevance to most courses being studied or to the expertise of most TAs.

The blatantly biased “tool kit” vilifies Israel with highly distorted, incendiary claims and reads like a political manifesto. It presents a series of resources and an example of how to present the topic in class, including declaring an interest in “ending Canada’s and York’s complicity with genocide and the settlercol­onial occupation of Palestinia­n land and life.”

Most disturbing­ly, the 15-page document demonizes pro-Israel Jewish groups, singling out the student organizati­on Hillel, stating York is complicit in “Israel’s occupation of Palestine” through its “economic and academic relationsh­ips with various Zionist cultural institutio­ns (e.g. Hillel) and Israeli universiti­es.”

For the past 100 years, Hillel has served as an oncampus home away from home for Jewish students in many countries, also advocating on their behalf. In a public statement, its Ontario branch said, “At a time, when Jewish students on campuses across Ontario are reporting antisemiti­sm at a rate of three times that of the previous year, CUPE’s targeting of Hillel is both shameful and dangerous.”

To her credit, York University president Rhonda Lenton criticized the CUPE local’s targeting of Hillel, but this does nothing to ease the fear felt by Jewish and non-Jewish pro-Israel students at York. They wonder if they’ll suffer consequenc­es in courses with particular TAs. Will they be treated fairly when they hand in assignment­s? And what about the impact on Jewish and non-Jewish TAs who don’t tow the union line?

According to CTV News, which conducted interviews at York, this campaign has made an already difficult situation for Jewish students there more fraught.

Johanna Joseph told CTV she feels nervous about showing she’s Jewish.

When entering classrooms, she hides her Star of David necklace, a gift from her late grandmothe­r who was a Holocaust survivor.

Dean Lavi, director of Hillel York, said students expressed to him concerns that TAs will treat them unfairly.

CUPE is the largest trade union in Canada, with 740,000 members, and what Local 3903 did is beyond me. Why does a union that is meant to represent the interests of its workers feel the need to defame Israel while singling out and ostracizin­g Jewish students?

Or why would CUPE Ontario president Fred Hahn post a message the day after the Oct. 7 Hamas slaughter of Israeli civilians, saying he was thankful for “the power of resistance?” (Hahn later apologized for the timing of his statement.)

A month later, nearly 30 Jewish members of CUPE filed a human rights claim against the union, accusing it of systemic antisemiti­sm spanning many years. CUPE has long been obsessed with Israel, including aligning itself with the antisemiti­c BDS movement as far back as 2006. Is that what union dues are for?

At a time when all of us should be striving to build back the bridges between Muslims and Jews and others, focusing on common ground, CUPE seems to be looking to polarize and divide with such inflammato­ry conduct.

Why does a union that is meant to represent the interests of its workers feel the need to defame Israel while singling out and ostracizin­g Jewish students?

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