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Anti-Israel Sentiments, Boycotts and Demonstrations Continue Across Canada

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Hasbara Fellowships Canada Director Daniel Koren (left) with activist Rudy Rochman underneath the infamous Palestinian protestor mural at York University in February 2020 | Photo: Hasbara Fellowships

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For Jewish and pro-Israel students on campus, and even before the emergence of COVID-19, it was already an intense and peculiar year, filled with arduous challenges, unexpected successes – and everything in between.

Many in the Jewish community have defined the year by a singular event: the York University rally on November 20, 2019. However, as director of Hasbara Fellowships Canada, I can share many stories of student leaders’ proactive pro-Israel advocacy and activism against the Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions (BDS) movement and antisemitism on campus.

Following is a recap of what students contended with this academic year on campus

McGill University

At the start of the year, the reprehensible McGill Daily published a “glossary” of important terms, such as Zionism, which it wrongly defined as “represent(ing) a racist attitude and violent practice against Palestinians.”

For more details, the publication suggested referring to the official BDS website.

Fortunately, the Daily was taken to task by two McGill law students: Michael Aarenau and Josh Shapiro. “We can’t imagine the Daily ever allowing a men’s rights organization to define feminism,” they wrote in a thoughtful rebuttal, “so we can’t help but ask why they believe that those who are inherently opposed to Jewish self-determination get to define it.”

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When the Daily refused to publish their letter, McGill Deputy Provost Fabrice Labeau forced it to comply. It was the first time in years anything remotely pro-Zionist was published in the McGill Daily.

Vice Provost Labeau also intervened when McGill’s student government, the SSMU, threatened to remove Jewish student Jordyn Wright from its board of directors because she wanted to participate in a Hillel Montreal trip to Israel and the Palestinian-controlled areas.

Rather than sit idly by, Wright documented her experience in a Facebook post that was shared by thousands, leading Labeau to condemn the SSMU for fostering “a culture of ostracization.” Wright was able to participate in the trip as planned.

A glossary of terms in the McGill Daily defines Zionism as “represent(ing) a racist attitude and violent practice against Palestinians.” | Photo: McGill Daily

Canadian Federation of Students (Ontario)

In Ontario, students fought against BDS even before the school year began, when four Jewish organizations launched a campaign encouraging them to opt-out of paying fees to the Canadian Federation of Students (CFS) due to its pro-BDS stance. 

The CFS, which ostensibly supports half a million students across Canada, again exposed its bias when it echoed the sentiments of fringe anti-Israel group Independent Jewish Voices (IJV), and rejected the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) definition of antisemitism, which is supported by a plurality of Jewish communal organizations. The CFS was quickly called out for its “bogus” claim that the definition would somehow stifle free speech.

University of Toronto: Issam Al-Yamani

Like McGill, it didn’t take long for controversy to ensue at the University of Toronto, when the Students Against Israeli Apartheid (SAIA) club invited Issam Al-Yamani, a self-admitted former member of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP) terror group, to speak on campus. Al-Yamani, who Canada has tried to deport for years, was listed as a danger to national security in 2015. After several students complained about the event, Hasbara Canada urged University of Toronto to intervene, leading to national news coverage and the event being moved off-campus.

University of Toronto made headlines again when a representative of its pro-BDS graduate student union (UTGSU) “refused” to support Hillel’s Kosher Forward campaign, because doing so would be “pro-Israel” and against “the will of the membership.” The UTSGU eventually apologized and kosher food was made available on campus.

York University Rally

On November 20, 2019, an event took place that would affect Jewish students from across Canada: the York University rally, where an anti-Israel protest organized by Students Against Israeli Apartheid (SAIA) at York attempted to shut down a Herut Canada event, a presentation with Israeli NGO Reservists on Duty. Please see this piece by TheJ.ca contributor Aboud Dandachi for additional details.

The aftermath of this rally was telling. For Jewish Canadians, we were treated to statements of solidarity from leaders across the political spectrum. But for Jewish students at York and other universities, their leaders were nowhere near as impartial.

At York, its Federation of Students (YFS) quickly passed a (purely symbolic) motion calling on students to protest when “representatives of the Israeli state” speak on campus. At the University of Manitoba, a student lamented in The Manitoban that only Herut should have been suspended (both clubs were suspended and later reinstated by the York administration). Fortunately, a University of Manitoba student wrote an excellent rebuttal explaining the violent hate speech behind the word intifada.

University of Toronto: Scholars for Peace in the Middle East

At the University of Toronto, Scarborough, a different event was held on the night of the York rally, with Scholars for Peace in the Middle East director Dr. Asaf Romirowsky, who engaged in respectful debate with many of the more than 50 students in attendance. However, because it was hosted by pro-Israel organizations Hasbara Canada, and Canadian Antisemitism Education Foundation (CAEF), with support from a member of the university’s student union, the union quickly introduced a motion in solidarity with the York Federation of Students, calling on members to “refrain from engaging with organizations that further normalize Israeli apartheid.”

In my view, it was an assault on the freedom of speech of University of Toronto students. 

Competing signs hung on pillars at York University in January 2020 calling on students to boycott Israeli coffee shop Aroma and conversely to support Aroma in response | Photo: Hasbara Fellowships

York University: Anti-Zionist Vibes Only

There were other incidents at York, but pro-Israel student leaders were always there to push back.  

One example was during January’s Multicultural Week, when a young woman who took the mic was wearing a shirt that said. ‘Anti-Zionist Vibes Only’.

It prompted a powerful showing of Zionism on campus from members of Hillel York. When an anti-Israel group promoted a Boycott Aroma effort, Hasbara students staged a successful BUYcott. Even the Muslim Students Association event, with controversial speaker Daniel Haqiqatjou, was cancelled after complaints by several Jewish groups.

As you can see from the examples above, there are many tenacious pro-Israel student leaders.

For more information on Hasbara Fellowships, check out their website.

Daniel Koren is the Canadian director of Hasbara Fellowships.

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Thank you for choosing TheJ.Ca as your source for Canadian Jewish News.

We do news differently!

Our positioning as a Zionist News Media platform sets us apart from the rest. While other Canadian Jewish media are advocating increasingly biased progressive political and social agendas, TheJ.Ca is providing more and more readers with a welcome alternative and an ideological home.

We revealed the incursion of anti-Israel progressive elements such as IfNotNow into our communities. We have exposed the distorted hateful agenda of the “progressive” left political radicals who brought Linda Sarsour to our cities, and we were first to report on many disturbing incidents of Nazi-based hate towards Jews across Canada.

But we can’t do it alone. We need your HELP!

Our ability to thrive and grow in 2020 and beyond depends on the generosity of committed readers and supporters like you.

Monthly support is a great way to help us sustain our operations. We greatly appreciate any contributions you can make to support Jewish Journalism.

We thank you for your ongoing support.

Happy reading!

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