Hillel Students Emerge from Incident Unbowed
On Wednesday, February 11, York University in Toronto, one of the largest Jewish student communities in North America, was the site of a disturbing incident in which students blocked the entrance to the Hillel office shouting anti-Israel and anti-Jewish slogans. Campus and city police were called to the scene to escort the students out of the Hillel office and safely through the demonstrators. No one was hurt and no arrests were made. (A video of the incident is available here.)
Undeterred by the incident, the next day Hillel activists continued with plans to counter-protest a previously scheduled anti-Israel rally in Vari Hall, a main university building. (See the video below.)
Hillel activists and professionals at York University and Toronto Hillel are working with local Jewish community groups to address the events on campus and to ensure the safety of Jewish students. They are in extensive discussions with the York University administration and with President Mamdouh Shoukri.
Daniel Ferman, president of Hillel at York and a member of the Hillel: Foundation for Jewish Campus Life Board of Directors, has been at the forefront of confronting anti-Israel activity on campus. "The climate on York’s campus of aggressive intimidation, violent rhetoric and physical harassment is unacceptable," said Ferman. "The hostile environment demonstrates contempt for all students -- not only to Jewish students."
Hillel of Toronto Executive Director Zac Kaye adds that the Jewish community is looking to the university to restore order to the campus to ensure a safe learning environment for all students. "We are fully committed to the right of all students to engage in debate and civil discourse," says Kaye. "The action of these demonstrators clearly crosses the line."
Messages of support may be sent to York Zac Kaye at firstname.lastname@example.org.
"Blockading students within a university facility is the antithesis of what a university should be," said Hillel: The Foundation for Jewish Campus Life President Wayne L. Firestone. "We call on the university administration to take appropriate disciplinary action and to restore order to the campus so that the free exchange of ideas can continue in a safe setting free of hostility and intimidation."
"We can be very proud of the coalition of Jewish campus organizations, including Hillel, and Jewish student activists for their commitment to protecting students and to standing up for Israel," said David Koschitzky, Chair, UJA Federation of Greater Toronto. "As well, we want to assure parents of Jewish students at York that UJA Federation, together with Hillel, CIJA (Canadian Council for Israel & Jewish Advocacy), CIJA's University Outreach Committee and donors, are dealing with the atmosphere at York on several levels in order to ensure the safety of students who study there. We are in ongoing contact with York University President Mamdouh Shoukri, York University students and the media on this matter."
The York incident took place against a background of labor disputes, anti-Israel activism and student politics.
On Wednesday afternoon, February 11, a coalition of students called a news conference to report on the success of a campaign called Drop YFS (York Federation of Students) which is seeking to replace the existing student government for vigorously supporting a labor strike at York. The strike, in support of teaching assistants and contract faculty, closed the campus mid-semester for 12 weeks."
As the press conference was about to get underway and the room was filled, a number of students tried to force their way in, preventing the doors of the room from being closed and the news conference from beginning. The news conference eventually started but after five minutes, with protestors outside yelling "racists off campus" and "Zionists out, the organizers decided to call police and the news conference ended.
At that point, many Jewish students went to the Hillel lounge. Approximately 100 members of Students Against Israeli Apartheid and YFS assembled outside the office chanting anti-Jewish and anti-Israel slogans.
Ferman said that 45 minutes before the press conference, members of Hillel and the Hasbara student organization had met with members of Students Against Israeli Apartheid in an attempt to "decrease tensions" between the groups.
Media coverage of the York University incidents: