NEW YORK – A complaint recently filed with the Ontario Human Rights Tribunal
against York University in Toronto, Canada, alleges that the school has actively
legitimized an anti- Jewish atmosphere on campus.
Similar cases alleging
institutionalized anti-Semitism at universities are currently pending in the US
as well. A federal civil rights case has been brought against the University of
California at Berkeley by a Jewish student who was assaulted on campus last year
by leader of a Muslim student organization during a pro-Israel event.
the University of California, Santa Cruz, a US Department of Education
investigation on anti-Semitism is currently under way.
The complaint in
the York University case, filed by student Sammy Katz, stems from a
confrontation in February 2010 between Katz, who worked for the Jewish advocacy
group Hasbara Fellowships, and other students, including a leader of Students
Against Israeli Apartheid.
As Katz was involved in a pro-Israel campaign
concerning terror threats to Israel and captive soldier Gilad Schalit, the
complaint alleges, he and other student volunteers were approached and
threatened with physical violence by students who accused the pro-Israel
campaigners of Islamophobia, among other slurs. Katz alleges that in the ensuing
melee, he was hit by a man and a woman in the crowd.
Two days after the
incident, Katz and other members of Hasbara were made aware that they were
included in the investigation of an inquiry filed by Rob Tiffin, then-vice
president of student life at York.
Tiffin, according to Katz’s complaint,
got the hall’s security cameras and allowed members of news organizations and
Jewish organizations to see the CCTV footage, accompanied by his commentary that
nothing troubling had occurred. Katz was not permitted to see the
Katz’s complaint states that at the eventual hearing pursuant to
York’s Code of Student Conduct, the adjudicator found that the university had
acted inappropriately by releasing the tape to the media, and also found that an
assault had occurred and was visible on tape.
In the complaint, Katz
asserts that “the incident, lack of quick response by York security and the
oppressive behavior by York administration in the aftermath is just the latest
demonstration of the lack of even-handed treatment by York University against
Jewish student groups.”
Katz claims that York has “legitimized and
encouraged anti-Jewish events such as Israel Apartheid Week, and makes no
proactive effort to address growing incidents of anti-Semitic graffiti and
vandalism around campus.”
According to Katz, “there is a sense of fear
and anxiety over being openly Jewish at York University,” and the university’s
administration “exacerbates these feelings with a poisonous atmosphere of
aggressiveness and antagonism toward organized Jewish student
Katz is represented by Toronto barrister and law professor Ed
Morgan, and Neal M. Sher, a New York attorney who was the head of the US Justice
Department’s Nazi prosecution office and a former special adviser on war crimes
to the Canadian Ministry of Justice.
In a statement, Morgan explained
that “this case represents an important step in advancing the human rights of
students on Ontario’s campuses.”
Sher added that “in today’s anti-Israel
political climate, it is particularly important that universities foster a
climate for Jewish students free of any and all intimidation.”
interview with The Jerusalem Post, Sher said that while the focus of this case
had to do with pro- Israel events, both at Berkeley and York, these were “civil
rights cases protecting individuals and minorities.”
Sher is involved
with both cases.
“We’re looking for all students to be able to enjoy
environments on campuses free of intimidation, hostility and bullying, which, if
it continues, could get worse,” Sher said, adding that he was looking for
justice both on an individual level and a macro level.
such as these, Sher said, are “part and parcel of a result of an attitude we see
on campuses all too frequently, where universities have condoned, legitimized
intimidating and hostile environments toward pro-Israel students and Jewish
students, and this is throughout North America.”
He added that “we’re
using our legal systems and courts to vindicate our rights – using our rights as
a sword and demanding the protections and the rights that these students and
faculty members are entitled to. And that’s a marked difference in our approach
– it’s not just defensive, but offensive, and that’s critical.”