During Israel Apartheid Week, which took place on the University of Toronto campus in February, the student body was presented with a flurry of information by anti-Israel activists, linking Israel's policies toward Palestinians with South Africa's former policy of segregation. Now, a group professors at the university wants to make sure it doesn't happen again.
The 125 faculty members signed a full-page ad that ran in Canada's National Post last week, calling on the university to "oppose the hosting of Israel Apartheid Week" and "stop this hateful and divisive event from returning to our university in future years."
The phenomenon of Israel Apartheid Week on college campuses remains a thorn in the side of Jewish groups and pro-Israel activists. The event, which takes different forms at various locations, features a week-long schedule of speakers and exhibits with virulent anti-Israel - and sometimes outright anti-Semitic - propaganda.
After last year's event, 70 Jewish and non-Jewish professors from diverse faculties signed a similar letter to the University of Toronto, requesting that IAW be stopped. However, while the university acknowledged their concerns, it allowed the IAW to take place once again this past February, stating that freedom of speech must be protected.
In a different letter to B'nai Brith of Canada concerning the situation, several signatories to the National Post ad noted that the university would not tolerate homophobia, racism and Islamophobia on campus, and questioned why the school continued to host IAW.
"On the one hand, they won't allow anything seen as offensive to other minorities," said Dr. Eldad Zacksenhaus, one of the letter's authors and an organizer of the National Post ad. "But they don't have a problem giving a podium to those who call for the destruction of Israel, deny the Holocaust or advocate terrorism. It's quite black-and-white."
The university's official position on freedom of speech states that "no person shall engage in a course of vexatious conduct that is directed at one or more specific individuals, and that is based on the race, ancestry, place of origin, colour, ethnic origin, citizenship, sex, sexual orientation, creed, age, marital status, family status, handicap, receipt of public assistance or record of offences... that is known to be unwelcome..."
According to a university statement provided by Zacksenhaus, "the comments of speakers at the [IAW] events were not directed at identifiable persons (i.e., identifiable by name)."
But IAW speakers in years past have been notably controversial. In 2006, Toronto's IAW featured, among others, Ward Churchill, who has argued that the murder of European Jews was not at all a "fixed policy objective of the Nazis"; As'ad Abu Khalil, who has said that "Israel will have to submit to the will of the Palestinians"; and Ilan Pappe, an Israeli professor who supports Hamas and has called for the dissolution of Israel.
Zacksenhaus and his colleagues are hoping to draw attention to the content of the event and put an end to it on the University of Toronto campus.
"McMaster University, another Canadian institution, received similar complaints [over IAW] and stopped it," said Zacksenhaus. "That's hopeful. But we cannot fight this alone. Freedom of speech cannot be used as a license to spread lies."