Jewish student files anti-Semitism complaint against York U

Case follows alleged attack by anti-Israel activists in February 2010.

March 30, 2011 01:43
3 minute read.
York University Logo

York University 311. (photo credit: Courtesy)


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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.

At 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 video.

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 groups.”

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.”

In an 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.

Individual claims 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.”

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