Anti-Semitism on Campus: A Student’s Perspective

 By Aedan O'Connor 
I'm a proud Jew and an unapologetic Zionist. This is the mantra that I repeat in my head when I question why I have to avoid classes based on the political views of my professors; when I lose respect from relatives and friends for politely expressing my political views; when I feel unsafe on campus due to anti-semitic propaganda. Despite being disheartened, I have grown accustomed to the repercussions of being openly Zionist however I thought that I was safe being openly Jewish. I believe that there is very little distinction between Anti-Zionism and Anti-Semitism. Nathan Sharansky applies the “3 Ds” to test whether something is legitimate criticism of the singular Jewish state or Anti-Semitism. If something delegitimizes the sole middle eastern democracy, applies a double standard in comparison to other liberal democracies or demonizes Israel; it crosses the line into Anti-Semitism.

In University campuses across North America there have been countless Anti-Semitic acts. From hateful graffiti, to swastika flags, to violence-inciting murals and more we have seen a spike in Anti-Semitism in the past year. The Boycott Divestment Sanctions (BDS) movement is coming to the forefront on University campuses. BDS targets Israeli products and citizens. When applying the “3 Ds” test one can observe that these actions, notably those related to the BDS movement, cross the line.

I decided that we needed to call a spade a spade and called them out on their vile Anti-Semetic views. I co-hosted a rally with Hasbara Fellowships Canada against Anti-Semitism as a response to what has happened on campuses this past year. Many groups came to support me including Holy Blossom Temple, Students Supporing Israel, Friends of Simon Weisenthal Centre and StandWithUs.

Two days before the rally the publicly funded University of Toronto decided to host virulent anti-semite Kenneth O’Keefe. Out of intellectual curiosity and bravery bordering on recklessness, I decided to attend his event. It was worse than I ever could have imagined. Before arriving on campus I removed my Magen David necklace, that I wear with pride, for my own safety.

I walked into the lecture theatre feeling apprehensive. I had expected the majority of the attendees to look young and radicalized but was shocked to see an audience composed mostly of business people and families. I struck up a conversation with the woman next to me. She appeared to be a sensible university student, similar to myself. I asked her why she was at the talk and she proceeded to spew hateful rhetoric about Israel and “Jewish supremacy”. It quickly became clear to me that I could not engage her in a meaningful dialogue. I realized for the first time I was afraid to publicly admit that I am Jewish let alone that I am pro-Israel.


The elocution was the most terrifying hour of my life. I was told that the Holocaust was a myth perpetuated by Jewish to justify the “occupation of Palestine”; that rabbis tell Israeli soldiers to annihilate Muslims; that we control the media and the banks; that we as Jewish people are supremacists who view the rest of the world as cattle; that the Talmud is full of hateful doctrine and that we deserve the hate an prejudice against us. He said he would support “legitimate resistance” but left that vague which caused me to wonder whether that meant attacks against the Jewish people. I watched as the room with 500 or so people applauded this insane bigotry.

I wanted to cry or panic but I knew that if I did in that space I would have been outed as a Jewish Zionist and I worried that I would have been assaulted for it. I have never felt as scared to be who I am as I was in that room. I felt sick to my stomach listening to this slanderous diatribe, especially in what is meant to be a educational space.

The fact that our tax dollars fund this University means we have a say and an obligation to stop it. I was proud when Avi Benlolo, CEO of the Friends of Simon Weisenthal Centre and speaker at the rally introduced legislation to curb the BDS movement in Ontario, especially on campus, along with MPPs Mike Colle and Tim Hudak. The bill stated that public entities could not enter contracts with businesses that implemented BDS and that educational institutions could not implement BDS. This would have created a financial disincentive for companies to practice BDS.

I was dismayed when it failed as the failure illustrates complacency at best and deep seated prejudice at worst when it comes to tackling anti-semitism. I urge all of you to write to your MPP about this to show your disapproval if they voted this legislation down or to voice your support if they voted in favour of it.  I also urge you to take a stand; write articles, come to rallies and fund initiatives that curb BDS and anti-semitism. We can make an impact if we come together.
Aedan O'Connor is a proud Jew and an unapologetic Zionist, born and raised in Toronto but Israeli at heart. She is going into third year at Ryerson University, studying Biomedical Sciences. Aedan is the Social Justice Chair on the Hillel board and the Vice President-Programming for Students Supporting Israel.