Canadian students battle rise in anti-Israel sentiment

Roughly 1,000 demonstrators turned up at a student-led pro-Israel rally in downtown Toronto.

anti-Israel protest San Salvador 248.88 (photo credit: AP)
anti-Israel protest San Salvador 248.88
(photo credit: AP)
Supporting Israel on Canadian university and college campuses is not an easy task, students say, and with the pro-Hamas rallies that have taken place from coast to coast in the last month, the job has become more challenging. But Canadian pro-Israel students are not giving up; on the contrary, they say, they are stepping up their game. Rafi Yablonsky, co-president of the on-campus pro-Israel organization at York University in Toronto, says that he and others in his group have witnessed a rise in the popularity of anti-Israel politics on campus this year. During a program for freshman students last September, the first activity on the agenda was a viewing of the film Occupation 101, the foundation of anti-Israel student doctrine. Furthermore, the school has seen the construction of an "apartheid wall" in its main building no fewer than three times this school year. Yablonsky, whose school has been on strike for 11 weeks now, is amazed at the extent to which his school's student council has joined with the anti-Israel group on campus. "Today there's a student council meeting to discuss the strike. Israel's humanitarian crisis in Gaza is on the agenda of things to be discussed," he says. The rise in anti-Israel sentiment on campus has resulted in a determined response by pro-Israel students. On Sunday, roughly 1,000 demonstrators turned up at a student-led pro-Israel rally in downtown Toronto. The rally was held to counter a pro-Hamas demonstration held in Toronto on January 10. Sunday night's rally marked the beginning of a new phase in pro-Israel activism on Canadian university and college campuses, according to the students. Behind the podium on Sunday night hung a sign that read, "Toronto Students United for Israel," signaling an end to a division that has plagued Toronto's pro-Israel student community in the last few years. Now, pro-Israel student organizations are coming together to form a united front against anti-Israel bias on campus. This unification will take place in two parts. First, the "Rise Conference," which will be held in Niagara Falls, Canada, from January 23-25, "will bring together students from across Canada to explore the future of Israel activism on campus," according to the event's Facebook page. The conference will focus on arming Israel representatives with the information they need to make their case effectively on campus. In addition, the Canadian Center for Israel Activism (CCIA), an initiative meant to bring together all major Canadian pro-Israel student groups, will be launched in the coming months. Meanwhile, Hillel, which has shied away from addressing anti-Israel sentiment on campus in the past, is now taking a more active approach. "They are starting to slowly turn around," says Yablonsky, "They have taken a more activist approach this year." The CCIA initiative, headed by Orna Hollander, promises on its Facebook page to "present a positive image of Israel [in addition to] forthrightly rebutting unfair negative assertions, speaking out against anti-Israel animus and anti-Semitism, and confronting those who seek to deny Israel its right to exist." Furthermore, CCIA, "will ensure a constant Zionist voice on Canadian campuses and among young adults in Canada." Maintaining that Zionist voice will be of paramount concern in the coming months; the fifth annual Israeli Apartheid Week (IAW) will be marked from March 2-9 on more than 10 Canadian campuses, as well various locations in the United States, the United Kingdom, South Africa, and the West Bank and Gaza. The event, which bills itself on its Web site as "one of the most important global events in the Palestine solidarity calendar," promises to "continue to build and strengthen the growing Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement globally." "We think they'll piggyback support for IAW off of what happened in Gaza," says Yablonsky. "And we will be prepared with our own event."