Jewish students 'held hostage' in Toronto Hillel

"Die Jew, get the hell off campus," York U students yell as Hillel members barricade selves in office.

campus anti semitism canada 248.88 (photo credit: Shira Gilboord/Hasbara)
campus anti semitism canada 248.88
(photo credit: Shira Gilboord/Hasbara)
Jewish students at York University in Toronto were forced to take refuge in the Hillel office last Wednesday night as anti-Israel protesters banged on the glass doors, chanting, "Die, bitch, go back to Israel," and "Die, Jew, get the hell off campus." The students had taken part in a press conference held to call for an impeachment of the student government at York, because of a long strike by teachers' assistants. Hillel at York partnered with other campus groups in a campaign called Drop YFS (York Federation of Students), aimed at impeaching the student government for its support of the 12-week strike at the university, which ended on February 2. Daniel Ferman, president of Hillel at York, said that after the number of people attending the press conference exceeded 40, organizers barred additional students from entering, citing fire regulations. Students outside the meeting room banged on the doors and chanted "Let the colored people in," even though students from a variety of backgrounds were present, which led to the cancellation of the press conference, according to a first person account by student Orit Tepper. In the hallway of the student center, students attempting to exit the meeting room were greeted with cries of "Zionism equals racism!" and "Racists off campus!" A YouTube video called "York University 2009" documents the hallway encounter. Jesse Zimmerman, a student at the university, can be heard declaring, "Zionism does not speak for Jews. Zionism is an embarrassment. Shame on the Zionists." During the clash in the hallway, Jewish students were singled out and pursued by a mob of more than 100 students. Tepper and the 15-20 other Jewish students escaped upstairs to Hillel's offices, where the situation worsened. While students sat in the shelter of the Hillel office, listening to the "pounding" from the York Federation of Students office below, demonstrators reached the Hillel office, banging on the glass doors and made it impossible for students to leave. Campus security personnel arrived and advised the Jewish students to stay in the Hillel office. The police arrived almost an hour after the incident had begun and tried to "remain neutral," Tepper wrote. The students in the Hillel office were evacuated soon after by police escort, amid cries of "Get off our campus" and "Shame on Hillel." "I have never in my life felt threatened and hated like I did that night," Tepper said. Ferman, the Hillel president, who was called a "f*****g Jew" and a "dirty Jew" by the protesters, said, "We were basically being held hostage in our own space." The incident was somewhat "ironic," Ferman said, because 45 minutes before the press conference, members of Hillel and the Hasbara student organization had met with members of Students Against Israeli Apartheid, in an attempt to "decrease tensions" between the groups. In an interview with Toronto daily The Globe and Mail, Krisna Saravanamuttu, York Federation of Students vice president for equity, who has been identified by students as the ringleader of Wednesday night's demonstration, said that accusations against his group of anti-Semitism were "categorically false." "I heard nothing of that nature at all," he said, adding that demonstrators chanted, "Racism off campus" and "Students united will never be defeated." Students involved in the demonstration were from both the York Federation of Students and Students Against Israeli Apartheid, which is a main organizer of Israeli Apartheid Week set to happen on campuses internationally next month. A bulletin put out by The Jewish Federation of Greater Vancouver reported that "University campuses across Canada are becoming more challenging environments for Jewish students, as anti-Israel campus groups engage in increasingly hostile and occasionally violent activities." The bulletin referred to York University's handling of the situation as a "head in the sand approach." Wednesday night was the second time last week that police were called regarding anti-Semitic acts at York University. According to Ferman, a main organizer of the Drop YFS campaign received a call in the first few days of the campaign threatening his life and the lives of his family members. The threat was made in both Hebrew and English. Police were looking into the incident, he said.