Specter of week of anti-Israel programs rattles Canadian Jewish college students

'Israeli Apartheid Week' to come amid existing campus tensions.

campus anti semitism canada 248.88 (photo credit: Shira Gilboord/Hasbara)
campus anti semitism canada 248.88
(photo credit: Shira Gilboord/Hasbara)
Israeli Apartheid Week - an eight day international marathon of lectures, films and other activities held to decry the "barbaric" policies of the Jewish state - begins on Sunday, and Jewish groups around the world are bracing for a wave of hostile and even violent outbursts at college campuses and other venues. Jewish communities in Canada are particularly worried, after a recent near-riot at Toronto's York University required police intervention. Tensions between Jewish and Muslim students at a number of campuses across the country remain high. Two weeks ago, anti-Israel protesters besieged Jewish students in York University's Hillel office after they took part in a press conference held to call for an impeachment of the student government - an issue unrelated to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, but which dealt instead with ending a long strike by teachers assistants. An angry mob that included members of Students Against Israeli Apartheid, a main IAW organizer, banged on the glass doors of the Hillel office, shouting anti-Semitic epithets at the Jews inside, including, "Die, Jew, get the hell off campus." Many Jews at universities around Canada fear that Israeli Apartheid Week will simply be a continuation of anti-Semitic demonstrations, if not violence, especially in the wake of the IDF's recent Operation Cast Lead against Hamas in the Gaza Strip. B'nai B'rith Canada wrote the Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police on Tuesday regarding "the inadequate policing of university campuses, which have become breeding grounds for promoting hatred against Jewish students." "We are deeply concerned about events on campuses across Canada that have included intimidation and harassment of Jewish students, and even cases of assault," said Frank Dimant, executive vice president of B'nai B'rith Canada. "We are witnessing clear and emerging patterns of support for radicalism, civil disobedience, and ultimately violence, on university campuses. Anti-Israel demonstrations and other recent events have become increasingly vocal and provocative, moving beyond the rhetoric of violence to openly aggressive acts. While we are mindful of the constraints police face, including reluctant university administrations, this cannot be an excuse for the failure to act. The problem, as some Canadian Jews explained, was that many universities simply let activists at Israeli Apartheid Week do whatever they want. "My experience has been that the universities that don't allow it, don't have it," said Windsor, Ontario, resident Stephen Cheifetz, whose daughter is a student at the University of Toronto. "IAW was started at Toronto, and you have a large group of Muslim students there. The president of the university allows them to basically do whatever they want, but I know of other universities in Canada where the presidents have said, 'We're not going to allow this crap,' and they don't have a problem." Cheifetz, who himself was caught in the middle of a heated exchange between Jewish and Muslim protesters earlier this week, said that tensions between the two groups have only gotten worse. Cheifetz took part in a demonstration outside a meeting of Canadian Union of Public Employees's workers in Windsor on Sunday to voice his opposition to their proposal to boycott Israeli academic institutions. The issue was originally raised during Operation Cast Lead, when Sid Ryan, the president of CUPE - Ontario's largest trade union - suggested severing ties between the province's academic institutions and Israeli's, due to their refusal to denounce IDF strikes on educational institutions in Gaza, but has been enjoying renewed attention with Israeli Apartheid Week as a backdrop. "Sid Ryan vehemently denies that he's an anti-Semite," Cheifetz said. "But he's constantly pushing these resolutions." After pressure from community activists and Jewish groups, however, Ryan backed away from his demand of a full boycott. Speaking at Sunday's meeting, Ryan said he had been wrong to demand a full academic boycott, saying the ban should only be imposed on Israeli institutions engaged in research that could help the IDF. He also said the union would look into how its members' pension funds, to ensure that they were not investing in Israeli defense companies. Meanwhile, several hundred demonstrators gathered outside, including Cheifetz, as Jewish and Muslim groups chanted slogans at one another, with the police in between. "At one point a Palestinian flag blew over to our side of the street, and some of the Palestinian protesters came over to try and get it," Cheifetz said. "That's when they started pushing and shoving, and yelling out slurs against Jews. It got pretty ugly." "I don't feel this level of anti-Semitism from other Canadians," he said. "It's just from the Muslim community, and it really got worse after all the violence in Gaza."