Anti-Jewish sentiment is rising on campuses across Canada, according to Concordia professor Fred Krantz. The trend, said Krantz, has been energized by the expanding anti-Israel movement.
The discussions might not be new, but the way they are being manifested on university campuses has become worrisome.
York University has been the centre of attention lately, with a surge of reports of anti-Semitic uprisings. On Feb. 11 Jewish students there felt compelled to take refuge for in their Hillel office while crowds outside chanted anti-Israel slogans. Toronto police, who are investigating a potential hate crime, were eventually called in to escort the Jewish students off campus.
A few days later a pro-Israel student allegedly received a phone call from someone who threatened to harm him and his family.
The RCMP recently began an investigation into a claim that two Jewish students at University of British Columbia were assaulted by a pro-Palistinian student.
This wave of anti-Semitism has been growing over the past several years, said Krantz. Canadian Jewish News columnist Mark Masters published an article last month about when he was running for student body president at Carleton University in 2007. When he arrived at school one day he found his campaign posters had been defaced; swastikas had been drawn on some, others had Hitler moustaches painted over his face.
Concordia was the eye of the storm in 2002. Hundreds of pro-Palestinian protesters stormed the Hall building during a visit from the former Prime minister of Israel Benjamin Netanyahu. “I remember it,” said Krantz. “They rampaged through the university. People smashed windows. The Hall building was filled with tear gas and smoke. They were hurling chairs in the mezzanine, screaming.”
The combination of the resurgence of active fighting in Gaza and the launch of Israeli apartheid Week (IAW) has fueled tensions on campuses.
IAW began in Toronto in 2005. This year’s edition launched March 1 on campuses in over 40 cities across the globe. Organizers say the lectures and films presented during the week will help reveal “the true nature of Israeli Apartheid.”
Meg Leitold, a member of the organizing team for IAW-Montreal wants to make people aware of the implications of Israel’s actions in Gaza. “The brutal reality of Israeli apartheid was driven home in a very profound way since the invasion of Gaza in December,” she said. “The world was shown the devastation the apartheid regime in Israel is causing for the people in Palestine.”
She said it’s the responsibility of citizens around the world to act and respond to the conditions of an apartheid state. Professor Krantz, however, has issues with applying the “apartheid” label to Israel.
“Arab citizens of Israel are a minority,” he said. “But they have rights. They have language rights. Citizens of Israel elect people to the Knesset.”
Anti-Israel = anti-Semite?
People who are anti-Israel said the rights Krantz mentioned are limited and that discrimination against Palestinians is rampant and evident. Arabs are discriminated against,” said Leitold. “Palestinians living in Israel are discriminated against in a way that clearly falls along racial and religious lines.”
Krantz said he believes an anti-Israel view is usually an anti-Semitic one. And, he says, the motivation behind events like IAW is an attempt to de-legitimize the Jewish state prior to its destruction. “The minute you say it’s an apartheid state,” he said, “you’re saying it doesn’t have the right to exist. The moment you take away its right to exist, you’re reinforcing the campaign to destroy it.”
Krantz said criticisms of Israel become anti-Semitic when other states aren’t held to the same standard as Israel. “If a person says they’re critical of Israel, but are not an anti-Semite, you have to raise an issue with them,” he said. “What else are you critical of in the Arab world? Which is the worst state: Israel or a Hamas-run Palestinian state? Israel or a Hezbollah-dominated Lebanon?”
Leitold said she, other IAW organizers and many participants aren’t concerned only with Israel. “Oppression and injustice exist everywhere in the world,” she said. “We can’t organize actively around all those issues. We have explicitly anti-oppression mandates and a holistic view of what justice is.”
A forum for debate
The fact remains, Jewish students have been subject to hate on Canadian campuses. “IAW groups are not here to engage in debate and discourse,” Krantz said. “A university should be a place where you can seek the truth And this is not the path to truth, this is the path to violence and exclusion.”
With IAW events taking place at Concordia this week, the university said it recognizes the potential for discomfort and tension. “But we feel that a university campus is a most appropriate place for the exchange of ideas and opinions,” said Sami Antaki executive director of communications. “The university will do its utmost to ensure all its rules and policies are adhered to with respect to appropriate behaviour and civil debate,” he said.
The notion of criticism is innate in humans. Nineteenth century British philosopher John Stuart Mill said truth comes from the clash of opinion. “But if opinion is only one sided, if one side excludes the other” said Krantz, “that is not the way to the truth.”