Richard L. Cravatts, Ph.D., a Freedom Center Journalism Fellow in Academic Free Speech and President Emeritus of Scholars for Peace in the Middle East, is the author of Dispatches From the Campus War Against Israel and Jews.
In a country where multiculturalism has a reverent following and criticism of protected minorities has essentially been criminalized as “hate speech,” it is more than ironic that on some Canadian campuses radical students have taken it upon themselves to target one group, Jewish students, with a hatred that is nominally forbidden for any others.
On March 4th, for example, yet another troubling event was scheduled to be held at the University of Toronto, this time a panel discussion tellingly entitled, “Liberated Students in a Colonised [sic] Campus: Reflections on the Palestinian Experience at the University of Toronto,” sadly co-sponsored by the University’s Institute of Islamic Studies, Department of History, and Centre for the Study of the United States.
As B’nai Brith Canada noted in a condemnatory statement, the marketing materials for the event included a drawing of some individuals, one of which was Ghassan Kanafani, a murderous figure that, as B’nai Brith pointed out, is “a leading member of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP), a designated terrorist entity in Canada. Kanafani forged connections between the PFLP and other far-left terrorist groups, including the Japanese Red Army . . . .”
“The University of Toronto has an antisemitism problem,” said Michael Mostyn, Chief Executive Officer of B’nai Brith Canada. “It is morally grotesque that the University is advertising an event using the sympathetic portrayal of a terrorist whose group has been responsible for so many murders, airplane hijackings and suicide bombings targeting innocent civilians.”
This is not the first time in recent history that B’nai Brith has felt compelled to critique the anti-Israel, often anti-Semitic goings-on at the University of Toronto, and the organization’s frustration is exacerbated by the fact that its prior pleadings for administrative actions to correct the toxic atmosphere at U of Toronto have largely gone unanswered.
In June of 2020, for example, B’nai Brith Canada’s League for Human Rights, together with two U of Toronto professors, Stuart Kamenetsky and Howard Tenenbaum, produced a lengthy and substantive report, “Confronting Antisemitism at the University of Toronto: A Path Forward,” written for the University’s president, Meric Gertler. That report, which fastidiously reviewed a long list of anti-Israel events and their effect on Jewish students, went largely ignored by the university’s administration, troubling in light of the many bigoted events cataloged in the report.
At this particular university, as one example, the University of Toronto Graduate Students’ Union (UTGSU) is the only student union in Canada with a committee dedicated to promoting the anti-Semitic Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) movement, and in 2019 outrageously rejected Hillel’s request to recognize the “Kosher Forward” campaign to have kosher food offered on campus since, as the Union decided in their grotesquely anti-Semitic way, Hillel is pro-Israel and therefore kosher food should not be allowed. In doing so, the B’nai Brith report noted, “the UTGSU openly discriminated against Jewish student rights, despite its mandate to represent all university students, and faced no consequences for doing so.”
This past November, the university’s Scarborough Campus Students’ Union (SCSU) held its annual general meeting on Zoom, the main topic of discussion being to “reaffirm its commitment” to the corrosive BDS movement against Israel by “actively [supporting] initiatives that raise awareness about the state of Israel’s ongoing occupation of Palestine and war crimes against Palestinian peoples.” A student supporter of the motion disingenuously suggested that, of course, “ . . . opposition and criticism of the State of Israel and Zionism are not active anti-Semitism,” but his weak defense aside, that notion actually contradicts one of the examples in the IHRA definition of anti-Semitism, meaning that relentless, obsessive, and singular slanders and libels against the Jewish state and Zionism, while ignoring other nations with similar bad behavior, can be, and often is, expression that can be considered a form of anti-Semitism—as much as students like this one try to deflect their actual sentiments.
More troubling in this motion was language which should alarm university administrators who regularly announce that they want to encourage vigorous debate on their campuses on difficult subjects, so that many views can be aired. But the Toronto motion specifically sought to exclude any pro-Israel voices from the debate, to suppress dialogue, and to eliminate any opposing views which might challenge the entire BDS campaign—such as those based on truth, history, and fact. Specifically, the motion proposed that the SCSU “refrain from engaging with organizations or participating in events that further [normalize] Israeli apartheid,” meaning that the voices of Jewish and pro-Israel campus groups and individuals should be suppressed and ignored; not only that, supporters of the motion wanted to create policies “to ensure that future elected representatives and staff of the Students’ Union uphold our collective commitment to justice in Palestine,” meaning that all student leaders would henceforth and permanently conform to an anti-Israel, pro-Palestinian stance.
Lest anyone overlook that this toxic anti-Israel activism does not have a personal human cost, the experience of one recent University of Toronto indicates that unrelenting hostility to Zionism, Israel, and Jewishness inevitably takes a toll. Tyler Samuels, a Jamaican Jew who is a graduating student at University of Toronto’s Scarborough campus spoke at a March 24th town hall on anti-Semitism and said that he has the “utmost disdain” for the university and its administration because, he says, they have failed to make him “feel safe” as a Jewish student.
“As I leave U of T,” he confessed to the virtual audience, “I would blatantly say I would not come back for a grad degree,” Sadly, Samuels said, “I would not recommend it (U of T) for Jewish students [because] anti-Semitism has ingrained itself at the university.”
Each of these outrageous examples demonstrate how the University of Toronto, and other universities in Canada, have been hijacked by anti-Israel activists whose default position is that there is something inherently wrong with supporting Israel, and that any pro-Zionist, pro-Israel, even pro-Jewish, speech, writing, or event should not even be allowed on campus.
In addition to being contrary to the whole idea of what a university represents, with competing ideas and dialogue about different points of view, the notion that one group of students can decide who can be on campus and what people can and cannot say is breathtakingly wrong, not to mention, in these cases, bordering on anti-Semitic.
These campus activists couch their language and ideology in the language of human rights and social justice, which is their furtive way of promoting their corrosive agenda and which is why administrators are often hesitant to question their tactics and the toxic nature of their ideology. But if one scratches below the surface it is obvious that they are interested only in justice for one group—the Palestinian Arabs—at the expense of and to the detriment of Israel and its Jewish population. More sinisterly, they seek justice for the long-aggrieved Palestinian Arabs not through negotiation and compromise—the manner in which civilized nations arrive at diplomatic resolutions—but through terrorism and the murder of Jews, something they unashamedly declare in their public cries for an intifada—exactly what regularly occurs in the grotesque demonstrations on campuses throughout North America.
The sententious activists fueling this ideological bullying may well feel that they have access to all the truth and facts, but even if this were true—which it demonstrably and regularly is not—it certainly does not empower them with the right to have the only voice and to disrupt, shout down, or totally eliminate competing opinions in political or academic debates. No one individual or group has the moral authority or intellectual might to decide what may and may not be discussed, and especially young, sanctimonious students—whose expertise and knowledge about the Middle East, in particular, is frequently characterized by distortions, lies, lack of context, corrosive bias against Israel, and errors in history and fact.
This is a troubling pattern, not only in Canada but throughout the United States, as well. Increasingly, groups like Students Against Israeli Apartheid, Students in Solidarity for Palestinian Human Rights, and, in the U.S., Students for Justice in Palestine, have decided unilaterally what views may be expressed on campus and which ideas they have decided are unworthy of any recognition. What that has meant in practice is that pro-Israel speakers have been repeatedly heckled, disrupted, or driven off of campus by these radicals who feel that their view having to do with the Israeli-Palestinian debate is the only truthful and valid view, and they feel morally empowered to not even allow for alternate views to be expressed, let alone views that are contrary to theirs.
Of course, this violates the very fundamental notion of academic free speech and the idea that the university is a place where competing views need to be aired so that people can come to a conclusion about which views are stronger and which should be rejected. When anti-Israel groups and individuals only allow one side of the story to be told, they are, of course, eliminating all debate, all nuance, all different ways of looking at an issue.
“A poisoned atmosphere of antisemitism has been allowed to fester for years at the University of Toronto. And it continues to roil campus life for Jewish students, faculty and staff.,” observed the authors of the B’nai Brith report in a subsequent article. “It is beyond scandalous that a prestigious university officially committed to ‘diversity, inclusion, and respect’ could have permitted antisemitism to become, by its own admission, a systemic form of racism on campus.”
The fact that this same situation exists on campuses throughout Canada and the United States represents a grave moral failure and is a shameful reality for which administrators will someday have to answer.