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November 11, 2009

Zionists muzzle debate on Israeli/Palestinian

Scott Stockdale

Scott Stockdale"These are attempts to muzzle debate on the Israeli/Palestinian issue across Canada," said York University’s Professor Ilan Kapoor in an interview with The Canadian Charger, “When criticism of Israel or pro-Palestinian positions are portrayed as antisemitic it sets a dangerous precedent. It shuts down debate, which is the bedrock of a university. If a university is about anything, it's about developing critical thinking.”  

Over the past year, York University has been targeted in various public places as a university where antisemitism is rife.

Now, some YU faculty and students are rejecting the smearing of YU, while seeking to uphold the University's mission to promote public debate, in a letter signed by 151 YU faculty members, as well as 59 students - most of whom are graduate students.

The letter cites a September 12, 2009 advertisement in the National Post, in which  B'nai Brith Canada offers a Back to School “checklist” for Jewish students and friends of Israel, at YU.

The “checklist” warns these students to “prepare to face hate on campus,” followed by “Some things you can expect upon your return to campus:

-       harrasment of students wearing the Star of David or kippah

-       intimidation by your professor or teaching assistant because of your support for the Jewish state

-       anti-Israeli rhetoric in the classroom

-       radical students staging rallies calling for the destruction of the state of Israel

-       swastikas and other antisemitic graffiti all over campus.”

The above-mentioned faculty and student letter goes on to say that concocted accounts of “violent anti-Jewish riots at York University” (in the words of the Jerusalem Post, February 15, 2009) have become widespread, resulting in Immigration Minister Jason Kenney being quoted, on September 11, 2009, as describing what was going on at York as resembling “pogroms.”

The signatories to this letter declared that the use of such inflammatory language cannot be ignored any longer and allowed to fester. They said its implications could be seen in a February 13, 2009 National Post article by Matt Gurney that called for York to be “purged of its hateful elements.”

The signatories to the letter state: “The fact is that representations of the York campus – and indeed university campuses generally – as hotbeds of antisemitism are simply untrue. The B'nai Brith “checklist,” like the allegations of “antisemitic” acts at York, let alone “riots” or “pogroms” are entirely inaccurate, if not libelous, and amount to nothing but fear-mongering.”

Ilan Kapoor, associate professor of Faculty and Environmental Studies at YU, said he put his name forward as a spokesperson for this issue because, “Someone had to, so Leo (Panitch) (political science professor at YU) and I put our names forward.”

He said allegations of swastikas on campus are “absolutely not true” and there is no antisemitic graffiti at York that he and his colleagues are aware of.

“This is highly exaggerated rhetoric. We have a vibrant student body which is naturally going to have groups in various conflicts, such as the Israeli/Palestinian issue and the strike at York. Unfortunately, the B'nai Brith only sees these issues through the lens of antisemitism.”

He said the university's objective is to support public debate and provide a range of perspectives, even if it involves controversial issues like the Israeli/Palestinian conflict. And he added that this is a fundamental part a university's raison d'etre, which must continue.

Indeed, after YU hosted a conference titled “Israel/Palestine: Mapping Models of Statehood and Paths to Peace,” B'nai Brith Canada published a full page ad, on June 11, 2009, in the National Post, condemning YU for hosting the conference.

According to B'nai Brith “the conference questions the Jewish state's right to exist,” and is a “virulent anti-Israel event,” although the conference's website states its goals: “to explore which state models offer promising paths to resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, respecting the rights to self-determination of both Israelis/Jews and Palestinians.”

Meanwhile, in an October issue of CAUT, Canada's Voice for Academics, Dorit Naaman, Alliance Atlantis Professor of Film and Media, at Queen's University, said that in its criticism of the conference, the B'nai Brith joined forces with many organizations, including some with avowedly racist and violent agendas.

“In addition to the Canadian Council for Israel and Jewish Advocacy and the United Jewish Appeal Federation of Greater Toronto, the Jewish Defence League was enlisted in this concerted attack on the conference.”

She said the attack on the York conference was part of a well-coordinated and well-financed trans-Atlantic strategy to prevent discussion of the Israeli-Palestinian dilemma in both the classroom and campus environment.

“In 2004 the Israel on Campus Coalition published a resource guide titled 'Tenured or Tenuous: Defining the Role of Faculty in Supporting Israel on Campus.' The document was prepared by Mitchell Bard, executive director of the American-Israeli Co-operative Enterprise, and it can be found at

“It is a shameful attempt to employ the tactics of McCarthyism to enforce the political ideology of a narrow spectrum of world Jewry and an even narrower Israeli public sector.”

Prof. Kapoor said organizations like B'nai Brith claim to speak for the Jewish community, “But the Jewish Community is not monolithic.”

He added that in an attempt to tone down the rhetoric, the president of YU has issued a report that recommends bringing the different sections together for a healthy debate.

Scott Stockdale is a freelance writer based in Toronto. 

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