Avi Feygin
2019-2020 York University CAMERA Fellow Avi Feygin

I found myself locked in a room listening to Israel Defense Forces’ veterans tell their stories while people outside chanted for my blood. For several hours, the protesters chanted, pounded on the walls and doors of the lecture hall, and intimidated participants trying to enter.

While the event pressed on despite this brazen assault, at least two Jewish students broke down and had to be escorted out. The relentless pounding, chanting and noise continued unabated for several hours without letup. Calls of “viva intifada,” fauda (meaning “chaos” in Arabic) and reports of another chant that I will address later poisoned the atmosphere of what was supposed to be a peaceful gathering.

The ranks of rioters included at least one Holocaust denier (Nazih Khatatba); one former candidate for parliament with the New Democratic Party; York University alumni; Amnesty International co-president Jessa McLean; Antifa; and several student organizations, including YUGSA, CUPE3903 and Students Against Israeli Apartheid (SAIA). All this because an Arab-Israeli and four North American reservists from the IDF came to share stories about their time protecting Israel from terrorists! Scuffles broke out between groups, and police had to intervene several times, in addition to escorting people to and from the event.

But let’s start from the beginning. Not long ago, strange posters were hung up all over campus; Jews were told that “baby killers” and “murderers” were about to come to York.

At first, we were mostly confused. After all, Hillel had already brought a contingent of reservists the week beforehand that had been received well and quietly. But this time, it seems that SAIA had gotten wind that Herut, a political Zionist advocacy organization on campus, planned to bring reservists from the IDF to campus through a program called Reservists on Duty.

According to reports, these posters were not just posted on York’s campus, but on the University of Toronto’s and Ryerson’s campuses as well. SAIA even partnered with various off-campus groups in different universities to encourage a larger turnout for their protest. To make matters worse, their Facebook event description for the protest framed IDF soldiers as murderers with blood on their hands.

The claims that the IDF is responsible for “human-rights violations” on a daily basis or “ethnic cleansing” are outright lies and incredibly hypocritical considering the IDF’s stellar record compared to the armed forces of many other countries engaged in war. These claims are simply so outlandish and ridiculous that it’s completely laughable. Israel is a small state surrounded by a hostile array of nations. Since it has a conscription army, almost all (Muslims citizens are given automatic exemptions from the army) Israeli citizens serve in the armed forces in some capacity, including Bedouin and Druze men.

The majority of Israelis currently studying at York are veterans of the IDF or, like me, will complete their service after returning from their studies. The blatant lie that we are all “murderous war criminals” is rank antisemitism. The reservists, when they weren’t being interrupted, were there to talk about their experiences and challenges, and to have an open dialogue with anyone willing to discuss any issues with them.

The two combat soldiers who spoke on campus were members of the special-forces counter-terrorist unit commonly known as duvdevan. They related several incidents, including one about terrorists hiding weapons in children’s beds, and others about paramilitary training and recruitment of Palestinian children as young as elementary-school age into terrorist groups. The fact that these men and women dealt with such barbarity, and are still willing to come to a campus and brave further threats, is nothing but admirable.

“The claims that the IDF is responsible for ‘human-rights violations’ on a daily basis or ‘ethnic cleansing’ are outright lies and incredibly hypocritical considering the IDF’s stellar record compared to the armed forces of many other countries engaged in war.”

Let’s revisit the chant that I mentioned earlier. It was reported that some protesters shouted “Jews go back to the ovens.” If true, this tells us everything we need to know about the rioters and their intentions. This was never about good-faith critique of Israeli policies or even about solidarity with the Arab population in Israel. This riot was about hatred. It was a throwback to every blood libel, pogrom and instance of incitement drawn from a deep well of hatred for the Jewish people, and it is apparently allowed free rein on campus.

Institutionalized antisemitism

The York Federation of Students (YFS) has a history of antisemitism and support for murderous and radical ideologies that harbor hatred and malice for anyone who stands against them. And the university’s leadership has shown a distinct lack of interest in reigning in this bigotry and hate.

For example, at the student government general meeting last year, a Jewish student was told to shut up because “white people don’t get to talk.” The hired diversity officer told him: “Don’t message me; you can’t be racist against white people.” Remarkably, the university didn’t sanction the YFS and hold them accountable. The last time calls for intifada were heard on campus, no students were expelled for hate crimes. They were simply told not to do it again. So it comes as no surprise that calls for Jews to “go back to the ovens” could now be openly shouted on campus.  According to the Ontario Human Rights Code, “Racial harassment means that someone is bothering you, threatening you or treating you unfairly because of your perceived: ancestry, place of origin, ethnic origin, creed or citizenship.”

By any reasonable standard, advocating for an intifada, declaring that Israelis are not welcome on campus, conflating Zionism with Nazism and calling for Jews to be burned in ovens are direct violations of the human rights of every Israeli, Jew and Zionist on this campus. This hatred casts a shadow over every Jew walking the university’s halls. As an openly religious Jew on campus who faces this hatred on campus on a daily basis, I call upon the president and deans to take concrete action to show that this behavior has serious consequences and will not be tolerated at an institution whose sole purpose should be the pursuit of truth and knowledge.

Originally published in jns.org.

Contributed by 2019-2020 York University CAMERA Fellow Avi Feygin.

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