As a new school year begins, the familiar chill of malicious, unbridled anti-Semitism is being felt by Jewish university students across the country.

Today, a university student’s intellectualism and tolerance are gauged by the ferocity of his or her Israel hatred. To be a humanitarian, you must deny the humanity of Israelis by portraying them as ruthless racists and baby killers. To be a historian, you must rewrite history so that the Jewish People have no historical, legal, or ancestral ties to the land of Israel. To be a physicist, you must reverse the laws of time and space so that the Jews of Europe are the Palestinians of Gaza and the Jews of Israel are the Nazis of Germany. In the halls of academia, these are the indicators of the most cerebral, enlightened scholar.

In my three years as a student at York University in Toronto, I’ve witnessed the mutation of the Canadian campus into a breeding ground for violence, hate, and discrimination against Israel and its student supporters. During multicultural week in 2013, the Israeli flag was vandalized with red paint. A mural depicting a Palestinian man throwing rocks as an act of “peace and justice” was prominently hung in York’s student centre. The incoming student union president posted an image online of the Jewish star with the instructions to “smash Zionism,” while the campus group Students Against Israeli Apartheid (SAIA) overtly promoted terrorism by lauding the “beloved Rasmea Odeh,” the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP) member found guilty of murdering two Israeli university students in 1970.

Students Against Israeli Apartheid (SAIA) hosting a protest during York Univerity's Red & White Day (November 2014)
Students Against Israeli Apartheid (SAIA) hosting a protest during York Univerity’s Red & White Day (November 2014)

What were the consequences of these actions? The student government president kept his position. The mural remains in the student centre. And in one of the most worrying developments in university anti-Semitism to date, the Centre for Human Rights at York ruled that Odeh’s actions were subject to interpretation. Although the Canadian government describes the PFLP as a terrorist organization, York ruled that SAIA had the right to offer an alternative point of view.

The university further mitigated the severity of online terror incitement by arguing that students would have needed to deliberately access the online post in order to be exposed to this subject matter. It is under this ridiculous logic that the Jewish students who monitor the proliferation of online terror incitement are troublemakers deliberately seeking to be offended, while the radicalized students who intentionally seek this type of content as justification and exoneration for violence are considered insignificant.

The age-old philosophical question “If a tree falls in the forest and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound?” becomes “If terror is promoted on the Internet but Jewish students are instructed not to look at it, does the university still get to pretend that it hasn’t turned a blind eye?”

For those still confused as to whether anti-Zionism is unadulterated anti-Semitism or legitimate criticism of Israel, I ask this question: would there be consequences for a student union president who advocated the “smash[ing]” of the black civil rights movement or any other non-Jewish liberation movement? What would happen if a student group continued to receive university funding after celebrating the killer of two students who were of any nationality other than Israeli?

If a double standard exists whereby these acts would be unequivocally condemned if directed at any group other than the Jewish nation, then this is the purest manifestation of anti-Semitism.   

So how is it possible that anti-Semitism continues to thrive in academia without consequence or condemnation?

The excuse proffered time and again by university administrators is free speech. But too often they forget free speech is not a one-way street. Just as anti-Israel student groups and union executives may exercise their freedom by posting or promoting anti-Semitic content, university administrators should be obliged to exercise their freedom of speech by condemning actions and speech that lead to the harassment and discrimination of Jewish students. The fundamental essence of free speech is to discuss and debate ideas so that the evil ones might be weeded out, not ignored.

A vicious campaign against Israel and its student supporters is gaining legitimacy on many Canadian campuses. University administrators and professors who speak out against the bigotry of the anti-Israel movement are sending a clear message that propagandistic anti-Semitism has no place in civil society. Those who remain silent are sending an equally clear message: it doesn’t matter if every single tree is being felled in the forest. If you’re blocking your ears, you won’t hear it anyway. 

This was originally published in Canadian Jewish News and was written by York University CAMERA Fellow, Danielle Shachar.

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