Avi Feygin
2019-2020 York University CAMERA Fellow Avi Feygin

After a virulent and antisemitic riot organised by the YFS (York University Federation of Students) to intimidate and silence Jewish speakers on November 20, most Canadian politicians (and even university administrators) initially condemned the antisemitic riots. This includes Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, who called the riots violent and racist. Most people reasoned that once the university banned both Students Against Israeli Apartheid (SAIA), the club that instigated the riots, and Herut, the Jewish club that invited the speakers, things would begin to slow down.

Right on cue, the YFS swooped in to save the day. During their Annual General Meeting on November 28th, 2019, the YFS not only singled out, but voted to oppose the presence of any “representatives of the Israeli state” on campus.

I will only address the three most important points of their resolution. The full text can be found here.

“WHEREAS the IDF directly carries out the unjust arrest and unjustified killings of Palestinian people and is responsible for the forcible displacement of millions of Palestinians since 1948; and…”

Accusing the only Jewish military in the world of intentionally targeting civilians and ethnic cleansing, is a very old blood libel. Here’s why:

On November 29, 1947, the UN recommended the partition of the British Mandate for Palestine into two parts – one Jewish state and one Arab state. This represented a substantial compromise over the promised territories of the Balfour Declaration of 1917, which promised the Jewish people a “national home” in the British-controlled territory. The Jews accepted the 1947 UN resolution while the Arabs not only rejected it, but launched a genocidal war of annihilation, calling for the Jews to be ethnically cleansed from the entire Middle East. 

Furthermore, the fact that the YFS is entirely ignoring the expulsion of the Jewish populations of the Muslim countries and repeated attempts at ethnic cleansing not only of Jews but of many religious minorities in the Muslim world is a stark double standard. An estimated 850,000 refugees comprising the entire Jewish populations of Egypt, Syria, Jordan, Iraq, Saudi Arabia, Yemen, Morocco, Libya, Tunisia, Algeria, Lebanon, and Turkey were violently expelled. On top of this ethnic cleansing, these Muslim nations confiscated all valuables from their Jewish populations, completely impoverishing them.

Today, Palestinian “moderate” factions have, and continue to call for the ethnic cleansing of all Jews from the land and refuse to allow sales of houses or land to Jews under penalty of death

“WHEREAS the Israeli state continues to sow division between the Israeli and Palestinian working class while driving both further into poverty within Israel for the sake of continued profit; and…”

Of course, reality on the ground is far different.

Arabs in Israel enjoy the highest living standards and more political freedom than any in the Middle East. Most notably, Israeli Arabs are the only population in the Middle East that enjoys full suffrage. In terms of GDP per capita, the Arab population of Judea and Samaria is actually on par with most Arab nations that do not have significant oil reserves. 

Additionally, Arab Israeli women have full property and individual rights, not to mention the right to vote. At least three Arab parties sit in the Knesset, and an Arab citizen of Israel sits on the supreme court. Arab Israelis are filling the ranks of the middle class, especially Christian Arabs, who are already as affluent (on average) as the Jewish population. Overall, the Arab population of the country has exploded from 10% of the population in 1948 to almost 20% in 2017, according to the Moshe Dayan Center at Tel Aviv University. (It’s worth noting that this utterly disproves YFS’s earlier accusation that Israel has forcibly displaced “millions of Palestinians since 1948”). 

WHEREAS student unions have historically played a decisive role in leading anti-war and anti-imperialist movements in Canada and have a duty to oppose Imperialism here at home…”

If Arab, Ottoman, and Persian imperialism and terrorism historically, and in the modern day, aren’t worth mentioning by name, and the only nation called out is the only Jewish democracy in the Middle East, your logic is seriously suspect. 

Today, one of only two countries sanctioned by the Financial Action Task Force (FAFT), an intergovernmental organization created by the G7) to track and halt state funding of terrorism, is Iran (the other is North Korea). Iran is the primary state sponsor of terrorism, lavishing groups such as Hezbollah, Hamas, Islamic jihad with money and weapons, and attempts to gain nuclear weapons to conquer the Middle East.  Along with its allies in the region, it has poured gasoline on conflicts in Gaza, Syria, Iraq, Yemen, and Lebanon. It consistently calls for the extermination of the Jewish state and conquest of the surrounding Arab nations by force.  

Obvious double standards

This brings us to the real point. The true problem with this resolution was not the ignorant assumptions and claims from the YFS. Their historic record of antisemitic attacks on York’s Jews is not only well-known but institutionalized.

But the real question is where are the adults? This resolution was crafted with the single-minded purpose of banning Israelis from campus, and clearly the wording was changed just enough to allude to “fairness.” But singling out one nationality for opprobrium clearly violates the Ontario Human rights code and encourages discrimination against myself and other Israelis on campus. 

The riot last November should have indicated to the university that the time has come to cut ties and even take punitive action against the YFS. Instead, nothing has been communicated to the students. It seems that the university has decided to simply ignore the issue. This isn’t the first time; their response to the riots last year was to simply draw a moral equivalence between the event’s organizers and those chanting for an “intifada,” subsequently ban both groups, and then reinstate them now that a little time has passed. No real consequences have been seen by anybody involved in any way. This is unacceptable and a violation of students’ rights to attend school in a safe and accepting environment. 

Ryerson University just broke its 36-year contract with its student government over alleged theft and misuse of funds. I hope the York administration has enough courage to take similar action over continued discrimination and outright violations of students’ human rights.

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

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