Dear Members of the York University Administration,
Last year Christians United For Israel was involved with Israel ‘Apartheid’ Week. We were commended by the Director of Security, Rob Kilfoyle and other administrators at York for our contribution to ensuring that Israel Apartheid Week was peaceful. I feel our greatest contribution was our commitment to the Student Code of Rights and Responsibilities, our ability to engage students in dialogue and to respond to opposing view points in a very respectful and peaceful manner.
My reason for writing this letter is to draw your attention to the situation on campus. As a student committed to respectful dialogue, there are some key issues with Israel Apartheid Week that I would like to outline. As a Christian I believe that standing with Israel from a Biblical perspective is my religious obligation. During Israel Apartheid Week, I feel discriminated against for my religious convictions because the name Israel Apartheid Week is exclusive as it acknowledges only one perspective. The University has invested a lot of time and effort into diversity and inclusion training, however, it allows student groups to engage in an entire week long campaign that excludes a country and group of people that identify with Israel, and seeks to delegitimize and demonize an entire ethnic group represented on campus. This reality makes students who identify with Israel for political, cultural or religious reasons feel like they are constantly on the defensive.
Throughout the year, but most frequently during Israel Apartheid Week, I have heard students first-hand make statements openly supporting recognized terrorist organizations who clearly call for the genocide of the Jewish people. This type of ideology is often supported by people like George Galloway and other speakers that are invited to Israel ‘Apartheid’ Week. During Israel ‘Apartheid’ Week, students have confronted me, in a hostile manner due to my support of the State of Israel, a position that is not only political but deeply religious. Other students have also told me that the reason why Christians and Jews are excluded from Muslim religious sites in Jerusalem and persecuted and killed in Palestine is their own fault and if they would just submit to Allah, they would avoid being persecuted. This extremism often expressed during Israel ‘Apartheid’ Week does nothing to enhance dialogue. Israel ‘Apartheid’ Week inhibits dialogue by giving voices to the extremists who preach intolerance.
Furthermore, Jewish and non-Jewish students and staff have expressed concerns that they feel unsafe on campus. I have experienced the same fear during Israel Apartheid Week. Last year during this week, our group would brace ourselves every day for the potential outburst characteristic of all previous Israel Apartheid Week demonstrations. The amount of security that is present in Vari Hall during this week is a clear indication that the University also sees Israel Apartheid Week as a security concern for students and staff. While I appreciate the presence of police and security during these events, the need for this presence is exactly why students feel unsafe. It is an environment of hostility that brings unnecessary and avoidable worries and burdens to the school. This climate interferes with our ability to have respectful academic dialogue and inquiry which should characterize a university.
The purpose of this letter is to petition you to look at the situation on campus more seriously and to reassess your approach to this situation. The division on campus has serious repercussions for the University’s reputation because it has not been handled in a way that will help students, the world’s future leaders, to overcome their differing perspectives. A neutral approach is not enough. As an academic institution it is your responsibility to provide a safe environment for the exchange of ideas and beliefs. It is also your responsibility to maintain an intellectual honesty as the ideas allowed on campus will influence the minds of the present and future generation of leaders. This is a large responsibility, but also a great opportunity to intervene in the thoughts of those who hold radical and dangerous beliefs such as the few extreme ideologies that I have outlined in this letter. I am petitioning the University to take a more proactive approach towards intervening in these dangerous ideologies. A very simple first step is to demand that student groups adopt a more inclusive name such as Middle-East Peace Week allowing the inclusion of other perspectives. This is an opportunity for York to boldly set an example in the academic world and receive praise instead of scorn. I would love to meet and discuss this further.
In closing, I have included a few statements about Israel ‘Apartheid’ Week which I have collected from York University students (see attachment). Please take a moment and read through them as they reflect similar concerns that I have addressed from my perspective, but also offer unique perspectives from a wide range of students.
Thank you for your time.
President, Christians United For Israel on Campus