On the one hand, I can speak for my student group that our campaigns promote our own cause without attacking other people. For instance, our student group could very well hold a ‘Middle Eastern or Islamic State Apartheid Week’ and legitimately talk about all the persecuted Christians in the Middle East, including in Palestine, who are killed, tortured, treated as second rate citizens and charged extra taxes because of their religious beliefs. However, we are afraid. I used the word afraid because I have come to characterize many who are anti-Israel as hostile when their personal views are attacked.
On the other hand, the Students Against Israeli Apartheid form their entire campaign around discriminating against, delegitimizing and demonizing Israel. As a student leader, I have been asked in meetings with the York Administration to engage in respectful dialogue and to commit to peaceable actions, which I willingly adhere to. Essentially, myself and other pro-Israel students are always being asked to go out of our way to respect student groups that have no problem making statements that are completely offensive to us. Without a focus on discriminating against, delegitimizing and demonizing Israel, would these student groups have anything left to say? If the answer is no, then the real intent of their message stands very clear. If the answer is yes, then these groups should focus on talking about those things that do not include discriminating and excluding Israel and all those who identify with this country.
One of the common arguments that I receive when I voice my concerns about the situation on campus with any of the York administration is that these student groups have the freedom of expression and thus the right to say what they want in their campaigns and to name IAW whatever they want. I cannot argue with the fact that they have that right. But just because someone has a right to do something, it doesn’t necessarily make it the right thing to do. The York administrators themselves in private meetings do not refer to IAW by its name but call it ‘the events that happen in March’. This distinction reflects the reality that many groups have a perspective to share in this week; Israel supporters, those against Israel, Christians, Jews, Moslems and secular human rights activists all have an interest in the situation in the Middle East. I think that this inclusive attitude on the part of the York administrators needs to be communicated to the student body and to these student groups.
On that note, I have also been told that I need to take my concerns directly to these student groups. I have done that and it lead absolutely nowhere. A most recent example is when I felt the safety of students was compromised when George Galloway spoke on campus. Upon arriving at the event, I was told that there was a mandatory bag and coat check for security purposes, there were many police officers and security guards and a large number of students protesting the event. At the end of the event, the President of the York Federation of Students (YFS) was seen on his friends’ shoulders trying to instigate the crowd that was protesting outside the lecture hall.
Two weeks before the Galloway event, I had the foresight to know that this speaker would compromise the unity and peace that we have been working to build on campus. I tried to voice my concerns in a civil manner with the Centre For Human Rights (CHR), Student Community and Leadership Development (SCLD), with the President of the York Federation of Students and with individual members of the YFS. As a student leader, the response that I received was very discouraging because I felt like only one voice was given expression, those of Students Against Israeli Apartheid (SAIA). The Student Government which is elected to represent students and which is equipped with many more resources than any student group chose to use those resources to ‘educate’ students about only one perspective. The YFS chose a side on the most political issue on campus. When I tried to voice my concerns, I was completely ignored by the President of the YFS and none of the members of the YFS took my concerns seriously. I have addressed my concerns in private meetings between other student leaders and the CHR and through emails to SCLD but the standard response has been that there is no real issue on campus, that everyone has a right to express themselves and basically (I am paraphrasing) that as long as no one breaks any of the rules, people have the right to do and say whatever they want.
A great example of students getting away with saying whatever they want is as follows. A Jewish Rabbi was threatened with a law suit for stating his opinion about Dr. Shoukri and his response, or lack thereof, to the situation at York. However, at the Galloway event, the leader of SAIA, when promoting the BDS Movement against Israel, stated that students should be ashamed of Dr. Shoukri because he visited an Israeli University and a lecture hall of about 500 students and community members yelled ‘shame’ in unison and yet nothing was said about this act of disrespect toward Dr. Shoukri. When I addressed this double standard in my meeting with the Centre For Human Rights, I was told that this group of students have ‘the freedom of expression’, yet, from my perspective, this same right was not granted to Rabbi Hoch.
I also want to bring to your attention some of the statements made during the Galloway event specifically and then some general comments that I have heard on campus. Here is one of many statements that Galloway made that holds striking resemblance to the propaganda that Hitler used before the Holocaust. Galloway stated: ‘Peace between Israel and Palestine means peace in the Middle East. Peace in the Middle East means peace in the world.’ Aside from this statement being untrue (the Middle East is conflict ridden and human rights abuses are rampant) throughout history this tactic has been used to demonize the Jews and to make them the victim of blame for the world’s problems. Galloway further advocated for a one state solution stating that he “does not believe in a ‘two state solution’. He signed the Oslow agreement because Arafat convinced him that it was the best thing, but now he thinks that the best solution is he same solution as the end to Apartheid in South Africa: 1. A democratic state for all 2. A post-Apartheid Zionist state.“ One only has to go so far as understanding what a one state solution in the context of Israel would look like to see that this solution poses an existential threat to Israel. Furthermore, Galloway stated that he “is not a supporter of Hamas but is a supporter of democracy and Hamas won the democratic elections”. In my opinion this reasoning is one of two types- either Galloway is defending Hamas in a way that is politically correct thus exploiting western values in support of terrorists or it could be that he is reserving his judgment against Hamas by hiding behind the fact that the Palestinians have democratically elected Hamas.
I have heard students first hand make similar statements such as ‘I support Hamas’ and when confronted with the fact that the Hamas charter calls for the genocide of the Jewish state of Israel, these students still openly express their support for Hamas. Other students have confronted me very angrily for my support of the State of Israel and told me that the only solution is for Israel to go back to it’s borders in 1948 when it did not exist. I have also had other students tell me that the reason why Christians and Jews are excluded from Muslim religious sites and persecuted and killed in the Middle East is because they refuse to bow down to Allah. The reality is that the same forces threatening Israel and the Jews also threatens Christians and the West.
We may believe that we have learnt something from the Holocaust and that we are too civilized and educated to let something like that happen again. But let me remind you that Germany was among the most civilized nations at the time of the Holocaust. Combating the dangerous ideologies mentioned above that are bread in academic institution, is our responsibility. Universities shape and 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 I have outlined in the paragraph above.