The Canadian Campus Scene

, September 21, 2008

A number of North American and European universities have been far from innocent bystanders in a politically motivated, disingenuous debate taking place on campus that denies the authenticity of the Holocaust. A hesitation to act is also evident when openly anti-Semitic material is disseminated on campus grounds, or flyers are posted describing the Middle East conflict in the most repugnant anti-Israeli terms.

In one particularly egregious example, the Solidarity for Palestinian Human Rights (SPHR) student group at York University in Toronto in March 2003 included on its display table a yellow Star of David inscribed with slogans referring to ethnic cleansing. The desecration of the Jewish star, a Jewish religious symbol, in and of itself an act of anti-Semitism, was made even more abhorrent by the deliberate painting of the star yellow, a reference to the forced ghettoization of Jews during the Holocaust. Campus officials and security passively allowed the display, with city police standing by in an effort to keep the peace.[1]

Universities do not object when the very legitimacy of the existence of the Jewish state is rejected, as has been the case during Israel Apartheid Week events held in 2006 on campuses in Toronto, Kitchener-Waterloo, and Montreal. No universities have protested when speakers have blamed the creation of Israel on what they present as the “false news of the Shoah” or the “Holocaust hoax”.[2] That was the case when Holocaust denier Lenni Brenner was allowed to address a student group at the University of Waterloo in 2005.[3]

Bowing to internal and social pressure, the Canadian higher educational system generally stays silent when campus-based campaigns brand Israel as the international scapegoat, in much the same way as the medieval imagery of “traditional” anti-Semitism used the Jew as the scapegoat for all evil.

A Stage for Disgraceful Events

Canada has been the stage for disgraceful events on campus, such as when former Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu was prevented by violent rioters from speaking at Concordia University in Montreal on 9 September 2002. Ehud Barak, also a former Israeli prime minister, was subsequently prevented from speaking at Concordia based on the university’s assessment that threats of further violence by anti-Israeli protesters would materialize.[4] Attempts were then made in late 2002, with the complicity of the Concordia Student Union (CSU), to shut down Hillel, the only officially recognized Jewish body on campus.[5] The charge was that Hillel was allegedly distributing materials on campus recruiting overseas volunteers for the Israeli military, which the CSU claimed violated Canada’s Foreign Enlistment Act.[6]  

In 2004, tensions were high at the University of British Columbia when Israel’s ambassador to Canada, and later the Middle East scholar Daniel Pipes, came to speak.[7] Its student newspaper noted that a public appearance by Noam Chomsky in Vancouver, while not on the campus itself, was widely attended by students and also supported by the Alma Mater Society of the university. This was despite protests by Jewish groups that Chomsky’s rhetoric contained Holocaust denial and anti-Semitic references.[8]

Daniel Pipes’s appearance at York University in 2004 sparked protest. The faculty association of the university joined in objecting to his presence, yet remained silent when a visiting academic called Jews “little Hitlers” in the same period.[9] Similarly, the visiting Israeli consul-general was prevented by protesters from speaking at Simon Fraser University in British Columbia in 2004.[10]

Thus, Jewish students have been forced to accept an atmosphere in which they cannot openly express or explore religious or national dimensions of Jewish identity. At the same time, they are daily exposed to the open hostility of anti-Zionist groups. They have responded by lying low, limiting their programming to social and cultural events rather than political discussion, and in some cases ceasing to wear distinctively Jewish items such as kippas or Star of David jewelry.[11] This may have led to fewer overtly anti-Semitic incidents reported on campus, but at the price of a Jewish student body intimidated into silence.

Other hostile actions are less publicly visible but no less effective. Groups on Canadian campuses are currently promoting the idea that it is inappropriate for “Israeli soldiers” to lecture to Canadian students. This has a sweeping significance since almost all Israeli visiting professors are still in the reserves.

Applying Double Standards to Free Speech

It is always claimed that universities must remain an open forum for discussing the most diverse and provocative ideas when the issue is anti-Zionist discourse. Yet, in today’s climate on Canadian campuses, the principle of free speech is applied differently when it comes to allowing Jewish students to host pro-Israeli speakers.

For example, in 2004 Concordia University-where, as mentioned, lectures by two former Israeli prime ministers were prevented-allowed Michael Tarazi, lawyer for the Palestine Liberation Organization, to speak in the heart of the campus.[12]  Similarly, Holocaust distorter Norman Finkelstein was allowed to speak there at another event that year sponsored by Palestinian student groups.[13]

The message of the Arab propaganda machine on campus changes very little, regardless of developments in the Middle East. All events and circumstances are described from the sole perspective of condemning Israel. There is little promotion of dialogue except with Jewish groups that are avowedly anti-Israeli such as the Jewish Women’s Committee to End the Occupation.

There is no effort to balance the analysis of key issues, as seen in the single focus of the abovementioned Israel Apartheid Week events. The titles used for the lectures during these events speak for themselves: “Apartheid: North America, South Africa, and the Israeli Connection,” “Palestinian Refugees and Apartheid in 1948 Occupied Palestine,” “Apartheid in 1967 Occupied Palestine,” “Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions: Building an Anti-Apartheid Movement in Canada,” “Resisting Apartheid: A Global Struggle,” “Demonstration against Canadian Support for Israeli Apartheid,” “Poetry Slam for a Global Intifada (Uprising).”[14]

Ultimately, the “final solution” offered, whether openly or by implication, is the destruction of Israel as a Jewish state. This view was stated by a number of speakers at the 2005 Apartheid Week at the University of Toronto. One speaker responded to a question by asserting: “Terrorism will end when apartheid ends.”[15]

Those attitudes, contravening as they do the spirit and purpose of university education, which should require analysis of all aspects of an issue, have become an impediment to any clear understanding of Middle Eastern politics. Yet most administrations have sought to minimize any possible confrontation, preferring to quietly accept the situation rather than take a stand to defend a minority.[16]

Jewish Students under Siege

Jewish students feel more and more under siege, distressed not only by the constant anti-Israeli images plastering the corridors but also by the prevailing tone of campus discourse. As one group noted, “An increasing number of students in universities and colleges say that they fear reprisals if they challenge prevailing pro-Palestinian, anti-Israel views. If they argue that Israel has the right to exist, they are often greeted with threats, even physical assault.”[17]

A case at York University involved a harassment complaint by a Jewish student against a professor. The case illustrates that it is in classroom settings that Jewish students often face the most pervasive intimidation, whether subtle or more blatant. This complaint was based initially on an exam question worded in such a way that students had no option but to accept a premise demonizing Israel.

The student also complained that on raising concerns directly with the professor, the latter dismissed the claim using offensive words and anti-Semitic remarks. The report by the university ombudsman’s office found that the procedure followed by administrators in investigating the student’s complaint was so unclear and ineffective that the student’s rights had been prejudiced. In addition, ombudsman personnel in explaining delays and difficulties they were experiencing in pursuing the matter, indicated that the process may have been obstructed by the teachers’ union and by university officials.[18]

A staff member of the ombudsman’s office acknowledged that very few students (Jewish or not) have the persistence to press their complaints given the obstacles of the system. Cases on campuses elsewhere confirm that this is not a unique problem. Currently there is no adequate, protective framework for complaints of this nature; instead, students are subjected to intimidation and the stress of repeated delays.

A case from the University of Victoria’s Department of Social Work is also illustrative of the harassment faced by Jewish students. In 2003, a professor of social work posted anti-Israeli material to the department’s official website. On receiving complaints, the director of the department moved quickly to address the situation by seeing that the posting was taken down and issuing an apology to all students. The open letter of apology noted that: “It was not the intention of  School Council to offend anyone or to contribute to a chilly climate for Jewish students, staff or academics at UVic.”[19]

Anti-Zionism Not a Ground for Complaint

A related problem is that the inherent racism of anti-Zionism is not recognized, and anti-Zionism is not treated as a legitimate ground for complaint. In the above-cited harassment case at York University, the focus of the investigation was whether the professor had expressed overt anti-Semitism in responding to the student.[20]

Few Canadian campuses are immune to a barrage of anti-Israeli propaganda that inevitably seeps into the classroom. Although Concordia University has attracted the lion’s share of media attention following the riots there in 2002, it is only the tip of the iceberg. York University and the University of Toronto, which have rather large and organized Jewish student groups or organizations, are regularly arenas of confrontation and intimidation, and at other campuses across the country defending the Jewish state is unwelcome. B’nai Brith Canada’s League for Human Rights has received complaints about specific professors at York University who silence students in class for defending Israel. The League’s 2003 Audit of Antisemitic Incidents, for example, reported anti-Semitic canards by York University faculty members.[21]

In 2003, Michael Neumann, professor of philosophy at Trent University in Ontario, published an article in the online magazine CounterPunch in which he wrote: “We should almost never take anti-Semitism seriously, and maybe we should have some fun with it.” He also asserted that all Jews around the world who do not explicitly condemn Israel are “complicit in its crimes.”[22]

This same professor, in an email conversation that followed this incident, wrote that his sole concern was to “help the Palestinians.” He continued:

I am not interested in the truth, or justice, or understanding, or anything else, except so far as it serves that purpose…. If an effective strategy means that some truths about the Jews don’t come to light, I don’t care. If an effective strategy means encouraging reasonable anti-Semitism, or reasonable hostility to Jews, I also don’t care. If it means encouraging vicious racist anti-Semitism, or the destruction of the State of Israel, I still don’t care.[23]

Such views are expressed in the classroom as well. A professor teaching a course on critical thinking at the University of Toronto initiated a discussion on the theory that the 9-11 attacks were a “Jewish-perpetrated plot.” Many students agreed with this viewpoint, and it appears that the teacher also endorsed it.[24]

Another University of Toronto professor told her students that the Jews use the Holocaust as a trumped-up excuse to avoid criticism. Such incidents go largely unreported for fear of reprisals affecting academic standing.[25]

Many Jewish students are experiencing today the exclusionary situation of their ancestors and have to make the same choice: to remain silent in exchange for relative peace and the assurance of academic standing, or to incur social disapproval, harassment in and outside the classroom, and in some cases sanctions by the student union or campus authorities. Both nationally and on an institutional basis, many Jewish professors share the same feelings of isolation and powerlessness. They may be few in number at certain universities, separated from each other by departmental barriers, and concerned over such issues as tenure and avoiding confrontation in the work environment.

The contract of an academic at a Canadian university was not renewed following complaints by Arab students that he had been too “pro-Israel.”[26] Yet this author is not aware of any cases of anti-Zionist professors who have been in any way sanctioned, let alone dismissed, for engaging in or allowing the expression of virulently anti-Israeli views, sometimes in classes having no connection to Middle Eastern politics.

Support Groups for Academics

In reaction to the pressures on Jewish faculty members, there have been renewed attempts to create a support group for academics along the lines of the now- defunct Canadian Professors for Peace in the Middle East (CPPME) or the Canada-Israel Foundation for Academic Exchange (CIFAE). These organizations enjoyed considerable success in the past, and reviving them has become even more important in today’s campus environment.

The present situation on the Canadian campus largely stems from the attitudes of most faculty members. As in all situations of conflict, there are three parties: the perpetrators, the victims, and the bystanders. Most faculty members tend to stay safely on the sidelines, allowing the extremists to take center stage and often seeking ways to appease them.

Numerical Imbalance between Muslims and Jews

The numerical imbalance between the Jewish groups on the one hand and the multiple pro-Palestinian and Arab-Muslim groups on the other means the latter have almost a totally free hand. All courses dealing with the Middle East or with social, cultural, or religious subjects require the strictest application of political correctness-in other words, not offending Arab-Muslim sensibilities.

For example, a professor at the University of Western Ontario accepted a map of the Middle East presented by a student that excluded Israel. He explained that he was “willing to accept a map not describing disputed lands so as not to offend any party.”[27]

In another case, a professor at St. Mary’s University in Halifax wanted to display the controversial Danish cartoons to initiate a debate on free speech. The university, however, demanded the removal of the cartoons because “there are concerns that people may see them and might be offended by them and may be terribly upset by them, and given that we thought that was a good enough reason to ask him to take them down.”[28] This type of reaction was repeated on other campuses. For example, administrators at the University of Prince Edward Island ordered the university student paper to be taken out of circulation after it published the cartoons.[29]

It is indeed inappropriate to publish cartoons that hurt the sensibilities of any religious or other minority group. Yet universities have often been lax about material that offends Jewish students.

Holocaust Denial

In 2004, the University of Ottawa deemed the website of one its professors acceptable even though it included material on conspiracy theories against Jews and Holocaust denial and was upsetting to Jewish students.[30] Although some of the most gratuitously offensive material was subsequently removed after a complaint by the League for Human Rights, the university itself in its letter of response to the League refused to intervene.

Although few professors directly take revisionist positions, some do not hesitate to introduce revisionist arguments in class or to entertain such arguments from their students. Such revisionist arguments include statements such as: “the number of dead is grossly exaggerated,” “the rumor is that only few Jews died,” “sickness is the major reason for these deaths,” “let’s look at the Jews’ responsibility for their own demise,” “what are the reasons the Nazis had to take action against the Jews”?[31]

Teachers, using innuendo or even dismissive shrugs and skeptical facial expressions,  can exploit their standing as educators and supposed guardians of truth and history to instill doubts on the veracity of the Holocaust.

Other Holocaust Manipulations

Professors may also subtly encourage a pernicious, retrospective rereading of the Holocaust so that World War II events are viewed from the standpoint of the current Arab-Israeli conflict. Accepting more or less openly the view that Israel’s establishment was the consequence of a European struggle, they promote false parallels between mass atrocities against Jews during the Holocaust and Israel’s actions toward the Palestinians.

This leads to portraying the Palestinians as the new “Auschwitz victims.” Professors go on to characterize all violence coming from the Arab side as legitimate and excusable, and all Israeli actions as aggressive and intended to inflict maximum suffering and humiliation. For example, as mentioned above, in 2003 a University of Victoria social-work professor published one-sided distortions of Middle East politics on the department’s website.[32]

Indeed, the new standard for demonstrating tolerance of minorities in Canadian society is to accord legitimacy to all Arab claims and promote unquestioning acceptance of all forms of Islam while ignoring the most reactionary aspects. At the same time, the fashionable approach is to condemn the Jewish state in all its facets while ignoring even its most obviously positive features.

Islamophilia and Betraying the University’s Mission

Expediency, willful blindness, and self-righteousness are all too often the reality in today’s Canadian universities when it comes to Israel, Jewish issues, and the treatment of Judaic traditions. These attitudes filter into the classroom in subtle and less subtle ways, poisoning the intellectual atmosphere. As noted, the attitudes are particularly damaging because they penetrate various fields of study including those totally unconnected to Middle Eastern politics.

A profound Islamophilia has taken root in the academic world. Total acceptance becomes the path to redemption for the past errors of the West, which are seen as colonialism, commercial exploitation, Canada’s part in the war against terrorism, and even the acts of the Crusaders.

Racism in the Name of Tolerance

Some use these positions to justify a form of Judeophobia disguised as anti-Zionism. For instance, even the most extreme expressions of anti-Semitism emanating from the Arab world are not denounced as racist but are accepted as part of the outcry of an oppressed people. As pointed out by Pierre-André Taguieff, the French expert on racism: “Intolerance has learned a new language of tolerance and shows itself even more efficient when it is not recognized as such.”

Thus, in the name of tolerance, understanding, and concern for the weak, many intellectuals defend racist and anti-Semitic statements, and even acts of violence and terror. Often, scholars critical of Jewish and Christian religious texts are reluctant to question the content of sacred Islamic texts, which extremists manipulate to justify appalling statements and actions. Criticism of the misapplication of principles is invariably seen as manifesting racism and xenophobia.

Some professors are uneasy in general about discussing matters pertaining to religion in the classroom. They avoid questioning politically dominant positions and end up accepting everything in the name of tolerance.

Essentially, a virulently anti-Israeli discourse incorporating strong anti-Semitic elements has infiltrated the far-Left-leaning world of Canadian academia, beginning to rival the longstanding far-Right fringe. As in Europe, denunciation of Israel has become an acceptable expression of Jew-hatred in Canada.

It is important to understand how the “oldest hatred” of anti-Semitism is mutating in this context, and how it is permeating beyond the campus into every aspect of society.

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Notes

[1] League for Human Rights of B’nai Brith Canada, 2003 Audit of Antisemitic Incidents, 11.

[2] For  further explanation as to how Holocaust deniers claim that the myth of the Holocaust was created to achieve certain gains see the Nizkor website  http://64.233.167.104/search?q=cache:doXwftel_UYJ:www.nizkor.org/faqs/leuchter/leuchter-faq-21.html+israel+created+holocaust+hoax&hl=en&ct=clnk&cd=1&gl=ca

[3] For explanation of the term Holocaust denier/denial see

http://www.jcpa.org/System/Local%20Settings/Temporary%20Internet%20Files/articles%20returned%20after%20lawyers%20and%20corrected/after%20author-MG/www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/jsource/Holocaust/denialbrief.html

[4] See statement from Concordia administration http://news.concordia.ca/administration/002791.shtml

[5] www.cbc.ca/stories/2002/12/05/concordia021205.

[6] Sheryl Elias, “A New Challenge for Jewish College Students Facing Both Brazen and Subtle Attacks,” Emunah Magazine, 23 June 2004, www.emunah.org/magazine_comments.php?id=P79_0_4_0_C.

[7] www.ubyssey.bc.ca/article.shtml?/20040407/newsReview.htmlf.

[8] Ibid.

[9] www.campus-watch.org/article/id/533.

[10] “‘There’s no doubt that the situation at SFU is dire in the sense of both anti-Israel and anti-Semitic perceptions,’ said Eyal Lichtmann, director of Hillel Vancouver. ‘The situation that occurred with Ya’acov Brosh, the Israeli consul-general, was a perfect example of that, where anti-Israel groups were capable of shutting him down.'” Pat Johnson, “Refuge for Jews at SFU,” Jewish Western Bulletin, 27 August 2004.

[11] Cases of such evasive behavior were reported to B’nai Brith Canada and documented in its annual audits of anti-Semitic incidents as far back as 2001. On an Internet forum, a student reports that two Jewish students from the University of Montreal said that: “The ‘myth’ of the Holocaust was created solely for the financial benefit of Israel.”

“The Quebecois unquestionably accept, in large numbers, the well greased slogans of Palestians [sic] and other Arab activists.” Jewish students are a minority on these campuses and the fear factor leads Jewish students to remain mute, to fellow students, teachers, or administrators, of their concerns of racism, and anti-semitism veiled behind anti-israel positions presented in class and with-in [sic] this institute of higher learning.

www.danielpipes.org/comments/11325.

[12] Michael Tarazi was welcomed at the University of Toronto, Concordia University, and the University of Western Ontario that year, www.masses.tao.ca/pipermail/act-mtl/2004-October/000764.html.

[13] www.normanfinkelstein.com/content.php?pg=9.

[14] “Even if you wanted to claim that the Holocaust was the worst suffering ever endured [by a people], you would be hard-pressed to make a moral argument for the state of Israel,” http://oat.tao.ca/israeliapartheid.

[15] Lisa Anthony, “Ostracized on My Own Campus,” Jewish Tribune, February 2005.

[16] Vice-Provost David Farrar of the University of Toronto, when asked to recognize the hatred at the root of Apartheid Week, responded:

“The very fact that the Arab Students’ Collective and other campus groups exist speaks to a central value of the U of T,” he said. “As an academic community we have a fundamental commitment to the principles of freedom of inquiry, freedom of speech and freedom of association.” As well, he added, “the fact that the university creates an environment where a recognized student group can express a view on a controversial subject does not mean that the university itself has expressed any view whatsoever.”

 “Arab Events Draw Ire-B’nai Brith: It’s Almost ‘Hate Fest’-Free Speech Vital, Says U of T Official,” Toronto Star, 22 January 2005.

[17] Globe and Mail, 17 December 2002, ad placed by activist group called Solidarity with Jews at Risk and supported by one hundred prominent Canadians.

[18] As documented in the League for Human Rights of B’nai Brith Canada’s archives.

[19] League for Human Rights of B’nai Brith Canada, 2003 Audit, as further documented in the league’s archives.

[20] Ibid.

[21] League for Human Rights of B’nai Brith Canada, 2003 Audit of Antisemitic Incidents    www.bnaibrith.ca/publications/audit2003/audit2003-00.html.

[22] Michael Neumann, “What is Anti-Semitism” CounterPunch, 4 June 2002  www.counterpunch.org/neumann0604.html  See also “Criticism of Israel Is Not Anti-Semitism,” CounterPunch, 30 December 2003. www.counterpunch.org/neumann12302003.html

[23] As documented in the archives of the League for Human Rights of B’nai Brith Canada.

[24] Ibid.

[25] Ibid.

[26] Ibid. Details were provided under an undertaking of confidentiality

[27] This comment was reported to the author by a Jewish student in the class who spoke on condition of anonymity for fear of reprisals affecting his academic standing.

[28] University vice-president Chuck Bridges, CBC, 8 February 2006.

[29] www.cbc.ca/story/canada/national/2006/02/08/cartoons-smu-prof.html.

[30] League for Human Rights of B’nai Brith Canada, 2005 Audit of Antisemitic Incidents. See also www.jewishtribune.ca/tribune/jt-050825-05.html.

[31] As documented in the archives of the League for Human Rights of B’nai Brith Canada

[32] See note 19

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PROF. ALAIN GOLDSCHLÄGER is Ontario Region Co-Chair of the League for Human Rights of B’nai Brith Canada. A specialist in Holocaust education, he is director of the Holocaust Literature Research Institute and professor of French at the University of Western Ontario. His most recent publications include (editor, with Clive Thomson) Le Discours scientifique comme porteur de préjugés (Scientific Discourse as Prejudice-Carrier) (London: Mestengo, 1998); (editor) La Shoah: Témoignage impossible? (The Shoah: Impossible Testimony?) (Brussels: Presses de l’Université de Bruxelles, 1998) [French]; Building History: The Shoah in Art, Memory, and Myth (New York: Peter Lang, 2001); and (editor, with Jacques Lemaire) Antisémitisme après la Shoah (Antisemitism after the Shoah) (Brussels: Éditions Espace de Libertés, 2003). He is currently working on a book on Holocaust testimonies.

Prof. Alain Goldschläger

Prof. Alain Goldschläger is Ontario Region Co-Chair of the League for Human Rights of B’nai Brith Canada. A specialist in Holocaust education, he is director of the Holocaust Literature Research Institute and professor of French at the University of Western Ontario.