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Canadian Jewish groups downplay ‘worst campuses’ ranking

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McGill University
McGill University building. WIKI COMMONS PHOTO

Jewish officials with an eye on campus affairs are downplaying a provocative list of the 40 most hostile universities for Jewish students.

Four Canadian universities – the University of Toronto, McGill, McMaster and York – made the Algemeiner’s “1st Annual List of the U.S. and Canada’s Worst Campuses for Jewish Students,” released last month by the New York-based weekly publication.

U of T landed at No. 3, behind Columbia University in New York and Vassar College. McGill University in Montreal followed at No. 4, while McMaster in Hamilton was ranked at 13, and York University in Toronto came in at number 17.

“While cognizant of the inherent shortcomings and imperfections of the practice of list-making in general, we have taken great care to produce a thorough and credible ranking system that is driven by a comprehensive analysis of many data points representing the full scope of campus life,” the Algemeiner explained.

“We have also interviewed numerous experts, campus activists and students, to secure corroborative testimony and additional insights.”

Created in 1972 and describing itself as “the fastest growing Jewish newspaper in America,” the Algemeiner said it took “many” factors into account for its compilation: The number of anti-Semitic incidents on each campus; the number of anti-Israel groups, and the extent to which they are active; the Jewish student population and number of Jewish or pro-Israel groups; the availability of Jewish resources on campus; the success, or lack of, Israel boycott efforts; and the public positions of faculty members who are part of the boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement.

The information was then condensed into a point-grading system in order to generate the rankings.

But Hillel Ontario, which is active on nine university campuses in the province and works with some 21,000 Jewish students, believes the Algemeiner list “does not accurately represent the experience of most Jewish students on campus” and is “rather misleading.”

The list focuses only on “isolated” anti-Semitic and anti-Israel incidents, “which do not tell the complete story of the robust campus experience most Jewish students have,” Ilan Orzy, associate director of advocacy for Hillel Ontario, told The CJN in an emailed statement.

“While certainly anti-Semitism and anti-Israel activity on campus are troublesome, these same campuses are where our Hillels are thriving.”

A campus, he added, “cannot be judged on how good or bad it is for Jews based on whether anti-Semitic and anti-Israel incidents occur.”

Had the paper’s editors visited the Ontario campuses, “they would find that the campus climate is determined by the consistent efforts of people who love learning and Jewish life, and who consistently stand up for themselves, not by those who attempt to intimidate others,” Orzy said.

U of T was high on the list because it was where Israel Apartheid Week originated and has hosted “a considerable number of events in recent years portraying the Jewish state as barbarous and colonialist,” the Algemeiner explained. The school also saw a recent “proliferation of blatant anti-Semitism when numerous swastikas popped up around the campus.”

READ: MCGILL STUDENT BODY FINDS BDS ‘UNCONSTITUTIONAL’

The paper quoted the national director of Hasbara Fellowships Canada as saying that one regularly finds “orchestrated, organized anti-Israel programs and initiatives” at U of T.

Robert Walker, director of Hasbara Fellowships Canada, told The CJN that when contacted by the American paper, he “did not necessarily endorse U of T in that specific ranking. They just asked me for a quote about U of T.”

In a statement, Walker said that he would rank the Canadian universities differently, and that “this list should remind us that the crux of the challenges and opportunities on campus is bigger than an isolated incident – it’s about the empowerment of the next generation of Jewish students, and about winning over the next generation of non-Jewish thought leaders.”

Swastika at U of T
One of the swastikas found on the downtown campus of the University of Toronto last October.

McGill’s entry on the list notes that anti-Israel activists “repeatedly bring BDS motions before the student government, and finally passed one [in 2016] but when the student body later failed to ratify it, the activists vowed to continue their campaign.”

As well, the university’s student newspaper, the McGill Daily, “against which Jewish students filed a complaint, recently rejected charges of anti-Semitism but openly admitted to censoring pro-Israel content on the grounds that Zionism is a product of ‘settler colonial ideology.’”

McMaster made the list because two on-campus groups, Solidarity for Palestinian Human Rights (SPHR) and McMaster BDS, support the BDS drive and have anti-Israel supporters.

READ: MCMASTER UNDERGRADS ENDORSE BDS MOTION

Students at York University, meanwhile, “say the school has an ‘anti-Semitism problem,’ with faculty pushing anti-Israel, anti-Jewish agendas in the classroom, and administrators defending them when students and advocacy groups complain,” the Algemeiner said.

Aidan Fishman, B’nai Brith Canada’s campus advocacy co-ordinator and a law student at U of T, said he welcomes the ranking, though he doesn’t necessarily endorse it, but “there’s not very much” on the Algemeiner’s website about its methodology.

Fishman said he was “a little surprised” to see U of T rated the third-worst in North America and the worst in Canada, “because there’s a broad consensus among Jewish students in Toronto that York has a much worse anti-Semitic atmosphere than U of T.”

The Algemeiner’s ranking “appears outdated and does not represent the positive experience shared by most Jews on those and other campuses nationwide,” said Judy Zelikovitz, vice-president of university and local partner services with the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs (CIJA).

“We do not know the methodology behind how the list was compiled, but it does not correspond with our own qualitative research with students,” she added.

In a comment to the National Post, Zelikovitz said, “I’m not really sure where some of their information came from. Certainly they didn’t ask anybody here in Canada what was going on currently – that I can tell you.”

McMaster was “surprised” to find itself included on the list, Gord Arbeau, director of communications, told The CJN.

“The methodology used by the authors is unclear. Much of it appears to be anecdotal,” he said in an email. “We had no knowledge of this list prior to its online distribution, nor were we given opportunity to provide the authors with information about McMaster.”

The same sentiments were sounded by Althea Blackburn-Evans, director of media relations at the University of Toronto, who said she could not comment on the authors’ methodology “or how they came to those conclusions.”

Diversity and tolerance are “key values” at U of T, she added.

McGill and York, the other two Canadian universities named in the rankings, did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

The situation for Jewish students at Ryerson University in Toronto made another list, this one the Los Angeles-based Simon Wiesenthal Center’s (SWC) “2016 Top Ten Worst Global Anti-Semitic/Anti-Israel Incidents.”

Clocking in at No. 4 (tied with two other incidents), Ryerson, the SWC noted, saw students pass a pro-BDS vote, anti-Semitic graffiti, and the torpedoing of a motion to dedicate a week to Holocaust remembrance. Jewish students accused the groups Students for Justice in Palestine and the Muslim Student Association of staging a walkout to scuttle a quorum for the vote, and the motion was later passed unanimously by the Ryerson Students’ Union.

  • TerrorIsEvil

    Gord Arbeau, director of communications at McMaster, should not be surprised.

    I would also put McMaster somewhere near the top.

    The problem with positions like the one Gord has and his highly-paid recent predecessor had is that they are always trying to smooth things over by shutting up Jewish groups while allowing
    Islamist groups the stage and platform to express hate (which these fellows
    refuse to call hate).

    Jews are supposed to be polite and accepting of everyone by school officials while Islamist groups and individuals are almost expected to be what they are – jihadists and anti-Semites
    – and are accepted and defended and excused for their behavior.

    The Islamist groups are tied very closely to international Iranian operatives and Muslim Brotherhood big shots who coach their students on campus. This should not be allowed. They know how to push as far as weak administrations will allow them; very adept at
    finding the most Islamist-supporting “Jewish” supporters to parrot their cause
    (especially IJV and funds like NIF and weak leftist federations), Unions,
    Churches (especially the United Church) and left-wing academics and former frothing-at-the-mouth anti-Semitic alumni academics to help win the pro-BDS battle against Israel for
    them.

    I too would probably want to ignore the situation if I were a student busy doing other things like getting a degree, studying and enjoying the social life offered in the university. However,
    Islamic students do not think the same way. They never stop shooting for top
    political and other positions of importance that will feed into their
    Israel-hate agendas. Jewish students, on the other hand, would rather it all go
    away and sometimes are in denial. Islamic students are more confident and proud
    of their jihad against Israel than the Jewish students are proud of and want to
    defend Israel. That is a problem created by the moral relativism and
    equivocation of their shuls, their Federation leadership, and groups like CIJA
    who use sha-shtil methods and the see no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil
    tactics.

    I do not blame the students for hiding their heads in the sand but I do hold their leadership in the
    community responsible for making these men and women afraid to speak up and the
    disunity with respect to support for Israel inherent in the community.

  • Michael Sherman

    Typical of left-wing Jews to downplay the anti-Israel, anti-Zionist, and hence anti-Semitic activity at Canadian universities.

  • BrianFromToronto

    The problem with the list is the ranking. York, for example, is far worse than U of T, because it’s some professors and the graduate student union that have a fanatic hatred of Israel. When the problem is driven by under-grads, it disappears after a few years when the fanatics graduate.