Actions speak louder than words: An open letter to Mamdouh Shoukri

Actions speak louder than words: An open letter to Mamdouh Shoukri

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Pro-Israel students rally at York FRIENDS OF SIMON WIESENTHAL CENTRE PHOTO
Pro-Israel students rally at York FRIENDS OF SIMON WIESENTHAL CENTRE PHOTO

We are writing this statement to offer a student perspective on the recent events at York University, specifically the formation of the President’s Advisory Committee on Inclusion and President Mamdouh Shoukri’s subsequent statements to The CJN.

Under President Shoukri’s near-decade-long tenure, the university administration has demonstrated alarming apathy in the face of rampant anti-Semitism. The use of the word apathy is deliberate — there have been countless actionable anti-Semitic incidents brought to the administration’s attention. These incidents have been either downplayed or addressed with the same condescension and arrogance apparent in Shoukri’s latest comments.

In response to many Jewish students feeling unsafe on campus, Shoukri says:

The emotional aspects of an issue may affect some students and can make them feel uncomfortable or unsafe. This is understandable, as many of our students are the first in their families to attend university, and for others this may be the first time they have experienced the diversity of opinions that is typical of a vibrant academic environment.

This is a convenient and patronizing narrative, one which depicts Jewish students as coddled, ideologically inflexible, and intolerant of opposing viewpoints. Not only do comments like these serve to shift the burden of responsibility onto Jewish students and away from the perpetrators of anti-Semitism, but they are entirely dislodged from reality.

READ: EXPERTS WEIGH IN ON PAUL BRONFMAN AND THE YORK MURAL CONTROVERSY

When Jewish students are barricaded in the Hillel offices amidst cries of “Die, Jew”, is this typical of a “vibrant academic environment?” Is it typical of a vibrant academic environment for Jewish students to fear displaying overt signs of their faith, such as Star of David necklaces or kippahs? Is it typical of a vibrant academic environment for a Jewish student to be spat on because she was carrying pro- Israel pamphlets? Is it typical of a vibrant academic environment for the Students Against Israeli Apartheid (SAIA) club to hang posters around campus with the pictures and names of Jewish students who spoke out against the student government – and then for a near-identical campaign of intimidation to be carried out by the very same actors in the fall of 2015?

When Shoukri suggests that an underexposure to a “diversity of opinions” is the reason for Jewish students’ discomfort, it must be made patently clear that this is not in response to Jewish students making a request for all criticism of Israel to be removed from campus or for certain political opinions to be censored. It is in response to Jewish students complaining to Shoukri about events like the ones listed above.

Shoukri also has perverse ideas about the root cause of Jewish students’ consternation. Jewish students repeatedly tell the administration that they feel victimized by groups like SAIA and the York Federation of Students. Incredibly, Shoukri refrains from criticizing those organizations, choosing instead to place the blame on Jewish organizations. He accuses the Jewish groups of having a “negative effect on some of our young students and … contribut[ing] to making them feel worried and victimized” and advises them to change their approach lest they cause “inadvertent damage” to Jewish students. Shoukri’s gauge of the issue is insulting and demeaning.

In social justice, it is the place of the minority group to codify and define the group hatred directed at them, and not the place of the university administration or any other group to do so. When Jewish students identify something as anti-Semitic, it is inappropriate for Shoukri to render a judgement on the ‘real’ cause of their victimization — as if there is any sort of moral equivalency between the Jewish organizations that advocate for the end of the anti-Semitism on campus and the groups that perpetrate it. Moreover, Shoukri has never told black students that organizations which advocate for black rights are contributing to their victimization nor has he ever advised Muslim organizations to change their approach lest they cause inadvertent damage to Muslim students.

READ: THE MURAL AND THE DAMAGE DONE

To our knowledge, the only form of racism against a minority group that Shoukri feels entitled to define is that which is perpetrated against the Jews.

Shoukri’s condescension is further apparent by the manner in which he brushes aside Jewish students’ concerns about the composition of the Advisory Committee on inclusion. Although the committee is tasked with ensuring “that all voices are heard,” it includes several members who endorse an academic and cultural boycott of Israel and explicitly advocate for the exclusion of hundreds of York students on the basis of their nationality.

For example, committee member John Greyson was one of the chief organizers of a boycott of the Tel Aviv University student film festival.

Most importantly, Shoukri’s conduct during a preliminary meeting with Jewish students on the topic of inclusion — which many signatories of this letter attended — was concerning. Firstly, Shoukri ridiculed the contributions of a prominent Jewish donor to York University and crassly claimed that the withdrawn funding could be supplanted by a “Jewish lawyer.” Secondly, Shoukri dismissed a written student account of experienced anti-Semitism at York University as “propaganda”. Thirdly, Shoukri belittled Jewish students who expressed concern over perceived anti-Semitic material being taught in some York classrooms. The flippancy with which Shoukri handled the personal accounts of anti-Semitic experiences renders his claim that York is a “safe space for all students” void of actual meaning for Jewish students.

READ: NO, EVERYTHING IS NOT FINE ON CAMPUS AT YORK UNIVERSITY 

We students no longer have confidence that the administration is operating in good faith. York University is stuck in a vicious cycle – one of latent anti-Semitism which occasionally bubbles to the surface with an incident that is too dramatic to ignore (e.g. the infamous barricade of the Hillel offices or the mural controversy and ensuing donor withdrawal).

These notable incidents garner significant media attention and the university promises change. The administration forms committees (the Task Force on Student Life, Learning & Community in 2009 and the President’s Advisory Committee on Inclusion in 2016), recycles vapid press releases (2009: “this task force will…explore ways that we can promote open debate and the free exchange of ideas”; 2016: “the [committee] will lead the University in examining effective ways for strengthening York’s  commitment to building an inclusive and diverse campus that nurtures the respectful exchange of ideas”), and ultimately nothing is done.

It is long past time that this cycle be broken. We hope that the new president of York University does more to address these problems than their predecessor.

Signed,

Israel Student Association at York

Hasbara at York

  • EvenSteven11

    The University of Missouri president was forced to resign because of his weak response to handling racism complaints. Here, Shoukri is helping anti-Semitic forces. Jews and their supporters should force this adversary to resign now, before the end of his tenure. It’s about time people call out who he is and what he stands for.

    • moosehorn

      Stop your whining? You can’t always have it your way.

  • Justice Not Propaganda

    It looks like it will take an incident like a Jewish student who is under attack taking matters into his own hands and either shooting or stabbing his attacker before this piece-of-shit administration to take action.

  • David Shafir

    Not sure the president can do anything substantial in this regard — YorkU is full of Muslim and Arab students; they control student bodies and activities. No one person can change their behavior. Even if they’ll have anti-antisemitism lectures every day. It’s like changing hearts and minds of the students of Birzeit University.

  • Borukh

    The situation at York is like being in a hot house. Some plants are flexing their leaf muscles and crowding others out, while most are content to try and exist in reasonable circumstances. The two organizations whose names appear under this “open letter” have their own special leaf-spaces to dominate, just as the more militant Muslim and Arab student organizations do. The one side provokes and tries to dominate the other side. Then their roles are reversed, and it goes on and on.

    The issue of the painting is a good example of this. The painting shows the back of someone (likely a male) who is wearing a kafiya and holding stones in his hand, which is behind his back, so as not to be seen from in front of him. It seems threatening to some viewers. But wait, He is watching something. What is it? It’s a big bulldozer in the distance destroying some trees and land that the viewer must assume are Palestinian. What does one make of this painting? Clearly it is very sympathetic to the Palestinian cause and against the use of force by the IDF and the settler community to usurp Palestinian lands and destroy their livelihood. After all people – it is an OCCUPATION, right? And the settlements have been declared to be in violation of international law both by the International Court of Justice and the UN Security Council (and was NOT vetoed by the USA, who abstained!).

    But the painting, as truthful as it is is an anathema and an affront to the pro-settlement types on campus and the Hasbara types, all of whom want to dominate the discourse coming from the Jewish students’ side of things. And the BDS and Israel Apartheid types on the Muslim and Arab students’ side of the issue also want to dominate the discourse coming from their side. Meanwhile, truth and justice and human values and finding a meeting place to discuss everything goes by the wayside.

    That’s where the President has lost his way – he should be doing a LOT MORE to bring the bulk of the students together to discuss and talk and try to understand each other and leave the Hasbara and the “Israel Students Association” or “Israel Apartheid” or BDS advocates on the OUTSIDE of the discussion – simply because those folks think rigidly and beliwvw they already know everything they need to know and have made up their minds and are not engaged or interested in being engaged in the issues, except to dominate the other “side”. It’s a UNIVERSITY folks – try to behave like you are actually students at an institution of higher learning and not in a pool hall!

    • Robyn

      BS.. You know very well that York University is one of the originators of Apatheid Week. The president encourages ( & probably helps organize) anti-Irael/Jewish veiws and events.
      By the way the “settlements” actual generic cities are NOT ILLEGAL. As far as anything coming from the UN or ICC is nonsense. The Arab/Muslim majority in these two ( and many, many other) organizations guarantees an anti- Israel stand.
      You ask and answer yourself, ” it is an occupation right”. Wrong. One (Israel/Jews”) can not “occupy” their OWN NATIVE LAND.

      • Borukh

        You’re so far out in right field you cannot even see the home plate. It wasn’t York UNIVERSITY who was “one of the originators of Apartheid Week”, it was one or more of the student groups on campus. And York is a university, meant to discuss and challenge all ideas and examine both old and new concepts. The pro-Israel groups simply should have challenged the Israel apartheid types and started a counter group – which IN FACT is what happened.

        What is your direct evidence that “The president encourages (& probably helps organize) anti-Irael/Jewish veiws and events”? That’s pretty close to slandering him! As for your cavalier dismissal of international law, you ought to read more deeply than you seem to have about the illegal nature of the settlements (including East Jerusalem and the Golan) in international law. I offer you a quote from the Wikipedia entry for ‘Israeli Settlement’, complete with linked detailed footnotes, so you can read them, if you care to do so as an exercise in enlightenment:

        “The international community considers the settlements in occupied territory to be illegal,[11] and the United Nations has repeatedly upheld the view that Israel’s construction of settlements constitutes a violation of the Fourth Geneva Convention[12][13] [which Israel signed and ratified]. Israeli neighborhoods in East Jerusalem and communities in the Golan Heights, the latter of which has been [de facto] annexed by Israel are also considered settlements by the international community, which does not recognize Israel’s annexations of these territories.[14] The International Court of Justice [ie. ICJ, not ICC – that’s something else!) also says these settlements are illegal in a 2004 advisory opinion [in which the court voted 14 to 1 in favour!][15].”

        And if you don’t think this is the honest truth of the matter, and does not relate to your ignorant remark about “the Arab/Muslim majority” (in the Security Council?!?) take a look at Canada’s own position by checking the Ministry of Global Affairs’ (as it is now known) Web page entitled, “Canadian Policy on Key Issues in the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict”.

        I understand that you don’t WANT it to be the truth and so you dismiss all of this out of hand and prattle away about “Israel/Jews… OWN NATIVE LAND” (your emphasis), as if no one else has lived there since the Roman Conquest in 70 ce.

        And no, I’m not a self-hating Jew. I’m a practicing Jew whose grandparents, an aunt and uncle, and cousins went to live in mandate Palestine in the early 1920’s and by doing that avoided getting massacred by the Nazis and their allies in WW2. I still have many close cousins there, and I have visited Israel 8 times between 1966 and 2013. You should try to be realistic and not delusional about what’s going on.

        • Robyn

          You are quoting Wikipedia to me. You must be joking. I wrote, and stand behind it, that the UN,ICC, international forums spin out continuous statements that delegitimize Israel. I give them no credulity.
          Jews have livided continuously in Israel for thousands of years. No matter, who in the interim lived there, a very sparsely populated area (read Mark Twain’s comment on that) Israel is still and will always be our NATIVE LAND.
          Just because the majority of the world hates us,( 2 thousand years of conditioning), does not mean they are right. Germany and countries in Europe also spread hatred during WWII ( thus the holocaust ). Statements that were unfounded , not true and not right.
          I never called you a self-hating Jew because I do not think that you are one. If you are, then you are very misguided ( and dangerous to yourself and your people). By the way, I do not like political labelling. I am neither far right of far left. I am for what is right and just.

          • Borukh

            Please note and READ – I quoted a paragraph from Wikipedia that has all the citations for you to follow up on so that you could read for yourself what was actually decided by the Security Council of the UN and by the ICJ – the International Court of JUSTICE not the ICC (International Criminal Court), which is something else entirely. You completely dismiss everything related to the UN, even though the 1947 partition plan, the UN GA’s vote and the subsequent establishment of UN brokered armistice agreements are the basis for Israel’s legal existence. Please try to open your mind to facts and real history. Don’t cite things like Mark Twain’s (pseud. of Samuel Clemens) 1869 travel book, “The Innocents Abroad” unless you know the actual background of his travels in 1867.

            He signed on to a church oriented and organized pilgrimage excursion on the steamer Quaker City from Brooklyn to Europe and the “Holy Land”. Everything was laid on for them and they traveled only on set established routes and visited only certain primarily Christian sites. He did not undertake independent travel to other sites and areas.

            There’s a long history of Israel (and it’s predecessors) in the authoritative Encyclopaedia Judaica and the section dealing with the period he traveled was written by Rabbi Haim Zev Hirschberg, PhD, professor of Jewish History at Bar Ilan University in Israel. He notes (Vol. 9, cols.. 293 and 297) that the total population was 300,000 in 1840 of which 10,000 were Jews (3%), By 1880, he says, the population was 450,000 of which 24,000 were Jews (5%).

            Yes, there have always been Jews living there. And yes, it is our ancestral homeland. But you cannot dismiss out-of-hand with any degree of credulity beyond sheer faith those non-Jews who have lived there in the vast majority since after the Roman conquest and destruction of the Bais Ha-Mikdash in the first century CE.

            Thank you for the correction re calling me a self-hating Jew. In my effort to anticipate what you might say, I brought that up. I would like to find some common ground with you, since you said you don’t like “political labeling” and that you are “for what is right and just”. So am I.

  • Lauren

    Parents MUST insist that their children’s colleges issue public policies of ZERO TOLERANCE for hatred, incitement and anti-Semitism BEFORE they pay tuition. Students can refuse to pay student activity fees which support hate organizations or if the fees are included in tuition demand a refund. BOYCOTT ANTI-SEMITISM !