Friends of Simon Wiesenthal Centre for Holocaust Studies (FSWC) is cautioning Jewish students against enrolling at York University if the school’s faculty association becomes the latest group to join the YUDivest campaign, which calls on York’s board of governors to divest from investing in arms manufacturers.
Friends of Simon Wiesenthal Center for Holocaust Studies (FSWC) issued a statement Feb. 18 following news that the executive of the 1500-member York University Faculty Association (YUFA) voted Feb. 12 to endorse the YUDivest Coalition, made up of groups including Amnesty International at York and Students Against Israeli Apartheid (SAIA), to urge York to divest from arms manufacturers, such as Lockheed Martin, BAE Systems, Northrop Grumman, FLIR Systems, and Textron.
Jewish community groups and some York faculty believe that although this campaign doesn’t openly single out Israel, it is part of a “backdoor” boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) campaign against Israel.
“YORK IS CERTAINLY NOT A SAFE SPACE FOR THE MAJORITY OF JEWISH STUDENTS”
“The motions and calls to support divestment are couched in the language of human rights and peaceful protest – language that is in no way reflective of the hostile and intimidating atmosphere faced by Jewish students on the York campus every day,” said FSWC president and CEO Avi Benlolo.
When asked if he feels Jews are truly unsafe at York, Benolo said, “That’s like asking if someone who is verbally abused if they should stay in a relationship. In terms of emotional or social support, York is certainly not a safe space for the majority of Jewish students, whose complaints of threats and intimidation have been neglected for years by the York administration and the student union that should represent them and their interests.”
Carl Ehrlich, the director of York’s Israel and Golda Koschitzky Centre for Jewish Studies, who serves on the YUFA executive as a stewards’ council representative, feels that “there is a lot of wool being pulled over people’s eyes.
“I do think many people who have signed on to [to the YUDivest campaign] were completely innocent of any knowledge of the background and what the purpose behind this is.”
Ehrlich explained that he delivered a speech at a stewards’ council meeting on Feb. 5 to draw attention to the YUDivest Coalition’s roots in the BDS movement.
In 2011, Excalibur, York’s campus paper, reported that the YUDivest campaign was founded by SAIA to urge York to withdraw its endowment and pension fund investments from companies that manufacture components for Israel’s F-16 Falcon fighter jets or supply Israel’s military with computers.
“In the report, SAIA says that by investing in companies that manufacture weapons ‘used to kill and maim Palestinian civilians,’ York may be complicit ‘in the commission of crimes under international law,’” Excalibur reported.
Despite Ehrlich’s efforts, YUFA’s executive council voted 11 to 1 in favour of the motion.
It will now return to the YUFA stewards’ council on March 4, and if it is endorsed there again, YUFA will become one of the more than 70 signatories to the YUDivest campaign, Ehrlich said.
“That is something that I and a number of colleagues, both Jewish and non-Jewish, are trying to avoid, because we don’t believe that our faculty union should be taking a divisive political stance on behalf of our diverse faculty,” Ehrlich said.
YUFA president Richard Wellen said the association concluded that the campaign was about a “broad-based general issue not associated with the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.”
Wellen said he understands that people are uncomfortable with SAIA’s involvement with the coalition, but insisted that YUFA does not support the BDS campaign.
“I’m Jewish, so I’m in the middle of this, really. I don’t support BDS. A lot of my Jewish colleagues don’t, but some do, so it has actually created a debate within the Jewish faculty around this. People are not that happy with the equation of questioning Israel means you’re anti-Semitic,” Wellen said.
“BDS IS THE ONLY CAMPAIGN WHICH ACTIVELY PROMOTES THE DESTRUCTION OF AN EXISTING STATE”
Hillel York president Natalie Slavat and Ariella Daniels, president of Hasbara at York, issued a joint statement to YUFA that said the BDS movement is “a form of discrimination and is the only campaign which actively promotes the destruction of an existing state.” They added that the YUDivest campaign is “academically dishonest, as it does not disclose its ties to the larger BDS movement.”
Berl Nadler, co-chair of the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs Toronto, said in a statement that he has been “assured by senior members of York’s administration that they already have a robust mechanism in place to ensure socially responsible investment. We expect that York will once again reiterate its best practices policy as it pertains to investing.”
In a statement to The CJN, a York spokesperson said the university “has not changed its investment approach which is considered best practice by the Social Investment Organization and the Coalition of Universities for Responsible Investing. It does not recommend the use of negative screening or divesting from particular companies.”