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Kingston, Ont., campuses tagged with anti-Semitic graffiti

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Anti-Semitic graffiti found at Queen's University in Kingston. (Hila Shnitzer photo)

Anti-Semitic and racist slogans were found graffitied in multiple locations on the campuses of Queen’s University and St. Lawrence College in Kingston, Ont., on April 5. The two anti-Semitic slogans read “USS Liberty” and “The Goyim Know,” the latter of which featured a Star of David in place of the O in “know.”

Both slogans are references to  conspiracy theories about Jews. The former postulates that Israel purposely destroyed the American battleship USS Liberty during the Six-Day War. (In fact, Israel actually attacked it after mistaking it for an Egyptian ship.) The second phrase states that non-Jews are aware of the “truth” behind anti-Jewish conspiracies in general.

“There is no place at Queen’s for vandalism like this, nor for the hateful and racist messaging contained in the graffiti,” said Teri Shearer, the school’s deputy provost, in a statement from Queen’s. “The defaced areas have been documented and the university is working to have the damage removed or cleaned immediately.”

When Ashira Prizant, the Queen’s Hillel director, learned about the graffiti from students, she reported the incident to campus security, who informed Kingston Police and arranged to have the graffiti removed as soon as possible. Hillel also let other Jewish students in the community know about the incident, and made counselling available for those who wanted it.

“It should go without saying that anti-Semitism, and any other form of discrimination, has no place on campus. These grotesque, hate-driven messages will not deter Hillel from providing extensive Jewish and Zionist programming on campus, and supporting Jewish students in initiatives they wish to pursue,” said Ilan Orzy, director of advocacy and issues management for Hillel Ontario, in an emailed statement.

“At Hillel Ontario, we remain committed to ensuring that Jewish students at Queen’s and every Ontario campus enjoy a vibrant and safe campus experience, supported by our trained campus professionals and community stakeholders.”

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Hila Shnitzer was one of the Jewish Queen’s students who saw one of the slogans on April 5. She took a picture of it and shared it on Facebook.

“I will not stay silent and be a bystander, and I encourage other Queen’s students to speak out against these displays of baseless hatred,” she wrote in her Facebook post. “I am confident that the Jewish community here has the strength to speak out against hatred, as we have continuously throughout history. I am proud of my identity and despite these unsettling events, I am not afraid. No Queen’s students should feel unsafe or scared to express their beliefs.”

As of April 9, her post had garnered more than 750 “reactions” and been shared more than 200 times on the social media network.

Another Facebook post on the incident garnered even more attention, but almost all of it was negative. Robert Walker, executive director of Hasbara Fellowships Canada, posted a status on his organization’s Facebook page about the incident on Friday afternoon, shortly before he stopped using his electronic devices for Shabbat.

When he checked Facebook more than 24 hours later, the post about the incident had been inundated with more than 700 anti-Semitic comments, and more were coming by the minute. People were also sending emails and messages directly to the organization. Hasbara discovered that the post had been shared in alt-right and anti-Semitic Internet forums, prompting the hateful and violent messages.

“This time we won’t lose. The truth will be known and the farce that is the Holocaust might get pretty real this time,” read one comment on the post.

“The goyim know, and it’s only a matter of time (before) you ride the choo choo. This time for real,” read another message to Hasbara.

Walker says Hasbara reported many of the groups and people who were involved in propagating the messages. The organization also consulted with a legal task force, including criminal defence lawyers, to see if they could pursue some cases further. He says it will take more time to determine which cases may be worth investigating, but that this incident serves as a painful reminder.

“Anti-Semitic propaganda is more than just a nuisance, and when we see real venom and desire for harm, it’s a slap in the face from reality,” he said.

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