As Canadian director of the campus group Hasbara Fellowships, Robert Walker has come to expect anti-Israel hostility on campuses across North America.
But the outright exclusion by the University of Ontario Institute of Technology’s (UOIT) student association from a “Social Justice Week” event was “jarring,” Walker said.
Walker explained that when he acted on an invitation by the Oshawa-based school’s student association to apply for a table at the Social Justice Week event that ran from March 7 to 11 to promote the Hasbara Fellowships’ “Israel Peace Week” program, he was denied.
Walker said he received a rejection email from Denise Martins, executive assistant of UOIT’s faculty association, that said since the student association passed a motion endorsing the boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement in January, and because Hasbara Fellowships “seems closely tied to the State of Israel… it would be against the motion to provide any type of resources to your organization.”
In a statement released by the student association in February, Siraj Syed, vice-president of university affairs, said “it is a priority of the SA to accept the BDS movement and join the international struggle in fighting for Palestinian rights.”
UOIT’s student association did not respond to The CJN’s request for comment by deadline.
“At the Social Justice Week, there were events such as anti-capitalists programming, Marxist-Leninist programing, and of course, Israeli apartheid programming, and certainly, I knew in advance, that looking at the schedule, this would not be a particularly friendly environment, but I thought that was an even better reason to have Hasbara Fellowships there to present a different side of the story,” Walker said.
“I know well enough that there is widespread anti-Israel discrimination at universities across Canada and the U.S., but what surprised me was the explicit nature of the denial. There was no fear or shame in actually saying straight out that because you side with Israel, we don’t want to provide you with a platform. I think it was a total lack of fear that was most jarring. What it suggests is that the discrimination is becoming more acceptable.”
Walker said he reached out to the university’s administration, but nothing was done.
“I’m in the process of reaching out again to the administration and demanding that concrete steps be taken to rectify the situation,” he said.
“Leadership comes from the top, and it is critical that the leadership of UOIT lead by example and make a public statement that will be heard not just at the university but across Canada that this discrimination is wholly unwelcome.”
UOIT responded to the controversy with a statement posted on its website March 14 that said the university supports “respectful dialogue, dissent and discourse. This includes supporting freedom of speech and encouraging an inclusive, diverse and safe environment on campus. UOIT does not support a boycott, divestment and sanctions against Israel [sic]… It is our hope that these expressions of concern will encourage the broadest range of participation and respectful dialogue at future events.”
But Walker said that while he appreciates the support, the university’s response is insufficient.
“When a pro-Israel voice is purposefully silenced at a publicly funded university, words just aren’t enough. Clear action must be taken by the university administration to rectify this egregious discrimination,” he said.
“The double standard applied during social justice week runs contrary to all Canadian values. Any university administration which permits or facilitates this double standard needs to be called out for doing so.”
Photo: DTAH Architecture