It’s a line I dread hearing. Whether it’s coming from a fellow student, a lay leader or a communal professional, don’t you dare tell me that everything is just fine on campus.
After over four years at York University, four years of consistent anti-Israel protests, anti-Israel “educators,” and everyday dirty looks from leaders of the boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement, “everything is fine on campus” are five words I do not want to come across.
“THINGS ARE NOT GETTING BETTER, IN FACT, THEY HAVE GOTTEN WORSE”
Things are not getting better, in fact, they have gotten worse. Anti-Zionism has gotten more entrenched, more legitimate, and commands more institutional power on campus than ever before at York University.
Sure, it’s been six years since the last time Hillel at York was violently barricaded by protesters yelling “Zionists off campus!” But the violence has been replaced with the daunting political isolation of pro-Israel students and the saturation of the toxic environment in which we attend to supposedly enrich our minds and our lives.
The current lull in public displays of outright anti-Semitism at York is in no way a sign of anti-Zionism losing intellectual credence. It’s relatively quiet compared to the late-2000s because after the more noisy confrontations between the two sides – and I hate admitting it – the other side emerged victorious.
A blanket BDS motion was passed in 2012 by the undergraduate student union board, with absolutely no prior knowledge of any Jewish students. Only the anti-Israel students were on hand to victoriously scream and taunt the surprised Jewish opponents of the motion. The silencing of any pro-Israel opposition was formed by multiple factors, most important of which is the gradual exile of pro-Israel and Jewish students and clubs from the student government activist milieu. Apathy among Jewish students remains a persistent problem as well.
Passing a BDS motion was a tipping point. Unlike the barricade incident, where the university did issue a mild punishment to two provocateurs, the passing of BDS in such a grotesquely undemocratic fashion went completely unpunished. Those behind the motion realized they could pretty much get away with it, with impunity, and Jewish students, school administration, and woefully misinformed members of the Jewish community who tout the “everything is fine” narrative were helpless to do anything.
SAIA (Students Against Israeli Apartheid) are free to do what they want. Israeli flags can be vandalized or removed from the student centre during Multicultural Week, and there are no consequences whatsoever. Loud #YUDivest (the new strategy to give BDS mass appeal by vaguely advocating for university weapons divestiture) events that disrupt classes and student life happen frequently. A Jewish student putting forth a motion to improve the union’s deliberately incumbent-favouring election practises can be maligned and his motives questioned, simply because of his involvement in Jewish life on campus.
And despite the anti-Semitism inherent in all of this, it’s been demonstrated time and again that both the university administration and the larger Jewish community are not inclined to meaningfully react.
Now, in 2016, we have a hand-painted mural hanging in the student centre that depicts a young man adorned with a keffiyeh sporting an outline of Israel and the two territories above an outline of a Palestinian flag. The young man is holding a rock behind his back looking down on some smoggy architecture, presumably an Israeli settlement. The words for “justice” in many different languages form the bottom of the mural.
“DOES A JEWISH STUDENT NEED TO BE BEATEN SENSELESS BEFORE ADMINISTRATION SEES THAT THERE IS A PALPABLE CONNECTION BETWEEN ANTI-ISRAEL BOYCOTTS AND AN ANTI-JEWISH ENVIRONMENT ON CAMPUS?”
So here we are. Jewish students at York University have an incitement to violence against Israelis hanging prominently in the student building. Everything is so fine, apparently, that I get to go to school with a daily reminder that not only is Israel deserving of this consternation, but Jewish students are not deserving of the equal and hate-free environment everyone else is.
I posit a question. Just how bad does it have to get on campus before something is done? Does a Jewish student need to be beaten senseless before administration sees that there is a palpable connection between anti-Israel boycotts and an anti-Jewish environment on campus? At what point do we realize collectively that it’s time to hold the administration of the university accountable for allowing this? At what point do we say “enough”?
So if I roll my eyes when told that “everything is fine” or “York U is still a very safe place for Jews,” forgive me. Forgive me if I question the knowledge or experience of those purporting that sort of narrative, or that anti-Israel activity is merely “marginal.” This is self-denial, and I for one find it offensively incongruent with the lived reality faced by myself and Jewish university students the country over.
Willem Hart is a member of Hasbara at York, York University’s autonomous student-run pro-Israel education and advocacy organization.