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December 13, 2015 12:10 pm

Anti-Israel Protest Disrupts York University Hanukkah Party With ‘Harassment, Intimidation’

avatar by Shiryn Ghermezian

Hillel York

Anti-Israel protesters interrupted a pre-Hanukkah celebration at York University. Photo: Facebook.

A pre-Hanukkah celebration sponsored by the Hillel chapter at York University in Toronto was interrupted by an anti-Israel student demonstration, The Canadian Jewish News reported on Friday.

On Dec. 3, supporters of Students Against Israeli Apartheid (SAIA) were holding a “silent protest” for a “YU Divest” campaign, when they noticed Jewish and other students enjoying a holiday event — in the university’s Vari Hall — featuring an inflatable Hanukkah menorah and other items, including a photo booth.

The anti-Israel protesters then began to chant slogans and hand out leaflets right near the Hillel event, according to the report.

“What was planned as a silent protest turned into chants and the blocking of the hallways,” Hillel said on its Facebook page. “While Hillel prides itself on promoting respectful discourse on all campuses, we find tactics of harassment and intimidation to be intolerable.”

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Anna Baev, director of Hillel York, said the university’s administration confirmed the booking of the Hanukkah event on Nov. 23, but Hillel staff members were only told about the nearby protest on the morning of the party. She told The Canadian Jewish News that about 400 students, many of them not Jewish, participated in the two-day event. Some students approached Hillel organizers and said they felt frustrated that a protest was taking place during the festivities.

“It created a negative atmosphere for the students,” Baev said. “They felt it was ruining the overall environment on campus.”

Joanne Rider, director of media relations at York, confirmed that Hillel members were told in advance by York University staff that YU Divest would be holding a protest in an adjacent space in Vari Hall. She said York University has not received a formal complaint from any student regarding the protest. Nevertheless, she noted, the university is “in the process of reviewing video footage and soliciting feedback from staff members who were present.”

“Any student who has or does contact us will be advised about how – under the Student Code of Rights and Responsibilities – they can file a formal complaint. We encourage them to do so,” she said. “York University is committed to freedom of expression and takes proactive measures to help ensure a safe and inclusive environment free from discrimination and harassment.”

Avi Benlolo, CEO of Friends of the Simon Wiesenthal Center, told The Canadian Jewish News that the disruption shows the “true antisemitic nature of the anti-Israel boycott crowd at York University.”

He added: “This incident may be the beginning a more profound effort to marginalize the Jewish presence at York as anti-Israel incitement on campus, encouraged by a large mural at York’s student center, which promotes Palestinian violence against Israel, does not typically cross over into direct anti-Jewish action, as it now has done.”

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