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April 11, 2016 6:35 am

Jewish Groups Outraged Over ‘Anti-Israel’ Makeup of York U ‘Inclusion’ Committee

avatar by Andrew Pessin

York University. Photo: Website

York University. Photo: Website

Canadian Jewish groups have expressed offense at the recently announced composition of an advisory committee on “inclusion” at York University, The Algemeiner has learned.

At issue is the fact that of the 15 York faculty and administrators to serve on the committee, including York President Mamdouh Shoukri, at least five allegedly espouse anti-Israel views.

Marc Newburgh, CEO of Hillel Ontario, said in a press release from the Center for Israel and Jewish Affairs (CIJA),

We are outraged that a sizeable proportion of the “inclusion” committee consists of members who have a clear record of anti-Israel activism. This includes academics who have endorsed the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) campaign against Israelis and publicly accused Israel of imposing “apartheid” or committing “genocide.” These positions are deeply offensive to Jewish students and reflect division rather than inclusivity. It is ludicrous that President Shoukri expects Jewish students to engage with such a committee.

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Sara Lefton, vice president of CIJA, said that the committee would “only serve to further alienate the Jewish community. It is crucial that President Shoukri select committee members with the credibility required to promote civility and unity on campus.”

Avi Benlolo, CEO of Canadian Friends of Simon Wiesenthal Center, called the committee a “missed opportunity.” On his organization’s Facebook page he noted that although 20 prominent Jewish professors at York had recently endorsed President Shoukri’s “vision of a campus that is inclusive and safe,” not one was named to the committee.

“It is clear,” Benlolo concluded, “that this new advisory committee will do little to reassure York’s Jewish students that the university administration is acting in good faith and in their interests, or that they can expect a positive outcome from its work.”

Among those committee members singled out by the Canadian Jewish News are Faisal Bhabha, a law professor who spoke at an Israeli Apartheid Week event at Ryerson University, and liberal arts professors Saeed Rahnema and Narda Razack, both of whom support the BDS movement.

Drawing particular ire is filmmaker and professor John Greyson, whose history of anti-Israel activism is well-documented. For example, Greyson — who founded a group called Queers Against Israeli Apartheid, and has actively promoted BDS against Israel — drew great public attention when he withdrew his film from the Toronto International Film Festival in 2009 to protest its spotlight on Tel Aviv that year, and participated in a failed 2011 “Gaza flotilla” attempt to break the Israeli blockade on the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip.

It’s “unimaginable,” Lefton told the Canadian Jewish News, that a faculty member such as Greyson would be asked to sit on the committee. She continued,

This was supposed to be what brought students together and made Jewish students feel safe, but it really is outrageous that this inclusion committee would consist of some of the worst, most vocal anti-Israel activists at the university. We’re at a point now where the Jewish community’s frustration and anger with York University is quickly reaching a boiling point. We’re looking at this committee, and it really is a slap in the face to the community… It’s becoming more and more clear that York isn’t interested in fostering an inclusive environment for its students, and that is the most difficult thing for our community.

In January, Shoukri called for the formation of the “Advisory Committee on Inclusion” after a major campus controversy, as reported by The Algemeiner, in which media mogul Paul Bronfman withdrew his support for the university due to the presence of a mural in the student center that many saw as endorsing violence against Israel and calling for its destruction.

“It is clear that the subject of the artwork is offensive to some individuals and groups, particularly Jewish members of our community,” Shoukri wrote when announcing the committee. “The mural has given rise to a broader conversation about whether, as an institution and as individuals, we are doing all we can to ensure that all members of our community feel welcome and supported.”

York has been the scene of several incidents in the past year that have made Jewish students uncomfortable, as reported by The Algemeiner. In addition the mural controversy, the York Faculty Union recently voted to endorse a divestment resolution that was part of a broader BDS campaign, and in December anti-Israel activists disrupted a Hanukkah party.

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