Head of Israel Advocacy Group Says Human Rights Complaint Against U of Ontario Sends ‘Loud, Clear Message’ to Promoters of Campus ‘Culture of Fear’ (INTERVIEW)
The pro-Israel campus community in Canada will no longer stay silent in the face of discrimination and intimidation, the head of a student advocacy group told The Algemeiner on Thursday.
Robert Walker, national director for Hasbara Fellowships Canada, was referring to the official complaint his group filed against the Student Association and Faculty Association of the University of Ontario Institute of Technology (UOIT) for being denied the chance to take part in a “Social Justice Week” event on campus.
“The message we are sending to the anti-Israel activist community is loud and clear: we will not hesitate to take legal action when our rights are denied, and we will fight for Jewish students on campus who are being discriminated against,” Walker told The Algemeiner. “Anti-Israel activists should know that we will not tolerate their discriminatory policies and will use any means at our disposal to challenge them.”
The complaint — filed with the Ontario Human Rights Tribunal — is the first such actions any Jewish student group has taken against a Canadian university.
As reported by The Algemeiner in March, Hasbara Fellowships — which runs an initiative called “Israel Peace Week” — applied for a table at the UOIT Social Justice Week event, after the university’s Student Association issued invitations to external organizations to participate. Walker later received an email notifying him that his application had been denied, citing a Student Association motion endorsing the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement.
“Your organization seems closely tied to the state of Israel and as such, it would be against the motion to provide any type of resources to your organization,” the email stated.
Walker said his group turned to the Ontario Human Rights Tribunal because “what happened was one of the most — if not the most — egregious case of out-in-the-open discrimination on a Canadian university campus that I have ever seen.”
While claiming that “taking on a multi-million dollar student government is no small task for us,” Walker said he believes “the merits of our case are so clear” and there is “little doubt that the Student Association and the Faculty Association acted in a discriminatory manner.”
Hasbara Fellowships decided to pursue action through the Ontario Human Rights Tribunal and not other organizations because both the Student Association and the Faculty Association at UOIT are subject to the Ontario Human Rights Code, Walker told The Algemeiner.
“Discrimination based on creed, perceived citizenship, national origin and ethnic origin are unlawful. It is readily apparent to us, based on the correspondence provided to me, that my request to participate was denied solely because of a policy to deny any services to Israeli people and those who appear to be ‘tied to the state of Israel,’” he said.
The discrimination experienced by Hasbara Fellowships is just a fraction of what Jewish UOIT students call “a culture of fear and intimidation,” Walker said.
“From anti-Israel programs and events, to an environment where Jewish and Israeli students are discriminated against, it’s no easy task to be a Jewish or Israeli student at UOIT,” he stated. “The most worrying part of BDS, and the most insidious, is the normalization of anti-Israel discrimination, where Jewish and Israeli students have their rights trampled on, and their voices silenced, because of who they are.”
Walker said he is “confident” that the legal action taken against UOIT will be “closely watched across Canada.”
“Now, for the first time, anti-Israel activists know that we are not afraid to pursue legal action,” he said. “But our message to Jewish and Israeli students is that we are there, and we have their backs.”