Jews at Toronto’s Ryerson U Enraged to Discover Student Council President Lied About Direct Involvement in Derailing Vote on ‘Holocaust Education Week’ Proposal
Jewish activists at Ryerson University in Toronto told The Algemeiner on Tuesday that they were enraged, but not surprised, when the head of the student government was caught lying about his involvement in derailing a Holocaust education initiative.
Aedan O’Connor — who helped mobilize the Jewish campus community to support a “Holocaust Education Week” motion presented before the Ryerson Student Union (RSU) in December — said that RSU President Obaid Ullah covered up his participation in a staged walkout that forced the RSU to shelve the proposal.
This fact was discovered, she said, in private text messages provided to the campus newspaper The Eye Opener, which reveal Ullah telling members of anti-Israel groups during the meeting to discuss the Holocaust education motion to “please leave” the room to “lose quorum” and force the RSU to adjourn its meeting. When the news of this emerged weeks later, Ullah defended his directive on Facebook, claiming he had issued it to “keep the room united and not cause heat.” (The motion, as The Algemeiner reported, was later passed.)
According to O’Connor, “Ullah has an extensive history of anti-Israel posts on his social media, and this is not the first time he has been associated with antisemitism.” But what she said she considered particularly infuriating were his attempts to present himself as sympathetic.
“Ullah met with Jewish students after the whole affair proclaiming his solidarity, but in light of this new information, it was obviously all staged,” she said. “There was a lot of prominent media coverage at the time, and it was a very embarrassing issue. He had to eventually push to pass the motion, because otherwise it would look bad.”
Ryerson student Tova Friedman said called it “scary, especially for a Jewish student” like herself, that “someone with such a high position at the RSU actually initiated the walkout.”
She continued: “I find it offensive, as I had family in the Holocaust who had to hide their Jewish identity because they would be killed otherwise. This was such a horrific period of time for Jewish people and it is essential that people learn about it in order to prevent something like this from re-occurring with any religion. Students should have the right to learn about different groups. It’s sad that Jewish history is noticeably singled out by the RSU. Actions like those of Ullah should not be tolerated, and people who defend them should ask themselves how they would feel if it were their race or religion targeted in such a manner.”
Tamar Lyons, a vice president of the Ryerson chapter of Students Supporting Israel, posted on Facebook, “I’m done with all the horrible stuff Jewish students are going through at Ryerson because the Student Union won’t get their s**t together. This is absolutely shameful.”
In light of the revelations, O’Connor is calling on Ullah to resign. “If you’re going to be so antisemitic with so much institutional power, you need to be penalized,” she said.
Amanda Hohmann, national director of B’nai Brith Canada’s League for Human Rights — which has been closely monitoring the situation at Ryerson — said in a statement it is “extremely problematic that [Ullah] gave a false account of the walkout for almost three months, suddenly changing his story when evidence of his true actions emerged. These are not the actions of someone who should be in a leadership position within student government.”
As The Algemeiner reported in December, the staged walkout by members of the school’s Students for Justice in Palestine and Muslim Student Association began with activists snickering, heckling, heckled and exiting en masse from the RSU meeting to prevent the necessary quorum — a minimum of 100 students — for a vote on the resolution.
The author of the motion told The Algemeiner at the time that the final version was “very clearly, very carefully worded not [to] include any language about specific religions, ethnicities or places of origin.” Anti-Israel groups and their allies — such as the campus Black Lives Matter movement — “politicized” an initiative that is meant to be “entirely education and uncontroversial.”