Canadian Jewish Rights Activist Alleges York University Has ‘Systemic Antisemitism’ Problem
A Canadian Jewish rights activist says Toronto’s York University has a “systemic antisemitism” problem, given what he described as a “recurring cycle” of the school ignoring anti-Jewish discrimination.
Aidan Fishman — the campus advocacy coordinator for B’nai Brith Canada — spoke with The Algemeiner on Friday to elaborate on the claims he made in an article he co-wrote with Willem Hart, a York student and human rights researcher for B’nai Brith, titled “It’s Time to Hit the Reset Button at York University.”
Fishman and Hart wrote on Thursday, “While antisemitism is a problem on campuses across Canada, York’s pitiful record of anti-Jewish hatred stands out because it is systemic. Rather than consisting of isolated incidents, antisemitism at York is fostered by professors, staff and student unions, while university officials turn a blind eye.”
Fishman told The Algemeiner, “‘Systemic’ means to us that there is a repeating problem at York, where the power structures within York as an institution do not address antisemitism adequately. It’s not just individuals who are engaging in this [antisemitic] behavior, and the official structures are opposed. Rather, it is allowed to recur and it goes unpunished.”
Incidents that Fishman said were evidence of the campus’s “systemic” Jew-hatred problem included “swastikas regularly found on campus”; a week in February during which one York campus was hit with repeated antisemitic bomb threats; and the fact that both the undergraduate and graduate student unions have adopted pro-boycott, divestment and sanctions resolutions (B’nai Brith classifies BDS as antisemitic). In one recent alleged incident Fishman referenced, high school students visiting the campus for an anti-racism program were told that Jews could not understand discrimination (The Algemeiner could not independently confirm this incident).
Fishman added that, according to his data, the school has had some one dozen reported antisemitic incidents in recent years, which he said quantified a higher volume than at other campuses in Canada.
Ben Shapiro — the editor-in-chief of conservative news site The Daily Wire — took issue with York being classified as having “systemic” or “institutional” antisemitism.
“There is no stated policy there that biases against Jews,” he told The Algemeiner, though he added that it “appears accurate” that York does have a problematic culture that should be addressed.
The Algemeiner found that the York administration has no official anti-Jewish statutes or guidelines, and last year they fired a faculty member for repeatedly making antisemitic comments online.
But Fishman stood behind his assessment that York is different than the many other Canadian campuses that have faced anti-Jewish scandals, comparing the campus’s culture to the years when there were “unwritten agreements among home owners associations or clubs that they wouldn’t sell homes or be open to Jews.”
Hart, the York student, said university officials’ response to Jew-hatred is to “do nothing.”
“It’s a self-replicating phenomenon, where there’s an incident, Jews complain, it gets media coverage, and then the university puts together some bull– committee or releases a pathetic condemnation,” he noted.
Fishman said one reparative measure would be the reconstitution of a disbanded “committee on inclusion” — which was organized after objections by donors to an anti-Israel mural on campus, but quickly went bust following an outcry over York’s selection of a number of pro-BDS faculty members to be part of the group — to deal seriously with anti-Jewish behavior. He also noted with hope that there are changes in the university leadership coming soon.
York’s chief spokesperson, Barbara Joy, told The Algemeiner, “I want to state that antisemitism is not tolerated on our campuses and we immediately investigate all instances of hate, working closely with the Toronto Police Service, when necessary. York University expects all community members to actively engage in our shared responsibility to protect the dignity and human rights of all individuals.”
“Our responsibility is to ensure that all students who come to learn can do so in a safe, respectful environment free of hate, or discrimination of any kind,” she continued. “We have a robust and transparent community safety protocol in place and we will continue to work proactively with Jewish students and other campus groups to support a safe and inclusive campus. We have zero tolerance for hate — and there is no place for it in our community.”