September 28, 2011
A young woman, 22 years of age, in her final year at York University (in Toronto, Canada) was looking for a course to fill out her credit requirements at the beginning of the new fall session. Sarah is her name — a quiet and confident woman who just wanted to maintain her good grade average and complete her education. She had never imagined getting involved in any politics or controversies on the way home to the graduation finish line.
Never did she expect to become the central figure in an incident that went viral on the Internet and threatened to undermine her education and her reputation. Never did she expect to be thrown under the bus (knowingly or not) by the university and a Jewish agency that shared the common goal of sweeping the controversy under the carpet and sacrificing the student’s reputation in the process.
In checking out a course she needed to complete her credits, she went into a classroom to examine one option. During the introductory remarks she heard the professor say that, “It is my opinion that all Jews should be sterilized.” The story spirals out of control from this point on.
A fellow activist and I spoke with Sarah and her mother for over 2 hours; we studied the newspaper accounts and the reports by Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs (CIJA), B’nai Brith and the university (see below). Sarah revealed that she only heard the professor’s rationalization and explanation after the incident in newspapers, not during the class, and she spoke with other girls who stayed in class and can verify her account but are too fearful to come forward. The professor, according to the university’s investigation, explained in class how this was a dramatic example of how one’s opinion is of little weight in his fact-based class. The main idea to keep in mind is that with or without explanation, Sarah should not be blamed for what she heard and the professor should not be automatically vindicated for what he said. What’s missing is a fair investigation.
Allow me to fill in some historical details: York University has become a toxic environment for Jewish students and has grown worse over the years, especially with the introduction of Israeli Apartheid Week (IAW). Israeli Apartheid Week is so obnoxious, filled with lies and venom that Jewish students are afraid to reveal their identities during the week (which has since grown into a year-round series of events and invited anti-Israel speakers). Jewish professors have done nothing to help the situation nor do most of them see cause to defend themselves, the students and Israel. A Jewish professor, recently deceased, was so openly antagonistic towards Jews that he successfully fought to change university policy of canceling classes during Jewish holidays because, in his view, observing Jewish holidays represented discrimination against other religions. Jewish students have been chased by a mob of pro-Palestinian students and their supporters into the relative temporary safety of a locked room. There have been physical altercations. The typical response from the university has been to downplay Jewish concerns, silence the Jewish students/community, and allow the pro-Palestinian groups free reign of the campus. The university speaks to only one major Jewish group to make it appear as if all is safe and under control. President Mamdouh Shoukri has maintained the status quo despite being urged to do more and yet Jewish money keeps flowing into the university without the IAW situation being adequately addressed.
The Jewish community and especially some wealthy donors in Toronto have made a huge investment in York University’s future infrastructural growth. It is my opinion based on talks with Jewish students that activism and speaking out might cause trouble and so the university and the major Jewish organization turn a blind eye or just want to avoid confrontation – and so one-sided pro-Palestinian protests seem to them the lesser of two evils. There are high-profile Jewish leaders in key roles at York University. They remain silent and unresponsive to all enquiries and concerns except when Jewish students speak out – that is what causes them grief and then they act quickly. The Jewish organization, CIJA, was quick to respond to allegations by Sarah that her professor uttered remarks that were offensive and insensitive given that they could be misunderstood because of the existing tensions on campus.
CIJA, a newly reconstituted advocacy group in Canada describes itself in this way: “The Canadian Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs is now the spokesperson for all issues concerning the organized Canadian Jewish community…” This happens to be a lot of bluster and strutting since there are many groups, including the B’nai Brith, which had the decency to take down the student’s statement and then received public criticism for completing the other side of a skewed investigation.
At the meeting between the University and Sarah, the word of the professor was that he was extremely regretful for not framing the comment in the proper context and the university said that they would do their very best to encourage him to make an unambiguous in-class apology (which never happened). The university Dean of Liberal Arts and Vice Provost assured Sarah that the professor would change his ways and rethink how he frames his comments in the future. CIJA came out with their statement before this meeting had even taken place.
What happened when CIJA gave a quick and dirty total absolution to the professor is that they made sure he remained silent and unapologetic. The professor has since been smart enough to realize that the organization that claims to represent all Jews in Canada had generously given him a clean bill of health. The victims in this case, Sarah and the Jewish students in general, are the losers as their complaints have never been given serious consideration (only insincere sympathy) and will be even more suspect in the future as a result of the way this incident was handled.
The university interviewed Sarah and at the same time CIJA went to her mother for a statement. The mother told CIJA to speak to Sarah but they did not. Instead, they relied upon the interview conducted by the university for their information, a university that has been very biased in the past against Jewish students.
The newspaper articles, scathingly cruel and mean to Sarah and inaccurate because Sarah’s story has not been told, have reflected the flawed initial one-sided investigation.
This entire fiasco raises some important questions:
1. Why has Sarah been made into the scapegoat for reporting what she heard?
2. Do Jewish students at York University no longer have the right to feel offended?
3. Why did CIJA tell us in email that they conducted a thorough investigation when actually they took the word of the professor and university’s investigation as the truth?
4. Why is the university using this incident to caution Jewish students not to falsely accuse regarding anti-Semitism? It is not as if this happens very often and Sarah had previously never been involved in such an incident.
If Jewish agencies refuse to speak up for students, then who will?
More accounts and information: