HRC / AVI Campus Media Fellow Published In The Algemeiner: My University Is Known For Anti-Israel Activity; Here’s How I Am Fighting Back

June 24, 2024

On June 21, one of our Campus Media Fellows, Leenoy Daskalo was published in The Algemeiner about how York University, renowned for its multicultural student population and dedication to social justice, is currently facing a pivotal moment. The university’s growing ties to anti-Israel activism are casting a shadow over its reputation. This development is not only altering the university’s environment but also shaping the conversation surrounding the Israel-Hamas war.

As members of the York community who support Israel, we must not remain silent. It is crucial to engage in campus debates, contribute opinion pieces, organize educational events, and utilize online platforms to convey a more complete picture of the conflict.


My University Is Known For Anti-Israel Activity; Here’s How I Am Fighting Back

By: Leenoy Daskalo

York University, celebrated for its diverse student body and commitment to social justice, finds itself at a crossroads.

The institution is increasingly associated with anti-Israel activism, which is raising alarms not just among supporters of Israel, but for those who want a peaceful and respectful academic environment. This shift is adversely affecting York’s reputation, transforming the campus atmosphere, and influencing the discourse around complex international issues in its educational programs.

Speaking to many upcoming university students, I have noticed that York’s growing association with anti-Israel activism has hurt its reputation, due to students’ hesitancy in choosing our school. Normally, universities champion learning, research, and healthy debates — but that’s not the case at York, where Jews and supporters of Israel have been vilified and attacked.

York is supposed to represent a cross-section of viewpoints, but due to its reputation for anti-Israel activity, prospective students and teachers might start seeing York as a university overwhelmed by a single, dominating viewpoint. This could turn away people looking for a more neutral learning environment. Recently, the media has put a spotlight on York because of intense protests and activism on campus.

For instance, York University students set up a pro-Palestinian encampment, led by York Popular University for Palestine (YPU4P), demanding that the university divest from and disclose ties to entities involved in the “Palestinian genocide.” They also want the school to boycott Israeli academic institutions.

The increase in campus activism has created challenges for those with diverse perspectives, particularly concerning Israel. From my personal experience, this atmosphere often discourages students from expressing themselves freely, leading to a lack of diverse opinions — a crucial component of a robust education.

For instance, Jewish students or supporters of Israel may feel excluded or silenced, fearing negative reactions, and they are pleading for York University to intervene. But by not taking action to ensure safety and free debate on its campus, the school’s administration has contradicted the university’s goal of fostering an inclusive environment.

Furthermore, instances such as the presence of a pro-Palestine mural at York’s student center contribute to these tensions, as outlined in a legal claim against the school. Critics argue that the mural’s imagery and symbols can be inflammatory or offensive, potentially endorsing resistance or violence, and fostering a divisive atmosphere. These actions have exacerbated students’ feeling of being singled out among their peers. The mural is controversial for its bias — presenting Israel as an aggressor while ignoring its security concerns and historical grievances. This fosters division and overlooks the conflict’s complexities.

Understanding the Israeli-Palestinian conflict requires a nuanced exploration of its deep historical roots and emotional dimensions. Yet, discussions at York University often oversimplify the conflict, reducing it to simplistic notions of right versus wrong. This approach can lead to misinformation and hinder genuine understanding. For instance, some discussions I have listened to overly focus on Israel’s military actions without considering the context of security threats and historical events that have shaped Israeli policies. Students aren’t equipped with the facts to understand the region, or that any clams of Israeli “genocide” or “apartheid” simply aren’t true.

Moreover, labeling Israel solely as an aggressor ignores its legitimate security concerns, such as ongoing rocket attacks, Palestinian terrorism (including Hamas’ promises to repeat the October 7 massacre), and threats from neighboring regions and terror proxies like Hezbollah. This oversimplification perpetuates biases and stereotypes, hindering constructive dialogue and empathy among students. A comprehensive education should encourage critical engagement with multiple perspectives and historical facts, fostering well-informed viewpoints rooted in empathy and understanding. Oversimplifying such a complex conflict risks undermining educational integrity and perpetuates divisive narratives rather than promoting meaningful dialogue and peace-building efforts.

As members of the York community who support Israel, we must not remain silent. It is crucial to engage in campus debates, contribute opinion pieces, organize educational events, and utilize online platforms to convey a more complete picture of the conflict.

The aim is not to suppress criticism of Israel, but to ensure that such criticisms are informed, fair, and consider multiple viewpoints. The university administration also has a vital role: implementing clear policies against harassment, supporting those targeted for their political beliefs, and fostering a campus culture where challenging topics can be discussed respectfully.

Advocating for a balanced discussion on Israel at York is not just about supporting a nation; it is about upholding academic freedom, fostering respectful debate, and promoting a thoughtful exchange of ideas. This approach is essential not only for a healthy academic environment but also for preparing students to interact with the world as informed and considerate individuals.

Leenoy Daskalo is a student at York University and a Campus Media Fellow with HonestReporting Canada & Allied Voices for Israel.

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