HRC / AVI Campus Media Fellow Published In The Excalibur: Degrees Of Hatred: Confronting Antisemitism In Education

May 17, 2024

On May 17, 2024, one of our Campus Media Fellows, Leenoy Daskalo, was published in The Excalibur, about how academic institutions are no longer a place for the pursuit of knowledge and truth. Instead, school halls and campus grounds have increasingly become gripped by a political activism intent on muzzling the truth. Rather than promoting open discourse, the current tactic is to polarize events — and people — leading to the demonization of one side over another. 

The only way to have meaningful and lasting change is for administrators, parents, and those in management positions at the schools, to stand up and say, “Enough is enough”.

Degrees of Hatred: Confronting Antisemitism in Education

By: Leenoy Daskalo

I’ve noticed a disquieting shift permeating the sacred halls of academia. These halls, in far too many places, are now saturated with hate-filled rhetoric, and the issue is noticeably deteriorating.

Academic institutions are increasingly gripped by a political activism intent on muzzling the multiplicity of voices essential for the pursuit of truth. Rather than promoting open discourse, the current tactic is to polarize events — and people — leading to the demonization of one side over another. Those remaining on the socially deemed “unpopular” side are ridiculed and made to feel unwelcome.

The surge in anti-Israel and antisemitic sentiment across university campuses, especially noticeable in Ontario, has been starkly evident following the tragic events of October 7. On that day, the group Hamas, recognized as a terrorist organization by many countries, brutally killed 1,200 civilians in Israel and took around 250 civilians hostage. This heinous act has seemingly exacerbated negative sentiments and hostility on academic grounds, highlighting a significant and concerning trend in the wake of the violence.

One of many examples is the cold-hearted removal of posters displaying the innocent kidnapped Israelis, including many children. Expressions of support for Israel, however benign, tend to be met with outright hostility. It’s important to recognize that the hostages taken during the attack by Hamas, a group officially designated as a terrorist organization by many countries, were not exclusively Israeli citizens; among them were individuals from various nations. This aspect is often overlooked in discussions that attempt to cast Israel in a negative light, framing it as the aggressor who “had it coming.” 

However, the reality of the attack is far from a simple narrative of aggressor versus victim. The targets were unarmed civilians, many of whom were attending a large music festival, including a significant number of innocent people. This indiscriminate nature of the attack by Hamas underscores the fact that they are not acting as freedom fighters but as terrorists, attacking without regard for the civilian status of their targets.

This sequence of events has not only cultivated a toxic atmosphere, but has signaled to Jewish students that their alignment with Israel places them at odds with the campus community.

For example, the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) Local 3903 — a union that represents part-time and contract faculty and staff at York — recently distributed a 19-page “Toolkit on Teaching Palestine” to teaching assistants.

Along with the toolkit, the union encouraged its members to join the Palestinian activist and filmmaker Bisan Owda, who called for a “global strike week” from Jan. 21 to Jan. 28, advocating for a ceasefire.

CUPE 3903 asked members to refuse “to abide by York University’s culture of repressive normalcy. Instead, let us collectively divert this week’s tutorials to teaching on Palestinian liberation.”

The union accused the university of being indirectly involved in Israel’s control over Palestine and its violent actions that could be described as aiming to eliminate the Palestinian people. It specifically pointed out York’s financial and scholarly ties with certain Zionist organizations (for example, Hillel) and Israeli academic institutions (such as the Hebrew University of Jerusalem), a number of which are situated on Palestinian territories that the United Nations has identified as being occupied illegally.

The fact that an educational union has singled out Hillel — a sanctuary for Jewish students and a symbol of their cultural and religious identity — highlights the alarming level of hostility Jews face on campus.

It’s outrageous that Israel is condemned for every ill — both real and imagined — but no criticism is leveled at Palestinians. Israel has repeatedly sought peace, withdrawing from territories it possesses legal ownership over, and seeking compromise. For instance, the Roadmap for Peace (2003), proposed by international quartet including the United States, European Union, United Nations, and Russia, aimed at achieving a two-state solution through progressive steps in security, governance, and politics. This was followed by the Annapolis Conference in 2007, which sought to rejuvenate peace efforts, encouraging both parties to commit to negotiating towards a two-state resolution. Despite these efforts, subsequent rounds of direct negotiations in 2010 and 2013–2014, often mediated by the U.S., faced frequent impasses due to unresolved issues such as settlements, borders, security, and the status of Jerusalem.

Therefore, Israel has sought peace with Palestine through a series of negotiations, treaties, and initiatives, often with the involvement of international mediators. The aim has been to resolve the conflict by addressing key issues such as borders, security, the status of Jerusalem, and the rights of Palestinian refugees. Such a “toolkit” foisted on students conveniently omits discussions on the other side. An honest attempt at constructive dialog would have also included an equal number of pages that fairly represented the Israeli point of view. The union’s only interest was to ostensibly brainwash students with propaganda and hate.

One wonders what this, and other political stunts, have done to the collective psyches of young minds on campus. But since the beginning of the fall semester, Hillel Ontario has recorded nearly 400 instances of antisemitic incidents across its affiliated universities, marking a threefold increase reported throughout the previous year.

Alongside numerous Jewish students, I have seen distressing antisemitism. This includes the frequent and intentional removal of the Israeli flag within one of the student centres at York, swastikas carved into desks and restroom stalls, some professors and teaching assistants inappropriately injecting politics into the classroom discussion, anti-Israel resolutions passed by student organizations and unions, and the vandalism of several mezuzahs.

A friend of mine at York captured a photo of aggressive demonstrations by anti-Israel groups, underscoring the intimidation we face. It’s deeply troubling for me, as a Jew, to witness such acts in what should be a safe and inclusive space. In light of the rising climate of hate, it’s still a question for me, and others, whether it’s safe to express outwardly any Jewish identity, like wearing a Magen David necklace, without fear or reservation.

One can only hope that there’s soon a breaking point — when administrators, parents, and those in management positions at the schools — say, “enough is enough.” Because of the current trajectory, campuses will no longer be what they once were: vibrant marketplaces of ideas, where diverse viewpoints mingled freely and civil discourse reigned supreme.

Leenoy Daskalo is a student at York University and a campus media fellow with HonestReporting Canada and Allied Voices for Israel.


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