OpinionSchools & Higher Education

A tale of timidity at Canada’s biggest university

The University of Toronto's surrender to an anti-Israel encampment is cowardice on a Chamberlainian scale.

An illustrative image of former British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain. Source: DeepAI.
An illustrative image of former British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain. Source: DeepAI.
Jerry Amernic. Photo by Mark Gilligan.
Jerry Amernic
Jerry Amernic is a Canadian author of fiction and non-fiction. He is currently writing a book about the rewriting of history called Sleepwoking: How the Idiots Stole Our Country.

We have all seen the footage of British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain returning from his 1938 meeting with Adolf Hitler and declaring “peace in our time.” He had just signed the Munich Agreement with Hitler. He waved the slip of paper with Hitler’s signature for all to see. The pact, however, only encouraged Hitler to launch a war on civilization itself.

The current administration of the University of Toronto—my alma mater and Canada’s largest university—evokes that image of Chamberlain, particularly when I see how it has handled the pro-Palestinian encampment in the middle of its campus over the past few weeks.

I saw this encampment for myself.

Never mind that this group occupied private property. Never mind that the university is in Canada’s biggest city, a stone’s throw from the legislature of the government of Ontario, the most populous province in the country. The encampment has been permitted.

How about signs hailing The Protocols of the Elders of Zion? Would they be permitted?

The Protocols first appeared in a Russian newspaper in 1903. They claimed that Jews secretly conspired to rule the world by taking over the economy, banks, the media—what have you. After the Russian Revolution, the Protocols found their way to the West. The first Arabic translation appeared in the 1920s. Needless to say, countless people around the world—innumerable millions—still believe them to be true, just as some deny the Holocaust, claim that Arabs didn’t carry out the terrorist attacks on 9/11 and think that Elvis is still alive.

So, here is my question: Should young people, whether they are students or not, who take over private property in the sanctuary of a university, be allowed to promote lies at such a site? Especially lies that foster a false historical narrative that is hurtful to many people?


The powers that be at the University of Toronto apparently disagree. For more than a month now, they have acted like the proverbial dog with a tail wagging between its legs in cowardly retreat. This is cowardice of Chamberlainian proportions.

As of this writing, the school—after all this time—is trying to demonstrate that it’s coming down hard on the encampment by seeking an injunction to have the protesters removed.

The presidents of four Canadian universities, including University of Toronto president Meric Gertler, recently appeared before a House of Commons justice committee. They all agreed that antisemitism has been growing on their campuses. Melissa Lantsman, deputy leader of the opposition Conservative Party, asked Gertler why a few hundred people in the encampment appeared to be holding the entire university hostage and whether the university had taken action to remove a red triangle symbol that she said glorified Hamas terrorism.

Gertler replied, “We have asked the student organizers of the encampment to remove signage and language which is offensive and they have complied on occasion—not in every instance.”

Lantsman then asked if any students at the encampment had been suspended or thrown out of the university. The answer was no. Not yet, anyway.

The heart of the University of Toronto is a place called King’s College Circle, the very spot where I first held my bachelor’s degree. What’s been going on there is a ragtag collection of tents occupied by young people, some of them apparently students and some not, surrounded by fencing. One cannot enter through an access point without the permission of the gatekeepers. They are clearly in charge.

There are no signs about The Protocols of the Elders of Zion. I would hazard a guess that they are well beyond the historical reach of those present. But there are signs portraying outright lies and a false historical narrative that is hurtful to many people.

The first one I saw equates South African apartheid with modern Israel: “UofT divest from South African apartheid—1990. Israel apartheid—May 2024.”

In the middle of the last century, South Africa began enacting racist laws imported from the playbook of Nazi Germany. Those laws made blacks second-class. Say what you want about the modern State of Israel, but it is a democracy where Arabs are citizens with the vote and can run for public office. The Knesset has many elected members who are Arab. How does Israel equate with apartheid South Africa?

It doesn’t. Not in any way. This is a lie and a false historical narrative hurtful to any Israeli citizen and anyone who supports Israel.

Many of the signs are little more than rough scribbling:

This is the Intifada.

Revolution Until Victory.

Our tuition will not be spent on GENOCIDE.

We have not slept since 1948.

The reference to 1948 refers to the creation of Israel by a United Nations resolution.

I also saw a poster bearing only four words: “ALL COPS ARE BASTARDS.”

If that’s not enough, there are also signs illustrating how ignorant some of these protesters are:

Queers for Palestine.

Queer and Palestinian Liberation is intertwined.

I won’t get into a lesson about the plight of gays and the transgendered in virtually any Arab country. Suffice it to say that many from these communities have left their homelands for a place where they are welcome.

Like Israel.

But the most injurious sign at the encampment is professional artwork: A poster of an Arab woman in a billowing keffiyeh standing in front of her five children. Two boys and three girls. The girls are wearing hijabs. It says: “From the river to the sea.”

Those words constitute the stated mandate of Hamas, not to mention that of the mullahs of Iran. It means there should be no Jews between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea. That means no State of Israel.

For the record, there has never been a single sign at the University of Toronto encampment about Oct. 7 or the Israeli hostages kidnapped by Hamas.

Not one word.

And so here we are. President Gertler has issued a letter to the university community citing the unauthorized encampment. He said there had been discrimination and harassment experienced by some. He proclaimed that the school is committed to academic freedom, human rights and international cooperation. He invited student representatives of the encampment to a meeting of the Business Board of the Governing Council so they could present their demands.

What are their demands? That the university disclose its investments, divest itself of anything to do with Israel, cut ties with Israeli academic institutions and so on.

Have I ever seen an encampment at the University of Toronto demanding that the school divest itself of anything to do with Russia? Or China? How about Saudi Arabia? No, no and no.

Gertler went on to say that the university will undertake a review of the divestment request and establish an advisory committee to review the brief submitted by the students.

The University of Toronto website says: “We’re creating a more equitable and inclusive environment so the best ideas and talent can shine.”

All this leads me to three conclusions:

First, the university—and by extension, the country where I live—is afraid to uphold its own laws for fear of offending someone. Even those who are breaking those laws.

Second, Neville Chamberlain lives.

Third, somebody should resign.

The opinions and facts presented in this article are those of the author, and neither JNS nor its partners assume any responsibility for them.
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