OpinionBoycott, Divestment & Sanctions (BDS)

An open letter to York and UBC: Promoting hatred is never justified

When groups invite speakers who advocate violence, subtly or not, it jeopardizes the safety of students on campus.

The campus of York University in Toronto, Canada. Credit: Wikimedia Commons.
The campus of York University in Toronto, Canada. Credit: Wikimedia Commons.
Seth Petel and Jake Reznik

Dear Presidents Rhonda Lenton and Santa J. Ono,

As Jewish students at York University and the University of British Columbia, our ethnicity and religion are continuously under attack by a specific sect of die-hard student “activists” whose actions consistently warrant a reprimand, but rarely do.

In our short careers as undergraduate students, we’ve seen student group leaders wearing vile and hateful attire, rallies where Jewish and Israeli students are harassed, inaction over a violent banner despite a continuous outcry from members of our community, and fellow students embracing speakers advocating for terrorism, anti-Semitism and worse.

It begs the question: Why are these groups allowed to operate when their sole purpose is to demonize and delegitimize the State of Israel and students brave enough to oppose them?

Last Saturday, Nov. 7, the York Palestine Solidarity Collective (PSC) and UBC Solidarity for Palestinian Human Rights (SPHR) groups hosted a joint event with activists Lina Hadid, Diana Buttu and Miko Peled. All three have a history of promoting anti-Semitism or anti-Israel bias.

As the event took place on a Sabbath, Jewish students were obviously not welcome. Fortunately, PSC and SPHR posted a video of the event to YouTube, providing a clear lens as to what transpired. We encourage you to watch it.

If you sift through the two hours of anti-Israel invective, you’ll find Peled saying, “Any form of resistance against the State of Israel is justified.” Any form of resistance. Does this mean violence against students who support Israel on campus is also “justified?”

Meanwhile, Buttu denounced “Jewish supremacy” and encouraged students to participate in intifada (Arabic for “uprising”), which in the Arab-Israeli context includes the indiscriminate murder of thousands of Israelis—Jewish and non-Jewish alike.

All of this bearing the names of York and the University of British Columbia.

As Hasbara Fellows on campus, our goal has always been education, and advocating for peace and coexistence. That’s why we only invite speakers who accept the legitimacy of both Israelis and Palestinians.

PSC and SPHR, however, have made it clear they do not recognize our identities as Jewish students. While companies such as Zoom and YouTube have recently been lauded for refusing to provide a platform to terrorist Leila Khaled, for example, these groups have been actively rallying behind her.

Peled, similarly, was also canceled by several universities after tweeting that “Jews have a reputation for being greedy thieves.” Even the Students for Justice in Palestine chapter at San Diego agreed that his comments were “offensive” and rescinded a talk by him.

By referring to him as a “Jewish anti-Zionist” in their marketing materials, SPHR and PSC are tokenizing a fringe member of our community so that he appears legitimate. This is anti-Semitism.

Miko Peled does not speak for us. Inviting him would be akin to a white-nationalist group inviting Candace Owens to speak as a representative of the black community. It is tokenism at its finest and in extremely poor taste.

During Saturday’s event, Peled said the very existence of Israel “is a hate crime.” However, under section 319(2) of Canada’s Criminal Code, it is clearly his past comments that meet the criteria of willfully promoting hatred. Clearly, PSC and SPHR were aware of these comments. And they invited him anyway.

As York and UBC students, we have the right to participate in activities “without harassment, intimidation, discrimination, disruption or acts of violence.” When student groups invite speakers who promote violence, subtly or not, it jeopardizes our safety and the safety of thousands of other students on campus.

With Arabs and Jews normalizing ties in the Middle East, we were hopeful that 2020 would see a positive change in this regard on campuses across Canada. We were hopeful our universities would monitor the actions of notorious hate groups and put a stop to their activities when warranted.

Presidents Lenton and Ono, it’s time for you to enforce the guidelines for student groups and reprimand PSC and SPHR. By posting a video of their event to YouTube, they’ve shown no remorse for continuing to invite speakers accused of anti-Semitism. How many more chances do they deserve?

It’s time we set a precedent that denies hate speech on our campuses. Xenophobia, racism and hatred directed at religious groups have no place in Canada, least of all on university campuses. It should not be surprising that a speaker who said “Jews are all greedy thieves” would encourage violence against them.

In our view, he should have never been invited in the first place.

It’s time to hold York PSC and UBC SPHR accountable for their actions, so we can finally focus on building bridges to peace rather than obstacles.

Seth Petel is a Hasbara Fellow at York University. Jake Reznik is a Hasbara Fellow at the University of British Columbia.

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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