Dismantling racism and advocating for indigenous rights are at the forefront of discussions in nearly every university. York University is no exception.
Hallways are littered with posters highlighting the importance of standing up against racism and oppression. Protests and meetings against the latest human rights violation are common. But despite all of this, I have rarely, in my four years at York, seen anyone willing to discuss the problem of antisemitism.
Worse, Jewish students are called apartheid apologists, baby killers, and Nazis. Jewish students see antisemitic graffiti in bathrooms, lecture halls, and in the library. Jewish students are forced to sit quietly while professors and peers go on deeply antisemitic rants. Jewish students have their campaign posters ripped off the walls and defaced.
One Jewish student on campus even had a swastika shoved in his face.
None of this comes as a surprise to Jewish students at York.
Scary, yes. But the frequency with which these experiences occur has made the community numb. When an incident is brought to the attention of the administration or student government, they usually respond with a bland, pre-written letter stating they have “no tolerance for discrimination.” This not only diminishes Jewish students’ experience, but does nothing to improve it.
When the student government finally agreed to hold a training session on antisemitism after years of requests by Jewish campus organizations, they did so on a Jewish holiday and without recognizing the unique history of antisemitism. Feeling like their job is done, they sweep the issue under the rug until the next incident.
That same student government has since hosted prominent activists who have been known to go on antisemitic rants, with one such diatribe rooted in a modern manifestation of The Protocols of the Elders of Zion.
Jewish students continue to be allies to other marginalized communities, as we should be. Yet on campus, our own voices are silenced. A toxic cycle has since been created whereby Jewish students are fearful of speaking up so as to avoid controversy, only to see another antisemitic incident take place.
They’ll write their complaints or file a report to the school. Maybe a weak condemnation or apology will be issued by the university. No action. No steps are taken to ensure the safety of Jewish students nor are any punitive measures instituted.
And the vicious cycle continues
It has become widely known, and justifiably so, that York has become an inhospitable place for Jews. For that reason, many Jewish alumni won’t send their own children there, knowing all too well what they will face.
This situation will only get worse if the issue isn’t addressed. Jewish students have become so accustomed to inaction from university administration and student government that they have stopped reporting incidents, thus enabling this type of activity to go unchecked.
The current cohort of Jewish students at York are resilient. They are the future. Although they face disgraceful incidents of antisemitism, they wear their Judaism with pride and demonstrate the belief that love and strength remain stronger than hate and silence.
In October 2021, the World Jewish Congress (WJC) and Jewish on Campus (JOC) announced a joint partnership to amplify the voices and strengthen the actions of college students who identify antisemitic occurrences at their schools. The two organizations will provide support to Jewish student communities internationally, which expands the Jewish on Campus network as well as WJC’s relationships with Jewish student communities.