A statement from the Muslim Students Association at Western University in London, Ont. is asking the student council to eliminate “all pro-Zionist narrative” from the campus. The series of social media posts from the WMSA Instagram account were published June 5.
The club, one of the largest of the 216 on the Western University campus, links its demands directly to the recent hostilities between Israel and Hamas in May. Two weeks of rocket attacks from Gaza into Israel, and airstrikes against Hamas positions by the Israel Defense Forces, left 13 Israelis dead and 200 wounded, and 243 Palestinians dead and 1,900 injured, according to official reports.
One part of the Instagram post talks about “unspeakable and inhumane crimes” being committed against Muslim, Christian and Jewish Palestinians in Gaza and the West Bank, including East Jerusalem. The authors lay blame at Israel’s feet, and use the words “genocide” and “apartheid” about the Jewish state.
The posts call Western University “complicit” and demand the school and the president Alan Shepard take action to condemn Israel, and to make Palestinian students who attend the southwestern Ontario school feel safe.
Removing all pro-Zionist narrative from campus would impact any clubs that support Zionism, which would include Hillel. According to the WMSA statement, having Western-supported Zionist clubs promotes a “poisoned environment” which adds to the trauma that Palestinian students have already faced from Zionism.
As well, Western is being asked to divest from any companies or academics that support the Israel Defense Forces, or work in the contested West Bank.
The statement does go on to condemn any forms of anti-Semitism, which it says is unacceptable.
In March, the WMSA partnered with Hillel and two Christian clubs, for a multi-faith event discussing the concept of rest and spirituality.
Hillel: toxicity and marginalization
Officials with Western Hillel in London were aware of the posts, and have already held a meeting with the president of the university.
“This level of toxicity and marginalization is unacceptable, and we have conveyed our serious concerns both to the USC (University Student Council) leadership and the university administration,” said Scott Goldstein, Western Hillel’s senior director, in an email to The CJN.
At the meeting with Alan Shepard, Hillel officials discussed “the alarming rise in anti-Semitism directed at Jewish students in Ontario, and what steps the university might take to support our students,” Goldstein added.
There are about 3,000 Jewish students who attend Western. However, with classes now over for the school year, it is not clear how many of them saw the posts. There is also an Israel on Campus club.
“We continue to monitor the developments at the USC to ensure Jewish students at Western are able to study and live on campus free from discrimination and harassment,” said Goldstein.
Problems with anti-Semitic incidents
The WMSA’s Instagram posts received 533 likes, while the same posts also appeared on Twitter and Facebook.
The president of Western’s student government, Zamir Fakirani, put a smile and heart beside the WMSA’s social media post. The CJN has reached out to the incoming WMSA president, Hannan Ullah, as well as to the Western administration, for comment.
The Western campus has been a flashpoint in recent years for anti-Semitism. In 2017, pamphlets were distributed blaming Jews for the attack at a Quebec City mosque that killed six worshippers. London police were called to investigate when swastikas were found on a bathroom door at the D.B. Weldon library in September, 2019.
More recently, Western Hillel sent a letter to the campus Black Students Association over some of that group’s social media posts which Hillel deemed hurtful to Jewish students. In June, Dr. Ziad Solh, a professor in the medical school, tweeted that Jews who support Israel should be boycotted and sanctioned, prompting the Friends of Simon Wiesenthal Centre to protest to the university.