MONTREAL – On the eve of Yom ha-Shoah, the Concordia University undergraduates’ association issued a “letter of apology to the Jewish community” for failing to do more over the years to curb anti-Semitism on campus.
The Concordia Student Union (CSU) is promising to put concrete measures in place to raise awareness that many Jewish students feel unwelcome or even unsafe, and takes blame for having “sat idly by” in the past.
“An ongoing theme of the CSU is that we try our best to support and give a voice to those who are being discriminated against, but this is something we have neglected to do for the Jewish community. Today, we strive to acknowledge our mistakes and begin the process of correcting ourselves,” the statement posted on the CSU Facebook page reads.
“Overall, our mistakes can be described in one word–indifference; indifference to one of the world’s oldest forms of discrimination, indifference to the concerns of our Jewish students, indifference to the struggles they have faced.”
The CSU acknowledges that this attitude has contributed to “a campus culture where Jewish students are afraid to openly identify as Jewish…out of fear of having insults hurled at them for things they do not control and are not responsible for.
“Our silence on these issues only benefits the oppressors and sets the belief that these acts are somehow justifiable which encourages the oppressors to continue this behaviour.”
The CSU says it wants to assure the community that the CSU “is there to help when acts of anti-Semitism occur and that we will give equal attention to this form of discrimination as any other.”
All incoming CSU representatives will receive training in recognizing anti-Semitism on campus, the letter states, and CSU-affiliated club executives will be required to take part in instruction on how to host events in which Jewish students can feel safe and participate.
In addition, the CSU plans to launch a “Bystander Prevention Program” for the student body to show how “to identify and safely intervene and/or support Jewish students if they witness an act of anti-Semitism.”
The CSU vows to work with the university in quickly removing any anti-Semitic graffiti or vandalism on campus.
“While we stood idly by in the past while acts of anti-Semitism occurred, we hope not to repeat those mistakes again and hope the Jewish community will give us another chance to support them in the future,” the letter concludes.
CSU councillor Nicole Nashen, who worked to get the CSU to make this unprecedented mea culpa, hailed its significance. She and fellow Jewish councillor Harrison Kirshner brought in community professionals and other experts to speak to CSU officials on the issue of anti-Semitism.
She credits incoming CSU general co-ordinator Eduardo Malomi with being especially receptive to forging a new understanding with Jewish students.
“The Montreal Jewish community knows all too well that the CSU has historically been extremely anti-Semitic and has fostered an unsafe environment for Jewish students,” said Nashen, who is also incoming Concordia Hillel president.
“Change is possible, and the apology is the first step towards reconciliation with the Jewish community. To my fellow Jewish students, your struggles matter, your voices are important, you deserve a seat at the table, and together we will create a future where we can be proud of our Jewish identities without being constantly met with anti-Semitism.”
In 2017, Concordia’s Student Union defended its role in co-hosting an event called ‘Passover Against Apartheid.’ The event consisted of an art exhibit, followed by two discussions, the first to learn about the holiday through “the lens of BDS” –the boycott, divestment and sanctions campaign against Israel – while the second was geared to Jews critical of Israel and seeking alternative narratives at the seder, The CJN reported at the time.
The Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs (CIJA) welcomed the CSU apology.
“CIJA joins our campus partner GenMTL, the dedicated group of students at Hillel Montreal and the Jewish councillors at CSU in commending the CSU for their leadership in striving to create an inclusive environment for Jewish students on campus. The CSU’s letter is unprecedented in its candour and marks a new and hopeful chapter for Jewish students, and all students, at Concordia University. This move is particularly encouraging in the context of the global rise in anti-Semitism,” said CIJA Quebec vice-president Eta Yudin in a statement.
Hillel Montreal also welcomed the move stating, “Over the course of many years at Concordia, Jewish students have been subjected to exclusion, gaslighting, bystanding, and have widely professed to feeling uncomfortable in openly expressing their Jewish identities.
“This apology by the CSU makes us optimistic that the experience of Jewish students at Concordia will be different moving forward, and that they will be protected by their student union. We look forward to working together in ensuring that Concordia is a place where Jewish students can also feel safety, security and pride in being themselves.”