York Federation of Students passes motion to oppose Israeli officials

Pro-Israel and pro-Palestinian demonstrators clash in the halls of York University in Toronto on Nov. 20. (Alex Rose/The CJN)

Following on the heels of a violent protest against IDF reservists speaking at York University in Toronto, the York Federation of Students (YFS) passed a motion stating that it will actively work to oppose “representatives of the Israeli state” who appear on campus.

According to the motion, which was passed at its annual general meeting on Nov. 28, YFS will oppose “representatives of the Israeli state or any other imperialist power (that are) invited (to campus) to gather support for war and occupation in Palestine and elsewhere (by organizing) mass mobilizations of students, workers, marginalized communities in opposition.”

The YFS passed the motion just over a week after pro-Palestinian and pro-Israel protesters clashed outside of an event on Nov. 20 that brought IDF reservists to York to answer questions about Israel.

The YFS motion described the protests by saying that “both Jewish and non-Jewish students were protesting the actions of the Israeli state; members of the Jewish Defence League (JDL), a far-right organization, were present resulting in the assault of a number of students who were peacefully demonstrating.”

Rhonda Lenton, the president of York University, tweeted a statement about the motion on Nov. 29, saying the school is “deeply concerned” because the motion “reflects neither the views of the administration nor our community’s standards.” Lenton further states the the school had reached out to YFS to discuss how to move forward, and that the university will take “all necessary steps” to ensure a safe environment for approved students groups to host events and speakers.

Hillel at York also published a statement on the same day that condemned YFS for discriminating against Israel and failing to properly represent both the facts and its students.

“As the body charged with representing all undergraduate students, the YFS has failed, yet again, to accurately characterize the facts. There was nothing peaceful about last week’s demonstration, which was organized to shut-down free speech and intimidate Jewish students. Hillel York condemns the YFS for taking yet another step against free speech and against the Jewish campus community,” the statement said.

That marked the second time in a week that Hillel has criticized YFS. On Nov. 24, YFS, along with the York University Graduate Students’ Association, published a statement alleging that the JDL escalated the violence.

It included a link to a screenshot of a Facebook comment by a Jewish man who said that his friend knocking out one of the pro-Palestinian protestors was “the best thing that happened (that) night.” However, the statement failed to mention the Jewish students who felt unsafe or intimidated by the original demonstration.

Hillel also condemned YFS for failing to characterize the situation properly and failing to represent the interests of all its students.

Daniel Koren, the executive director of Hasbara Canada, said that it is impossible for a protest that includes shouts of “Viva, Viva Intifada!” to be considered peaceful, and that YFS lied by saying that only one side was hateful and violent.

“Go to Gaza, go to the West Bank, go see what (intifada) means to them. Go see that numerous innocent Jews were killed, mothers stabbed while sleeping in their bed, Americans stabbed on the street just walking around,” he said.

“This, to us, is what the intifada looks like. If you’re calling for an intifada on campuses like York University, to us, to the Jewish and the pro-Israel community, which is really one and the same, you’re calling to murder and stab all of us.”

Both York University and the Toronto police are investigating the events of Nov. 20. Police spokesperson Victor Kwong said the Hate Crime Unit is aware of the investigation, but it is not a hate crime investigation, per se.

Yanni Dagonas, a spokesperson for York University, said that the school believes in freedom of expression, but recognizes that free speech is not without limits.

“Any acts of violence, harassment and intimidation are not tolerated on our campus. The president’s statement is clear that these acts are not consistent with the responsibilities we all share and will not be tolerated. York University has zero tolerance for hate,” he wrote in an email to The CJN, adding that the school will determine specific follow-up actions after the investigation is complete and is assisting the police in their investigation.

The YFS did not respond the The CJN’s request for comment.