Flag vandalized during university BDS vote campaign

WINDSOR, Ont. — Police are continuing their investigation into vandalism at the University of Windsor that has been described as a hate crime.

The vandalism took place over the night of Feb. 26-27 – the eve of a controversial and successful campus boycott disinvestment and sanctions (BDS) vote – and the target was one of the student association’s vice presidents.

Jacob DeJong, the University of Windsor Students’ Alliance’s (UWSA) vice-president of academic affairs, showed up for work on Thursday morning only to find his office in disarray and a Support Our Troops flag pinned to the wall desecrated with spray paint spelling out “Zionist” and a drawing of the Star of David.

“My first response was to back out of the office without touching anything and call the campus police,” he said.

DeJong, a native of Windsor and a former military reservist, called the vandalism “a slap in the face to myself and any other members of the military.”

DeJong, who is not Jewish, thinks the flag might have been targeted because “not everyone is supportive of some of the events that happened in Afghanistan or Iraq or the intervention in the Middle East.”

But he may have also personally been a lightning rod. DeJong said he didn’t express an opinion either way during the campaign leading up to the BDS vote – which was endorsed by Windsor undergraduates 798 to 585 – but he did repeatedly criticize the legitimacy of the ballot question “because it was biased, it has some misleading statements, it was convoluted, [and] it was double- or triple-barrelled.”

Ironically DeJong said his “fear from the beginning” was for student safety. He pointed to a “backlash” around the time of a BDS vote in 2009 at York University in Toronto.

“We have a decent amount of students who are both Jewish and Palestinian, [and] I wanted to see if we could handle this in a way without students feeling intimidated or scared on campus,” he said.

Windsor police spokesperson Matt D’Asti said the complaint to police “came in as a hate crime [from campus police] and that’s the way we’re looking at it.

“We take it seriously whenever there’s derogatory type comments that are spray-painted like this… and we will investigate it thoroughly.”

UWSA president Rob Crawford said he couldn’t remember a similar incident on the normally tranquil campus.

“Definitely we’ve never experienced anything like this. I mean, this is definitely an act that we would condemn strongly,” he said.

Crawford said DeJong was a “well-known person on campus” and has “been trying to make sure that [the BDS campaign and vote was] run as fairly as possible.”

Crawford was unsure what practical effect the vote would have on the student government. It would not apply to the university as a whole.

“I believe that would be left to interpretation whoever the executives are at that time and how far they want to push that [agenda],” he said.

The question was brought by the campus Palestinian Solidarity Group. Efforts by The CJN to reach the group were unsuccessful.

Josh Zelikovitz, vice-president of the campus Jewish Students Association, said the BDS vote created a “toxic environment” and an “unsafe environment for Jewish students.”

Zelikovitz said while no Jewish students have actually been targeted, he said “there’s some reason for trouble.” He said there has been “increasing rhetoric” through social media with comments such as “people describing supporters of Israel as scum, as child killers, using the kind of language that one might see in lead-up to violence.”

The association, which launched a website (www.nobdswindsor.com) during the campaign, was highly critical of the way the question got on the ballot.

“It was effectively rushed through in a way that would minimize debate, minimize dissent,” he said. The campaign period occurred mostly over reading week, [and] the undergraduate society violated its own rules and its own constitution in order to bring this referendum about.”

Crawford did not respond to a request for comment about the abuse of process charge.

Meanwhile, following the vote, university president Alan Wildeman said the school will launch an investigation into the process.

“The university will not tolerate any practices, by any member or group of its community, that target specific individuals or entities on the basis of ethnicity, nationality, religion, or any other personal characteristic,” he said.