Hillel Ontario’s chief advancement officer Jay Solomon is directly calling on universities to take additional steps to protect Jewish students

I’ve worked for the Jewish community for more than 16 years. And, without being hyperbolic, I am confident in saying that this has been the most challenging school year Jewish students have faced in decades. 

Since the fall semester began, Hillel Ontario has documented nearly 500 reports of antisemitic incidents across the nine universities we serve. Compared to the 55 comparable reports in the 2022-23 academic year, it represents a stunning increase in year-over-year Jew hatred.

The academic year might be winding down now for most students, but concerning incidents have continued to make news.

I have been deeply disturbed by the intimidating and violent demonstrations on several campuses across the U.S.

Meanwhile in Montreal, an anti-Israel encampment was set up at McGill University, mirroring protests south of the border. Liberal MP Anthony Housefather has called on the school and other authorities to dismantle the demonstration, out of concern for student safety.

Also, during the week of Passover, a 22-year-old media production student and former part-time employee at Toronto Metropolitan University launched a lawsuit seeking $1.3 million in damages. Nicole Szweras is alleging that she faced a hostile environment on campus from Oct. 7 onward.

While the intensity and frequency of these stories may be new, the phenomenon is anything but. 

For years now, Jewish students have been subjected to escalating examples of antisemitism, including the repeated and deliberate tearing down of the Israeli flag, hateful displays of swastikas etched onto desks and in washroom stalls, one-sided rhetoric pushed by professors and teaching assistants, discriminatory resolutions by student groups and unions, and the desecration of several mezuzot in dormitories. 

Hillel Ontario is the leading organization promoting Jewish campus life in the province, and an amplifier for Jewish student voices. This year we have engaged and mobilized more than 4,500 students on campus. These students come to Hillel to celebrate their Jewish identity, their religious and cultural practices, build community, and—more than ever before—advocate on behalf of themselves and their peers. 

This hatred has no place on campus, and we are proactively working with academic leadership across Ontario to ensure Jewish students remain safe in the weeks ahead.

In direct communications with post-secondary institutions on April 26, we asked them to take five concrete steps to safeguard our community:

  • Consistently enforce university rules, regulations, and codes of conduct. These rules exist for the safety and well-being of all students. A failure to enforce them simply leads to further license for students and outside actors to assert their control over campus.
  • Restrict outside agitators from accessing campus and fomenting violence and discrimination. It’s clear that many of the participants in unlawful protest activities are agitators from outside groups. To the extent it’s legally permissible, we encouraged universities to prevent them from co-opting campuses for their political ends, and implement security measures necessary to restrict their access to campus spaces.
  • Anticipate and plan for a variety of scenarios involving potential protests and disruptions, and establish a clear delegation of responsibility for campus security, law enforcement, and related university functions to respond to each scenario.
  • Prevent protests from targeting Jewish locations, student groups, and individuals. Take all necessary steps to protect Jewish facilities such as Hillel, and other locations where Jews congregate together as a community. 
  • Be proactive in getting ahead of these risks. 

In the period ahead, we know that our work will likely be harder—making it all the more important. As we have done all year, we will continue taking every step necessary to support and empower Jewish students to stand up for their rights, to proudly embrace their Jewish identity, and to lead the way in providing meaningful engagement opportunities for our community’s next generation of leaders.

Jay Solomon is the Chief Advancement Officer for Hillel Ontario, the largest Hillel in the world.