York University, Toronto
York University, TorontoReuters

Friends of Simon Wiesenthal Center (FSWC) on Wednesday condemned blatantly anti-Semitic efforts being made by anti-Israel student groups at York University in Toronto to derail an event organized by Jewish students which will feature talks by IDF reservists.

“FSWC demands that the university administration step in to ensure that Jewish students can exercise their rights to free speech without fear of harassment and intimidation,” said FSWC.

Wednesday evening’s event at York University will feature IDF reservists who will speak to students about Israel and their experiences in the army. The reservists' visit to the university has sparked a “no killers on campus” campaign organized by anti-Israel student groups.

Flyers protesting the event now cover the walls of the campus, portraying a photoshopped image of an IDF soldier who appears to be strangling a child. Anti-Israel groups have vowed to disrupt the event and are circulating a number of chants students can use to derail the event, such as “From Toronto to Gaza, Globalize the Intifada!”

Students Against Israeli Apartheid at York University organized an event on Facebook urging people to show up on Wednesday evening and tell the university’s administration that “we will not tolerate war criminals on our campus.”

The event details claim that “The Israeli army is responsible for numerous human rights violations, the killing of Palestinians on a daily basis, and the continued ethnic cleansing of Palestinians.”

In a letter written to the York University President and the Vice-Provost Students, FSWC demanded that the university takes determined action to ensure Wednesday evening’s event goes forward without disruption and that the university take a firm stand against the anti-Semitic tropes being propagated by anti-Israel student groups on campus.

“Israeli soldiers serve a democratic state that is the most humane in its conduct and method than any state on earth,” wrote Avi Benlolo, President and CEO of FSWC.

“The allowance of this type of anti-Semitic behavior on campus has already made York University an inhospitable place for Jewish students, and it is time for the administration to stand up to the hatred,” he added.

On Tuesday, the IDF reservists sat at a table in York’s Vari Hall with sweatshirts that read “Defending Freedom From Hate,” inviting students to approach them with questions about Israel and its army. Some students approached the table with genuine curiosity and interest in hearing about Israel’s security challenges. “What is BDS?” asked one student. “Why is Israel fighting Gaza?” asked another. The soldiers engaged with student questions, armed with pamphlets, information and chocolates.

Other students approached the soldiers with insults and swear words. “Baby killer!” one student shouted at a soldier. The soldier offered him a chocolate and asked if he wanted to sit down and talk, but the student refused, noted FSWC.

The FSWC Director of the Campaign Against Antisemitism is working closely with the pro-Israel student club which brought the IDF reservists to campus. Earlier this fall, the York Federation of Students refused to ratify the club, despite the fact that it had already ratified an antisemitic student club that falsely accuses Israel of apartheid. After an unrelenting advocacy campaign launched by FSWC, the York Federation of Students relented and accepted the club.

York University has come under criticism in the past over anti-Israel activities on campus. In 2016, Jewish-Canadian businessman Paul Bronfman told the Toronto university to take down a poster promoting violence against Israel or lose his financial support.

In 2013, the York Federation of Students voted overwhelmingly in favor of a resolution to endorse the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) campaign against Israel.