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Scary Times for Jews on Campus By: Margaret Wente
Globe and Mail | Thursday, March 13, 2003


Last Wednesday, Miriam Levin left for school an hour early because she figured the peace protesters would make it hard to get to class. She was right. They blocked her car. "You're making me 20 minutes late," she said. "This isn't helping the people in Iraq."

"You and the IDF [the Israeli army], you're all oppressors," a kaffiyeh-wearing demonstrator told her before grudgingly letting her through. He knew she was Jewish because she had on her Star of David earrings.

Welcome to York University, where tolerance, diversity and free speech are not tolerated these days.

Last week, 200 peace protesters staged yet another demonstration on the campus. After blocking traffic, they trashed a table with a Canadian Alliance sign on it, where a couple of students were handing out leaflets documenting Saddam Hussein's human-rights abuses. One of them was Yaakov Roth, 18, who was roughed up in the melee. "What really bothers me is that, despite repeated warnings about security problems, the university chose not to do anything," says Mr. Roth, who is also Jewish.

York's student body is the fourth largest in Canada, so 200 protesters aren't really very many. The trouble is that their extremist views are officially and unofficially endorsed not only by the predictably radical students union, but also by the faculty association. (The faculty at York has long been dominated by old-hippie radicals, whose causes these days are peace and Palestine.) The extremists also enjoy the ardent support of the CUPE local, which represents contract teachers, teaching assistants and graduate students. All these groups use their (mandatory) members' dues and their infrastructure to amplify the voices they like and shut down the ones they don't.

The administration presumably makes an effort to be evenhanded. But with so much institutional support for the radicals, the dissenters feel, to put it mildly, disenfranchised. One Jewish faculty member says a number of her Jewish students are so intimidated, they've just shut up.

After her car was stopped, Ms. Levin, a 19-year-old religious studies student, decided to file a complaint with the dean's office. But when she and a friend got off the elevator, they were again trapped in the middle of the protesters, who were staging a sit-in outside the president's office. Someone called her a Nazi and a fascist. She took out a camera and started taking pictures; someone tried to grab it. Someone else began to kick her. They hollered for security, but no one showed up to help them. Finally, they called the cops. "It's frightening to be on campus," says Ms. Levin. "And we still have a month left in school."

In January, the university almost cancelled a speech by well-known Middle Eastern expert Daniel Pipes, after pro-Palestinian students and faculty accused him of racism. (In leftist politics, "racism" is now synonymous with sympathy toward Israel.) "No free speech for racists," they argued, as if Dr. Pipes were another Ernst Zundel. The university's Centre for International and Security Studies disinvited Dr. Pipes to a meeting with students because it was "uneasy" about him. The York University Faculty Association wrote a letter to its members accusing Dr. Pipes of being "committed to a racist agenda."

Unlike Concordia, where a spineless administration allowed violent demonstrators to shut down an appearance by former Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu, York let the show go on. It put the dangerous Dr. Pipes in a curtained-off section of a basketball court, where the audience was frisked beforehand. A hundred police officers, some on horseback, were summoned to keep the peace. Finally, to ensure that Dr. Pipes would not break the law, a detective from the Hate Crimes Unit was dispatched to explain the hate-speech statute to him.

Eventually, after furious objections from some Jewish faculty, the faculty association backed down. It admitted that it hadn't carefully read Dr. Pipes's material, and had been operating on hearsay. This does not mean his kind will get equal time. The CUPE local busies itself by helping to line up a full agenda of Israel-bashers, whose appearances on campus are routine. There is just one item on its Web site: a link to various radical protest groups.

Lots of people are overly sensitive to prejudice these days. But if the slurs aimed at Jews were aimed at women, Muslims, blacks or any other group, the so-called peace protesters would be the first to be outraged. One Jewish sociology professor at York found swastikas pasted on her door. And there are always fresh graffiti in the washrooms. Like the one last week that read: "Jews are a disease."

It's pretty chilly out at York these days. And the weather is the least of it. As for Ms. Levin, she just sounds weary. "I don't know. I'm just tired of going to school."

You may contact the author at: mwente@globeandmail.ca




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