October 24, 2002
By CAROLYN BLACKMAN and FRANCES KRAFT
TORONTO - Although anti-Semitism and anti-Israel sentiment on campus have become a serious concern for many Jewish students and campus professionals in the past year, it would be "audacious" to say Jewish students are "swamped" by it, says a leading campus professional.
While the problem is more serious at certain universities such as Concordia in Montreal, it's not everywhere, said Michael Jankelowitz, director of campus Israel affairs at Hillel: The Foundation for Jewish Campus Life in Washington, D.C.
"When we exaggerate, we do ourselves damage," Jankelowitz said, adding that to say we are suffering anti-Semitism would be to belittle what happened during the Holocaust.
Jankelowitz, who is on shlichut as a representative of the Jewish Agency for Israel, was the keynote speaker at a town hall meeting sponsored by The Canadian Jewish News on May 7 at the Barbara Frum Library. The meeting was the fifth in a series of town hall meetings and round table discussions instituted by the paper in 1998.
Zac Kaye, executive director of Jewish Campus Services of Greater Toronto (JCS), and university students Daniel Held and Adam Cutler also spoke. CJN editor Mordechai Ben-Dat moderated the program.
Unfortunately the current intifadah in Israel is far from over, said Jankelowitz. "I believe we've got to be proactiveŠ There are many positive things that Jewish students can doŠ What I have tried is to tell the Jewish students to get on with the job, to educate themselves not to be intimidated, to bring in lecturers to speak on behalf of Israel."
But Jewish students are "bombarded by [anti-Israel] propaganda" and didn't live through much of Israel's history, he noted. "For them, 1973 is what the 1956 Sinai Campaign is for me. [Jankelowitz was born in 1952.] Their first memories are of the signing on the White House lawn. Today that dream is shattered. Oslo didn't bring us peace. It brought a piece of paper, where the other side unfortunately didn't fulfil its commitment."
Jankelowitz recalled his parents' concern in 1967, when he was growing up in South Africa, that Israel was going to be annihilated during the Six-Day War. "How many of our students today understand what happened in 1967, and that there was a miracle? This wasn't a war that Israel went about willingly. We've got to see that history doesn't get rewritten. We've got to make sure our students understand what happened."
If students do not know the history of modern Zionism, he said, they will "be beaten on campus when the Palestinian student says 'You are the occupier.'"
In 95 per cent of North American campuses, Jewish students are organized, but if the Jewish community doesn't support Jewish students, they are liable to be intimidated, Jankelowitz said.
Until recently, students on university campuses had been lulled into a false sense of security, said Kaye.
"The message until now had always been peace, reaching out to other groups and building relationships. Now we're playing catch-up."
Last summer, he said, his office prepared for "what we did not know would happen on campuses. We were not sure what the fall would bring - what the Arab, the Muslim, and the growing, very disconcerting Jewish opposition to Israel would be on campuses."
Sept. 11, however, created a strange lull, said Kaye, and JCS became concerned with preparing themselves for anti-Israel activity. "The most important thing was to be pro-active, not reactive."
They hired Stuart Lapowich as Israel affairs co-ordinator in order to create a pro-Israel agenda on campuses across the city, and to monitor anti-Israel activity on campuses.
As well, a number of students created Counterpoint, a pro-Israel newspaper funded by UJA Federation of Greater Toronto, and held their own pro-Israel demonstrations, he said.
One reason anti-Israel activity has increased on campuses, Kaye said, is because today's students are "what I refer to as children of the intifadah. The images they remember and are familiar with are of the first and second intifadah, of mighty Israel with armed soldiers and of the poor Palestinians.
"These are the images our students see on television every day, and they do not have the wherewithal to understand what is going on. They internalize a message that is not pro-Israel - a message that is not strong and positive," he said.
The anti-Israel message is spreading, he said, and "by and large, we do not have students to confront it."
At York University, where Held is a student, there have been problems with campus newspapers, particularly the Atkinsonian (Atkinson College's newspaper), which has had many blatant anti-Israel articles, Held said.
Also of concern at York are "almost illegal" rallies held in a central area, he added, explaining that the nominally anti-globalization and left-wing events have turned into anti-Israel rallies.
Cutler noted in his address that, in the campus community, anti-globalization activists, such as those at York, are not viewed as extreme.
"We tend to play what we consider a fair game," said Held. "We hold rallies and information sessions according to the rules of the university. That doesn't always happen on the other side."
A third, more recent, problem is that Jewish students' posters have been damaged and defaced with swastikas at York.
'Jewish students who know what's going onŠ feel intimated walking around with a kippah or Magen David. It's a real concern."
To deal with these issues, said Held, Jewish students need to be educated about Israeli affairs, Jewish values and Jewish pride. Some programs created for that purpose have been lunch-and-learn sessions and special events such as an Israel advocacy retreat, a concert of Jewish music and the annual arts festival held under the auspices of JCS.
At the Town Hall meeting are Michael Jankelowitz, director of campus Israel affairs at Hillel: The Foundation for Jewish Campus Life in Washington, D.C. (left) and Zac Kaye, executive director of Jewish Campus Services of Greater Toronto (JCS)
The education should address not only the "matzav" itself (the Hebrew word for situation, commonly used in Israel to describe the current state of affairs there), but also the culture and all the beautiful things about Israel, Held said.
"We need to start getting the other side of our story out. We need to feel comfortable in the campus environment."
Cutler's assessment of the environment at the University of Toronto, where he is a student, was more positive. "I'm glad to say that U of T, as far as I've experienced, has experienced very little anti-Semitism." This year, he said, has been pretty quiet.
More common in his experience is ignorance. A faculty member who might want to deduct marks for absences on Jewish holidays is one example.
Last fall, Cutler recalled, the U of T newspaper the Varsity ran an article linking Israel with the events of Sept. 11. It did, however, print a response and since then, almost every issue has had pro-Israel letters from Jewish students, he said. "The Varsity has been acting very respectfully."
Both Cutler and Held took part in a World Union of Jewish Students conference in Jerusalem this past winter, along with 25 other students from the Toronto area, who learned about being proactive regarding Israel.
"One problem," said Cutler, "is how to be pro-Israel without being pro-Sharon or pro-Netanyahu or pro-Barak, because not everyone is right-wing or left-wing. Most people don't care at all. We have this slogan put together by Hillel, 'Wherever we stand, we stand with Israel.'"
Another challenge, he said, was how to incorporate people who are against the occupation but pro-Zionist.
Some methods that have been tried at U of T are handing out fliers, and publishing and distributing Counterpoint.
"It's only through events like advocacy retreats and sending kids to Israel that the Jews on campus are being empowered with the help to spread a pro-Israel message on campus. These things don't come for free. We need the continued support of the community to send these students to Israel and to bring speakers [here] from Israel."
Josh Shuval, immediate past president of the Jewish Students' Union at University of Western Ontario, said he was quite concerned about how to deal with professors who spread anti-Israel propaganda. "How do we deal with reputable academics?"
Kaye acknowledged that this is not a new problem. "These issues have to be brought to Jewish organizations who will raise the issue with the university.
"This is the most dangerous form of propaganda, and it has to be taken up with high level organizations. If not, the problem will not be solved. "
Jessica Waintman, outgoing president of the Waterloo/Laurier Jewish Students' Association, expressed concern that with only 400 Jews across the two campuses, they feel forgotten and alone.
"We have had problems on campus this year, but did not know what to do without resources. I urge you not to forget about us; we need support and encouragement."
A student from McMaster University acknowledged that students may not show outward support for Israel because they are afraid of the reaction of Arab students.
The four speakers all agreed that if the students are willing to stand up, the response, although painful at first, will eventually settle down.
"On a campus such as McMaster there should be many groups that support Israel's cause," Kaye said. "It is a matter of building alliances and making connections.
"Once you take the jump, you may be surprised at who will support you. The only way to defeat them is not to be intimidated by them."
Asked if he is involved in preparing high school students for what they might encounter at university, Kaye said that JCS ran a three-part program for Grade 12 students at CHAT, and that this program may become a prototype for what they could do on a regular basis at CHAT and at other high schools.
"We are very conscious of our responsibility in this area," he said.
It is essential, said Kaye, that Jewish students learn about their history. "I am a big believer in weekend retreats. They give students an opportunity to focus on issues differently than they do on campus."
There is a lot of propanda on our campuses, he said. "Students must learn how to deal with it."
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