PJ Media

York University Moves to Suppress Offensive Speech — But Only When Jews Are Speaking

York University in Toronto, which has gained for itself the dubious distinction of being Canada’s epicenter of campus anti-Semitism and anti-Israelism, is displaying once again the moral inversion that seems to have infected its student body and administration when the issues of the Middle East are discussed.

The issue at hand is a November 16th visit to the York campus by British MP George Galloway, as the invited guest of the York Federation of Students. In 2009, Mr. Galloway had been barred from entering Canada due to his public support of and donations to Hamas, a group designated as a Foreign Terrorist Organization (FTO) by the U.S. State Department, Canada, and the EU, but a court has since overturned that decision and given Galloway access to Canada once again.

Not everyone was thrilled with the prospect of having Galloway, who, according to wry commentator Christopher Hitchens is “100 percent consistent in support for thugs and criminals,” arriving on the York campus to spew forth his rabid fulminations against Zionism, Israel, and the West. In particular, Toronto-based Rabbi Ahron Hoch took it upon himself to post an announcement on his Aish web site in which he urged readers to proactively protest Galloway’s appearance, and to take specific steps to inform the greater community about the noxious speaker, including emailing York’s president, calling the dean’s office to lodge a formal complaint, and participating in a rally to be held on the York campus.

Feeling that the Galloway visit was one more contribution to the cesspool of anti-Semitic, pro-Palestinian activism that has punctuated the York campus for years now, Rabbi Hoch took York’s president, Mamdouh Shoukri, to task for  allowing Galloway  to speak “under the pretext of freedom of speech,” even though it “was never meant to be used as a vehicle to spread support for terror, murder and genocide.”

And more relevant to Rabbi Hoch was that York’s president had again failed to take a strong stand to rid his campus of anti-Israelism that frequently has morphed into anti-Semitism. “Mr. Shoukri has again showed his amazing tolerance for anti-Semitism and lack of vigilance regarding the feeling of safety for Jewish students on campus,” Hoch wrote.

Rabbi Hoch did receive a response from the university, but not the one he had probably hoped for. In fact, what he received was a formal letter from Harriet Lewis, York’s general counsel, who ordered the rabbi, in no uncertain terms, to remove the announcement “from [his] web site and to direct [his] supporters to cease and desist” any further distribution of the online poster. Why was the university demanding these steps? Because it believed that Hoch’s comment about President Shoukri was “untrue, harmful to [him] and his reputation, and to that of the university.” More ominously, the university considered the rabbi’s words “actionable,”( read: criminal), and expected “a retraction and apology forthwith.”

The letter also warned Hoch that his request for individuals to come to the York campus to protest Galloway’s appearance “might disturb and provoke others to disturb the peace” and “that this too is actionable and may constitute criminal behavior.” (Emphasis added.)

In a morally coherent world, university administrators might be better able to distinguish between behavior by terrorist-coddling ideologues  and the actions of those who wish to protect Jewish students from hatred, bias, and vilification as a result of their perceived support of Israel. But not at York, where, when someone stands up and asks why anti-Semitism and anti-Israelism have infected the York campus and have even recently widened into physical assaults and attacks on Jews, it is that individual who is condemned for saying what has not been said before: that the university’s failure to take a strong moral stand — when it sees obvious hatred and aggression towards Jewish students as part of an ostensible discussion about Israel — is a great moral lapse that no amount of talk about “academic free speech” and the supposed right of people like Galloway to speak on campus can remedy.

Before threatening to take legal action against Rabbi Hoch for his possible criminal behavior of criticizing the moral judgment of York’s president and urging others to protest Galloway’s appearance, the university might well assess the character and odious moral behavior of Galloway himself.

In October 2009, for instance, in an action that seemed to give credence to notion that there was, and remains, a sinister and dangerous side to anti-Israel activism on college campuses, the U.S. Justice Department initiated an investigation into possible illegal fundraising on behalf of Hamas participated in by UC Irvine’s Muslim Student Union (MSU). Based on a formal complaint by the Zionist Organization of America, the investigation would look into allegations that Galloway had raised funds for the Viva Palestina project.

Galloway, who has referred to murderous thugs of Hamas “as heroes [who]  are opening the eyes of the world to the siege in the Strip,” and who elevates the Palestinian cause as a sacred mission against the tyranny of Western imperialism, had attended a May 2009 event on the Irvine campus sponsored by the university’s MSU, “Israel: The Politics of Genocide,” and used the opportunity not only to condemn Israel for its many alleged transgressions, but also to raise money to assist its enemies in arming themselves to further their ambition of extirpating the Jewish state.  His real intention, and the spurious purpose of Viva Palestina’s fundraising, was on full display in 2009, when Galloway presented a satchel of cash to Hamas Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh. “This is not charity,” he said as he defiantly passed the money to Haniyeh at that meeting, “this is politics.” What is more, he contended, he was fully intent on “break[ing] the sanctions on the elected government of Palestine.”

Galloway’s type of rhetoric and ideology is not unknown by the York administration, where radicalized students had already revealed a rabid anti-Semitic leaning when, in February 2009, some 100 pro-Palestinian students initiated a near-riot. Police had to be called to usher Jewish students to safety after they had been barricaded inside the Hillel offices and were “isolated and threatened” by the physically and verbally aggressive demonstrators.

Parroting the morally incoherent and factually defective exhortations of Israel-haters elsewhere, the York mob, which consisted of members of both the York Federation of Students and Students Against Israeli Apartheid, demonstrated once again that what is positioned as “intellectual debate” on campuses about the Israeli/Palestinian issue has devolved into something that is not really a conversation at all. York’s supporters of the cult of Palestinianism apparently no longer felt even a bit uncomfortable voicing what is actually on their minds when the subject of Israel comes up: when the York Hillel students were trapped inside locked offices, surrounded by an increasingly violent and aggressive mob, the intellectual “debate” that day included such invidious and raw slurs as “die Jew ― get the hell off campus.”

That thuggery by pro-Palestinian Jew-haters had already become something of a tradition on the York campus. A year earlier, in April 2008, York’s Hillel had invited then-Knesset member Natan Sharansky to deliver an address. Not content with allowing anyone with a pro-Israel viewpoint to shares his or her views on campus, the Palestinian Students Association and Students Against Israeli [email protected] (SAIA) used the now common tactic of intellectual bullies on American and Canadian campuses: They jeered at and shouted down Sharansky, spoke loudly among themselves during his talk, and generally prevented anyone in the audience from listening to the content of the speech, but not before they had articulated their own vitriol with such comments as “get off our campus, you genocidal racist” and “you are bringing a second Holocaust upon yourselves.”

Even more disingenuous in York’s behavior toward Rabbi Hoch is their prior hypocrisy in suppressing pro-Israel events on campus at the same time they facilitated or were complicit in allowing hate-fests such as Israeli Apartheid Week (IAW) held in March 2010 at York.

In the month prior to Israeli Apartheid Week events,  a group called Imagine With Us had planned a series of lectures to counter the invidious content of the IAW activities. Imagine With Us, according to Michael Mostyn, national director of public affairs for B’nai Brith Canada, is a Jewish/Christian coalition that is a “multi-faith, multi-political movement that is concerned with maintaining Canadian values and keeping our campuses safe from hatred, discrimination and radical incitement, particularly from those subscribing to radical Islam,” a mission that would seemingly be eagerly embraced by a university administration. But York leaders would have none of it, evidently pressured by Muslim students who were not interested in an alternative discussion about Israel and the Palestinians. The administration immediately took the outrageous step of requiring Imagine With Us to “include a formidable police and campus security presence paid for by the organizers, a list of all attendees in advance, a minute-by-minute synopsis of all speakers talking points and a ban on public advertising of the event at York and on satellite campuses.” When the coalition could not, or chose not to, comply with the onerous regulations, York canceled the event.

But the reason given for the cancellation — that the event posed a potential risk necessitating costly additional security services — was specious at best, and revealed yet another danger for free expression on campuses as a result of accommodating the wishes of groups who wish to suppress the speech of others, the content of which they do not wish to hear or have heard. In fact, York admitted that the expensive mandated security detail was necessary, not because of the likelihood that participants in the Imagine With Us events would be unruly, but “due to the participation of individuals who they claim invite the animus of anti-Israel campus agitators”; in other words, the mere potential threat of violence from pro-Palestinians, as a result of hearing speech that they did not agree with and could not abide, meant that York officials thought it appropriate and acceptable to expunge it before it could even be heard in the university’s much-vaunted “marketplace of ideas.”

It apparently never occurred to the York administration that Jewish students and other supporters of Israel may also take offense during the repellent Israeli Apartheid Week, when libels, lies, and distortions about history and fact portray Israel as a racist and brutual rogue state among the community of nations, and Israel’s supporters, and Jewish students in particular are made to confront vilification, ridicule, and slander. It evidently does not bother the administration, either, when an intellectual charlatan like George Galloway comes to campus and proudly expresses his affinity for and admiration of terrorists whose sole purpose is the murder of Jews and the extirpation of the Jewish state.