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  • Writer's pictureAvi Abraham Benlolo

Campus anti-Israelism is dying

Avi Benlolo and Richard L. Cravatts: The momentum against Israel and the Jewish people is shifting

Publishing date: Dec 10, 2020

After spending 20 years in the trenches of campus warfare, we were delighted to hear that the University of Toronto has launched “an Anti-Semitism Working Group to examine and address anti-Semitism on campus.” Given the fact that U of T is the birthplace of the infamous Israeli Apartheid Week, it is about time that the university stepped up, as it says, to ensure it is “an inclusive and welcoming place for Jewish members of its community.”

Sadly, like many other universities, U of T has not been an inclusive and welcoming place for many years. Students, faculty and Jewish community members have been calling attention to anti-Semitism on campus since the very first anti-Israel meeting was held on a Sunday morning in January 2002. In order to enter the lecture hall on that fateful day, attendees were obligated to sign a declaration agreeing to “Palestinian resistance by any means.” To put this into context, “resistance” referred to the suicide attacks that were taking place in Tel Aviv and Jerusalem at the time, in a concerted attempt to murder Jews.

From there, radicalism spread to thousands of campuses around the world. Anti-Israel students and even faculty spread the biggest lie of this century: that Israel is an apartheid state that is treating Palestinians inhumanely; and like apartheid-era South Africa, Israel deserved to be criminalized, dismantled and destroyed.

Over time, that lie was so widely accepted on campus that openly calling for the genocide of the Jewish people became the rallying cry of the pro-Palestinian movement: “From the river to the sea, Palestine will be free” — effectively meaning the elimination of Israel.

Despite our calls for a task force to counter this incessant hate, for decades now, students have graduated with a mistaken view that Israel is singularly evil among nations. They have participated in slanderous campaigns and events designed to denigrate Israel. Some have been taught by professors that Jews are colonizers, despite the fact that they are indigenous to the land.

So what made the University of Toronto reverse course and state that its “aim is to see to it that the university not only responds when there are incidents or allegations of anti-Semitism, but is also proactive in creating a culture of inclusion within which various forms of discrimination, including anti-Semitism, are better understood and tackled through education”?

It is not that this week happens to be the 72nd anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. The answer is that the momentum against Israel and the Jewish people is shifting. Every generation of university students needs a cause to fight for. For a time, that cause was anti-Israelism and anti-Semitism. But they are starting to fall out of fashion.

This is because of two fundamental factors. First, the changing landscape in the Middle East is making Palestinian propaganda untenable. Secondly, and more fundamentally, is that the growing global acceptance of the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s (IHRA) definition of anti-Semitism is making it harder for university administrators to turn a blind eye to the hatred that has been brewing on their campuses.

The declaration specifically says that those who “claim that the existence of a State of Israel is a racist endeavour” are anti-Semitic.

In August, Florida State University was one of several universities in the United States to adopt the IHRA definition, which showed that university administrators have begun to see the wisdom of having guidelines by which to identify and, hopefully, eliminate hate from their campuses. While some anti-Israel professors and radical student groups have condemned the IHRA definition, claiming that it will chill their speech and punish their ideology, the truth is that it does nothing of the sort.

The definition does not criminalize speech. Campus Israel-haters and anti-Semites can still continue to defame the Jewish state and single it out for opprobrium, condemnation and slander. What it does do is help universities reject false claims that virulent anti-Israel activism is simply “criticism of Israel,” and instead call it what it is.

According to the IHRA definition, if the behaviour of individuals on campus involves “denying the Jewish people their right to self-determination, e.g., by claiming that the existence of a state of Israel is a racist endeavour,” “drawing comparisons of contemporary Israeli policy to that of the Nazis” or “holding Jews collectively responsible for actions of the State of Israel,” then those expressions are not mere political commentary, but are, in fact, anti-Semitic.

Of course, universities can still reject the IHRA definition on the excuse that it may suppress free speech. But they cannot disregard the rapid developments on the ground in the Middle East. The Abraham Accords have changed the playing field. They have burst the fake boycott, divestment and sanctions campaign against the Jewish state. Trade between Israel, Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates is already exploding, and this is completely and utterly invalidating the university campaigns against the Jews.

This is why we not only welcome the recent announcement by U of T, but believe it will set an example for Canadian universities and lead the way in eliminating this pernicious form of hatred from our campuses.

National Post Avi Benlolo is a human rights activist. Richard L. Cravatts is president emeritus of Scholars for Peace in the Middle East.

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