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Canadian Campus Crisis

Canadian Campus Crisis

Aish HaTorah rabbi won't be silenced by York University.


Rabbi Aaron Hoch's story of York University’s threat to sue him for speaking out against a university administration that allowed an infamous anti-Israel terrorist-supporter to speak on campus last week is by now well-circulated. [See National Post, CFRB 1010, and Pajamas Media.]

One thing is certain – Rabbi Aaron Hoch is not a man to keep his mouth shut, especially when what hangs in the balance is the “free speech” of a known anti-Semite on a Canadian university campus.

When Rabbi Hoch, of Aish Toronto’s Dan Family Village Shul heard that former British MP and Hezbollah and Hamas-supporter George Galloway, who was banned from Canada in 2009 for financing Hamas, was due to launch his Canadian speaking tour at York University, he wrote a letter to his 700-member email list, urging community members to take action – namely, to write to the office of the President and Vice-Chancellor at York, call the Dean's office to make an official complaint, and rally against the event.

“One of my main objectives with my community is for them to be active and leaders and stand up to things, whether it is an assimilation issue or a physical threat to the Jewish people,” said Rabbi Hoch in a phone interview on Friday afternoon.

Related Article: Anti-Semitism in 3D

His email, which spread virally, attracted the attention of York’s administration, which sent a letter to Rabbi Hoch, threatening him with a lawsuit for his defamatory characterization of the university in general and York University President Mamdouh Shoukri in particular, about whom Rabbi Hoch wrote “has again showed his amazing tolerance for anti-Semitism and lack of vigilance regarding the feeling of safety for Jewish students on campus.”

The letter was signed by the university’s General Counsel, Harriet Lewis. “This statement is untrue, is harmful to President Shoukri and his reputation, and to that of the university. We consider it actionable. We expect a retraction and apology forthwith,” she wrote.

Rather than respond to the rabbi’s concerns about inviting a Hamas-supporter to speak on campus, the letter took issue with his attempt to elicit a public protest against Galloway’s appearance. Wrote Lewis, Rabbi Hoch’s encouragement of non-students to participate in the protest “… is actionable and may constitute criminal activity.”

“My intention was to support the students to peacefully protest because often these students feel they have been abandoned by older adults,” said Rabbi Hoch, pointing out that it was just last year pro-Palestinian students at York swarmed a group of Jewish students who ended up barricaded in the school’s Hillel lounge.

"I felt it was an attempt to bully me into silence.”

“I found it ironic that York University is providing a forum for Mr. Galloway to advance his agenda, while threatening me with legal action for asking my congregants to peacefully protest this outrage. Something is very wrong with this picture!” he wrote back in a letter that he added to Lewis’s and re-sent to his email list. “By providing a forum for Mr. Galloway, I can only logically conclude that, under the leadership of Mr. Shoukri, York has chosen to show a tolerance for anti-Semitism.”

“The university reacted in a heavy-handed way. I felt it was an attempt to bully me into silence.”

Meanwhile, Galloway’s speech, the first on his 10-city speaking tour across Canada, went ahead on Tuesday, as planned. As did the peaceful protest that Rabbi Hoch inspired, attended by some 700 people, most of them students.

But the speech and the protest against it are not, as Rabbi Hoch says, the major issue at hand, but instead that Galloway’s appearance was condoned by the school’s administration and that he was invited to speak by the school’s student federation, headed by one Krisna Saravanamuttu, a key participant in the pro-Palestinian swarming of Jewish students in 2009.

“The main issue isn’t George Galloway per se, but that the main student union at York is being led by people who are sympathetic to Galloway’s views, and the university is doing nothing about it,” says Rabbi Hoch.

It’s not just a problem of York University, but an issue on campuses across North America and the West. “There is a very serious issue of Hamas sympathizers infiltrating campuses and university administrations that tolerate it,” says the rabbi. “It’s another way of delegitimizing Israel, creating fertile ground for anti-Semitism, and it’s also an insidious way of going to war against western values. It’s very dangerous, and not just to Jews.”

“The most dangerous time comes when anti-Semitic ideas are accepted by the intelligentsia."

This crisis on college campuses should not be underestimated. “The most dangerous time comes when anti-Semitic ideas are accepted by the intelligentsia. There is nothing more dangerous than the indoctrination of students on campus; the intellectualization of Hamas principles by professors,” he says, noting that this was precisely the precursor to the Holocaust. “There is no room for this in the lexicon of rigorous debate and academic expression and if there is, it tells us how normalized anti-Semitism has become.”

Unfortunately, Galloway’s appearance at York University is just one example of the normalization of anti-Semitism on Canadian campuses. The University of Toronto recently accepted and posted a Master’s thesis called “The Victimhood of the Powerful: White Jews, Zionism, and the Racism of Hegemonic Holocaust Education”, as reported in Pajamas Media.

Meantime, the National Post recently reported on Islamist groups in Toronto that are seeking to create a ‘parallel society’ in Canada.

Rabbi Hoch hasn’t completely lost hope. “There are some beautiful things happening in Canada. Prime Minister Harper has become a leading moral light in the world. At the same time, there are some things to be concerned about in Canada, especially on Canadian campuses. We can’t stay asleep. We have to wake up to what’s going on,” he says. “We should use this story as a wake-up call to do what we can to stand up against threats to the Jewish people and the West.”

Let York University know you support Rabbi Hoch. Write to the Mamdouh Shoukri, office of the President and Vice-Chancellor, York University Research Tower, Room 1050, 74 York Blvd, ON, M3J 1P3 or email, or call the Dean's office: 416 736 5200. Please make sure your letter is written in a respectful and responsible manner.

November 20, 2010

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Visitor Comments: 19

(19) Melissa, November 13, 2014 5:06 PM

I have a comment about the forum for FREE Speech on Cdn Universites

Personally, i think Canada needs a law to be passed that speakers who have known to have materially supported radical violent groups are not considered to be safe to speak on Canadian campuses... at least for the time in which these radical groups are ravaging our world. When George Bush, shortly after leaving office, was booked on Canadian soil to give a talk, Amnesty Internat'l in Vancouver spoke out against this public talk and called for his arrest based on grounds of his participation in International terrorism while president of the USA. (I'm not a supporter of Amnesty's current bias on Israel) As Cdns & Americans, and others of the EU, we have to question under what terms we will allow Free Speech & to what end it really serves. When Free Speech advocates sit on the fence with such crowd pleaser statements such as "I'll protect your choice if you'll protect mine" (Gloria Steinham); then we must question what choice we are being asked to protect. Not a new issue, but a revisiting of the same old rhetoric on our 'right' to make the wrong choices as given for us in the Garden: Free Will/Choice to do Good, or to enable Evil.

(18) Laya, November 24, 2010 12:39 PM

email sent as requested in the article

Here is what I wrote: Mr. Shoukri; What a disappointment that your institution of higher education hosted the likes of George Galloway. Even more disappointing is the response to Rabbi Hoch with threats of legal action. He does have the right to exercise peaceful free speech. While your choices are disappointing, unfortunately, your actions are not shocking. It seems as if Canadian Universities are headed in the direction of allowing free speech only for those they agree with which more and more sides with an element that is against free speech. What remains true is that hate speech is just that no matter how you try to mask it in the intellectual garb of a university. Now you know for sure that the world is watching, and cares. Sincerely,

(17) Anonymous, November 23, 2010 7:47 PM

I am shocked but not surprised at the Antisemitic situation at York University. I used to attend York University over 10 years ago, when I lived in Toronto. York is full of frum Jewish students, so I still remember my disbelief at seing a "Boycott Israel" sticker on the doors of a main hall. At that time I only remotely knew about my Jewishness. Now as a Baal Teshuva, I feel anger and disappointment at such open Antisemitism on the largest Jewish campus in Toronto. I guess Antisemitism is being covered by a logo of a Free speech and Expression, so called Democracy. I left York after 4 months and went to study at the University of Toronto. There as well Muslim groups would set up their booths and have their "Freedom of Speech". After reading this article I realize that I am so priviledged to live in Israel, being openly observant and really free. It is well worth it in spite of many difficulties, loneliness and long adjustment period. I will stop complaining and start appreciating my situation. In the meantime I am davening for Moshiach to come and to stay healthy and well, so that all Jews will "gather in Jerushalaim" and would not feel any threat from anyone.

(16) TMay, November 23, 2010 3:05 AM

Please note

Please note that York University professors and administration and other universities across Canada are Leftist in Canada and anti-Israel. Please see my comment on Aish following the article entitled "With Israel, whatever the cost".

(15) Denise, November 23, 2010 2:33 AM

Unfortunately Cdn. Jews are still donating large sums to York U

Until my son started attending York four years ago I thought Cda. was the most tolerant country on the planet. When he finishes his degree our family plans to never give one additional cent to York U. I was shocked to read in their latest alumni magazine about Jews still donating large sums. I would die of shame to have a building on that campus named after me or my loved ones.

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