I was in Israel over a month ago on Oct. 7. I was very lucky to be relatively safe in the basement of my hotel in Tel Aviv and to be able to run to the stairwell during rocket strikes on the city. Between these acute moments of fear, I was glued to the large screen TV along with other hotel guests, watching the worst massacre of the Jewish people since the Holocaust happen in one day in real time. I’ve experienced what it is like to live in Israel during war and intifada (“uprising” — a euphemism for periods of regular terror attacks) in the past, but none of those times could compare to this.
Seeing Hamas infiltrate the southern city of Sderot with trucks and machine guns, hearing the terrified whispers of kibbutz members on the outskirts of the Gaza Strip as they called the station for help; seeing images of hundreds of young people who were dancing at a rave minutes prior running for their lives; noticing the non-stop live-listings of rocket strikes as far away as Jerusalem will all be things I’ll never forget. But more than that, learning about the then-unknown number of hostages taken into Gaza by Hamas, including babies, children and Holocaust survivors, was unimaginable. It still is. On Oct. 7, Hamas terrorists murdered over 1,200 Israelis, injured thousands more, took about 240 innocent civilians hostage (the vast majority of whom are still there), and destroyed entire villages by burning and pillaging everything in their path. Many call this our second Holocaust.
Cut back to me, in Toronto, reading the joint Statement of Solidarity with Palestine penned by the York Federation of Students (YFS), York University Graduate Students’ Association (YUGSA) and the Glendon College Student Union (GCSU), in which they claim, among other things, that:
A) “Recently, in a strong act of resistance, the Palestinian people tore down and crossed the illegitimate border fence erected by the settler-colonial apartheid state of so-called Israel.”
B) “These events serve as a reminder that resistance against colonial violence is justified and necessary. This is ‘decolonization’ and ‘land-back’ actualized as we continue to see the Palestinian people stand firm in their resistance against their oppressors.”
Let it be known that I represent — what I hope is — the vast majority of rational, compassionate, and ethical people at York who believe this letter is one of the most revolting, unacceptable, abhorrent, and horrific things I have ever read in my entire life. One need not be Israeli to see the inhumanity in equating terrorism with resistance. One need not be a Middle East expert to understand the erroneous labelling of Israel as a settler-colonial apartheid state when, in reality, it is a progressive, diverse democracy — the ancestral homeland of the Jewish people who are indigenous to it. One need not be Jewish to feel the injustice in the victim-blaming everywhere.
And no; I’m not naive. I used to be a member of the YFS, YUGSA, and even CUPE 3903, the latter fully supporting and standing by the three student unions as they fight York, while manipulating their position with claims of bigotry against their racialized and international students. I have been part of York’s Keele campus for many years. I’ve seen it all and I’ve fought the good fight against their blatant anti-Israel bias time and again.
Union leaders don’t seem to comprehend that their words add to a hostile and intimidating environment for Jewish students on campus. It’s not enough that, for a decade, Jewish students have had to pass by the vile painting at the Student Centre of what appears to be a Palestinian about to throw a rock at a fictional bulldozer presumably driven by a Jewish Israeli (and yes, that is incitement of violence — nothing less). It’s not enough that many Jewish students are either personally affected or know someone who knows someone who is either injured, currently held hostage, or worse, due to the atrocities of Oct. 7. Now, thanks to this inexcusable statement by student unions, York’s Jewish community members well understand that they are completely alone on campus, that their suffering is being celebrated, and that they simply don’t belong.