How York University should respond to a Zionist donor’s blackmail

Ahmad Al Abid’s mural “Palestinian Roots” at the York University Student Centre in Toronto. (Source: YUSC)

Paul Bronfman, a Canadian film industry bigwig and nephew of late World Jewish Congress leader (and corporate bigwig) Edgar Bronfman, recently made headlines by throwing a temper-tantrum about a mural at York University in Toronto.

The mural at the York University Student Centre, by artist Ahmad Al Abid, shows a Palestinian, stone cupped behind his back, watching an Israeli bulldozer raze olive trees. If it befuddles you why something so innocuous could cause such consternation, then you are not alone.

Israel undeniably razes olive trees. It often uses bulldozers to enforce a brutal military occupation. It evinces no respect for Palestine’s natural environment. And stones have long been Palestinian symbols of defiance and resistance.

It’s clear that the imagery of defiance and resistance inspires Bronfman’s histrionics – and his decision to withdraw his donations to the university.

To apologists for Israeli settler colonialism, there’s nothing innocuous about the Palestinian will to survive ethnic cleansing.

Thus far, York University administrators have held firm, though their nervousness is apparent.

It is unclear how they will ultimately respond, but, given the long history of administrative capitulation to Zionist blackmail, it wouldn’t be wise to expect anything forceful.

This, however, is how they should respond:

Dear Mr. Bronfman:

We received your letter pledging to withdraw funds and assistance to our university if we don’t remove a mural you find unpleasant. We don’t appreciate being bullied and threatened. Nevertheless, as you have taken the time to express your thoughts, we feel it is only fair to provide a response.

Before we go any further: as to the matter of the mural that has so enraged you, it is a nonstarter. The painting will remain where it hangs. There is nothing remotely offensive, racist, or infuriating about it. If the mere existence of Palestinians is too difficult for you to handle, we humbly suggest deep introspection about the causes of your anxiety. It would certainly be more efficient than punishing over 12 million people who refuse to be silent.

That you appoint yourself a spokesperson for all Jews by proclaiming their universal offense is a severe disservice to the Jewish students and faculty on York’s campus who support global human rights, not to mention the worldwide Jewish community whose opinions are far too diverse to be understood, much less represented, by one person (especially a person who aggressively supports colonization).

Succumbing to your demand would demean our community and devalue the tenets of higher education. Our university doesn’t exist to cosset the violent imperatives of impertinent elites born into wealth. We aren’t willing to put your ethnocratic fetish above the well-being of our student body.

You should be deeply ashamed to hinder opportunities for all students at York University because you can’t abide criticism of Israel. Then again, collective punishment is a hallmark of the state you so adore. As usual, when a member of the ruling class intimidates public institutions, it is the least powerful who suffer the most.

We believe that in the final balance the withdrawal of your support will benefit students. What would they really learn about the production of art from somebody so keen on censorship? Propaganda may be lucrative, but it doesn’t create imaginative producers or smart consumers. Only a crude ideologue, for example, could fail to see the beauty in a simple depiction of tenacity and resilience.

You call the mural “pure hate.” No. Pure hate doesn’t in any way resemble a painting representing the survival and defiance of the Palestinian people.

Pure hate is the ethnic cleaning of over 500 villages, the use of chemical weapons on defenseless civilians, the separation of humans into distinct legal categories based on their religion, the wholesale slaughter of children, the firebombing of entire families, the denial of human rights to an occupied population, the theft of natural resources, the introduction of aggressive settlers into conquered territory, the training of trigger-happy US police forces, the defense of tyrants and dictators, the extermination of Indigenes in Central America, the best-buddy relationship with apartheid South Africa, the separation of farmers from their ancestral lands, the refusal to allow refugees to return home, the brutalization of African migrants and refugees, the incitement to genocide by legislators, the election of homicidal politicians, the unwillingness to view Palestinians as worthy of a fundamental desire to illustrate their humanity through the creative and cathartic power of self-expression.

And, lest we forget, pure hate includes the bulldozing of olive trees, the primary symbol of the region’s sustenance and history.

So, please, pull your support until such time that it becomes something other than a toxic influence on a space devoted to debate and learning. Based on our interactions with you, we suspect that your hysteria will increase in direct proportion to the reduction of your authority.

Palestine will one day be free. We recommend developing your emotional maturity so that you might cope more productively when that glorious moment arrives.




Has anyone from York considered making poster size and post card size card reproductions of the work and selling them, to make up for the short fall. I for one wouldn't mind buying a few.


I am sure our San Diego chapter of Jewish Voice for Peace would
be very much interested in supporting the Palestinian movement
in this way by using posters/postcards of the mural.


Nails it. Thanks for this. The first "corporate bigwig" Bronfman was basically a bootlegger. So he came by his membership in the criminal classes, er, honestly.


No one can fill another’s shoes, or give sound to another’s voice, especially not for moral and intellectual giants such as Edward Said. But in many ways, I feel that Steven Salaita begins to fill the enormous void that was created by Edward’s passing. He possesses that rare combination of compassion, humility, moral fortitude, outrage, defiance, and integrity together with deep intelligence, tremendous knowledge and hard biting truth, like Edward did. I try to read everything he writes, and I’m never disappointed.


I read that a Jewish student said that she felt uncomfortable while walking by the mural.
I imagine she would. It is an uncomfortable mural.
Many, many Jews are incredibly uncomfortable with what the state of Israel is doing (claimed to be) in their name.
From the Globe and Mail article on this subject, "Lorne Sossin, dean of York’s Osgoode Hall Law School, posted last fall on the school website a rebuttal to Mr. Benlolo. (of the S.Wiesenthal Center)
Noting that he was 'a proud member of York University’s community and the Jewish community,' Mr. Sossin criticized 'the idea that any group … should be able to unilaterally declare the views of others in our community as ‘hate’ and call on the university to censor them.' "


In their zeal to condemn Israel's crimes against the Palestinian people, many self-proclaimed "progressives" forget that the underlying issue in York University's quandry regarding the mural is its dependence on CHARITY from the rich for the sustaining and improvement of this academic institution. Charity's role leads naturally to privileged assertion of controversial, perhaps undemocratic opinions by donors in a system that denies adequate public funding of education. Progressives should attack the system of capitalist privilege, not fall into the trap created by class hierarchy's encouragement of ethnic and religious strife. The result may be stimulation of the anti-Semitic feelings and beliefs common to Christian culture, and the consequent vulgarization of support for Palestinian national aspirations.


Mexican painter Diego Rivera came under similar pressure in 1933 when his commissioned mural for Rockefeller Center was rejected by none other than future US Vice President Nelson Rockefeller due to its overt championing of Marxist principles. The project was terminated amidst heated public debate and the mural itself demolished as an affront to all right-thinking stooges. Here's an account of the episode, which may prove interesting and relevant to the matter at hand:


May I suggest that you send this letter directly to Mr Bronfman, and to every major news journal in Canada. It needs to be read and a reply invited.

However, you might consider removing parts of the paragraph explaining pure hate, which need too much explanation to understand & might sound like ranting or ad hominem or anti-Semitic attacks (which they are not).