Following last month’s attacks against anti-racist activists at Canada’s York University, students are demanding that two extremist groups be banned from campus: the Jewish Defense League of Canada, and Herut, a Canadian affiliate of a far-right Israeli party.
This comes after the Toronto university bowed to pressure from right-wing politicians and Israel lobby groups and suspended the privileges of both Herut and campus group Students Against Israeli Apartheid (SAIA).
SAIA members were attacked as they protested a 20 November event which brought Israeli soldiers to their campus. They were then smeared as anti-Semites by Herut and JDL Canada.
Instead of taking action against the anti-Palestinian groups and protecting its students against such attacks, York’s administration proposed a mediation process between Herut and SAIA.
The university’s president, Rhonda Lenton, announced on Wednesday that an “independent review” of the incident will begin next month.
But the investigation will not be as impartial as the university contends.
According to its terms of reference, the investigation will not be allowed to “assign fault to groups or individuals.”
This effectively shields Herut and the JDL from accountability, because much evidence points to their members being responsible for abuse and violence.
In a recent statement, Michael Levitt, chair of the Canada-Israel Interparliamentary Group, boasted that he met with Lenton on Monday.
Levitt, a lawmaker from Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s ruling Liberal Party, repeated baseless accusations of anti-Semitism against supporters of Palestinian rights, and called for Herut’s immediate reinstatement as a campus club.
Last month, Lenton denounced a resolution by the York Federation of Students which defended the right of students to mobilize against war, occupation and the far right, including representatives of Israel “or any other imperialist power.”
JDL enforced for Herut
On 20 November, Israeli military propaganda group Reservists on Duty held an event at York, hosted by Herut.
Students Against Israeli Apartheid said it decided to protest the event because, it alleges, the “Israeli military, using Herut as a vessel, has been seen actively recruiting on campuses across Canada which is, in fact, illegal.”
Yet when the students showed up to rally for Palestinian rights, they say they were met with violence and intimidation.
Jewish Defense League members assaulted student protesters and then fabricated claims of shocking anti-Semitism, despite offering no credible evidence.
Top Canadian politicians echoed these smears without any proof.
The Jerusalem Post fueled the accusations with an inflammatory claim that supporters of Palestinian rights chanted, “Intifada, Intifada, go back to the ovens” at Jews.
The newspaper was later forced to concede that it had no evidence for the grave accusation, despite there being dozens of videos from the event.
The newspaper had simply regurgitated an accusation made by a former member of an Israeli army death squad who is now part of Reservists on Duty.
Before the event and protest, the university administration wrote to Meir Weinstein, the head of JDL Canada, warning his associates not to employ “threats and intimidation.”
Weinstein had previously been banned from York University, according to an interview he gave in April.
But JDL members, including Weinstein, were allowed on campus on 20 November.
Attorney Dimitri Lascaris, who is representing members of SAIA, asserts that “thugs from the violent Jewish Defense League attended the event and acted as enforcers for Herut.”
York’s letter to Weinstein demonstrates that the university was aware that the Jewish Defense League was planning to attend the event, “and that the JDL posed a serious threat to the safety of SAIA activists,” Lascaris told The Electronic Intifada.
“In the recent past, members of the JDL have been charged with hate crimes and assault,” Lascaris said. “This, too, was very likely known to York University’s administration. Despite these facts, York allowed JDL members to attend the event.”
Even worse, he noted, “security guards stood idly by both before and after attacks on Palestinian solidarity activists.”
The lawyer contends that York University “is therefore liable for the harm done to those activists.”
Students Against Israeli Apartheid is reviewing its legal options, but in the meantime, Lascaris said the group will await the outcome of York’s investigation and the mediation.
Students are demanding that the university ensure their safety and hold the JDL and Herut responsible, including by banning them from campus.
Meanwhile, the suspension of SAIA “sends a terrible message,” according to Lascaris.
“It communicates to anti-racist activists that, when they oppose powerful and influential actors who engage in or promote severe human rights violations, the university’s administration will not only fail to protect them, but it will target them with punitive measures,” he said.
Moreover, the actions and statements of Levitt, Trudeau, Ontario Premier Doug Ford and other politicians “makes it abundantly clear that Israel and its advocates are held to an extraordinarily favorable standard in this country.”
“Those politicians have repeatedly hurled grave allegations against my clients without a scintilla of evidence to support their allegations,” Lascaris said.