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Oh, Canada

Why anti-Zionism festers in a country otherwise known for its friendliness

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Protesters and counterprotesters before Benjamin Netanyahu’s scheduled speech at Montreal’s Concordia University in 2002. (Marcos Townsend/AFP/Getty Images)
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Although the two-week period in March designated as Israeli Apartheid Week sputtered this year, attracting few participants, it highlighted a great Canadian anomaly. Twelve of the 40 communities the IAW website identified as host cities were in Canada. IAW was hatched in Toronto. Some of the worst anti-Israel violence in North America has occurred in the land of endless winters and polite pacifists. Last year, at York University in Toronto, hooligans chanting, “Die, Jew, get the hell off campus” menaced Jewish students, who barricaded themselves in the Hillel offices, terrified. This year, at the University of Western Ontario, three students who started a Facebook group called “UWO Students Against Israeli Apartheid Week” reported receiving death threats. Why are such virulent anti-Zionism and anti-Semitism festering in Canada despite its national niceness?

The violence contradicts the Canadian government’s dramatically pro-Israel turn in the last several years. Compared to America’s “love-fest,” Canada has always been more “reservedly respectful” of “both Israel and Jews,” says Ted Sokolsky, president of the UJA Federation of Greater Toronto. Former Prime Minister Jean Chrétien’s Liberal government from 1993 to 2003 treated Israel coldly. But since 2006, Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s Conservative government has been enthusiastically pro-Israel. Last spring, Canada led in boycotting the Durban Review Conference in Geneva, fearing a rehash of the 2001 anti-Zionist hate-fest.

Thanks especially to Irwin Cotler, a Liberal MP and former justice minister, support for Israel is what Canadians call “all party.” This year, the Liberal leader and human-rights activist Michael Ignatieff repudiated the false analogy that has become a central anti-Zionist tenet: that of equating the Israeli-Palestinian national conflict with the systematic racism of South Africa’s Afrikaner regime. “International law defines ‘apartheid’ as a crime against humanity,” Ignatieff has said. “Labeling Israel as an ‘apartheid’ state is a deliberate attempt to undermine the legitimacy of the Jewish state itself. Criticism of Israel is legitimate. Attempting to describe its very existence as a crime against humanity is not.”

Nevertheless, despite all this goodwill off-campus, and even considering Canadians’ cultural aversion to conflict, many Jewish college students in Canada report feeling “uncomfortable, unsafe, and targeted” on campuses, says Zach Newburgh, the Hillel Montreal president. Newburgh transferred from the University of Toronto to McGill partially because of Toronto’s aggressive anti-Israel environment, which peaks during anti-Israel week. Many Jewish students felt besieged, “no matter what stripe they were,” Newburgh recalls, “whether they were Orthodox, Reform, Conservative, or just Jewish, had been to Jewish summer camp or not, had been to Israel or not—it did not matter.” Newburgh received death threats, he says, because he criticized the IAW’s activities in online forums.

One of the most violent anti-Israel incidents ever in North America remains the September 9, 2002, riot at Concordia University in Montreal. Protesters blocked Benjamin Netanyahu, then on the global lecture circuit, from speaking, smashed windows, threw pennies at Jewish students to mock them as cheap, and shut down the school’s downtown campus. For years, Concordia was the center of Canadian anti-Zionism, a dubious mantle York University now wears.

Canadian anti-Zionism, like much student activism, benefits from the minority megaphone effect, in which small but shrill groups can command attention, especially on today’s quiescent campuses. Reut, the centrist Tel Aviv-based think tank, recently identified the anti-Zionists’ “hub” strategy: concentrating activist firepower in calm, carefully selected areas to allow a few marginal but persistent protesters to masquerade as members of a mass movement. Today’s campuses serve as excellent hubs.

Much anti-Israel activity on campus reflects a strategy with Soviet and Nazi roots, hatched in Durban, South Africa, days before the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. Both the U.N.’s World Conference Against Racism and the parallel, non-governmental organization meetings singled out one form of nationalism as racist—Jewish nationalism, meaning Zionism. The NGO Forum produced a declaration announcing “a policy of complete and total isolation of Israel as an Apartheid state.” This “Durban Strategy” targeted Israel as illegitimate because of its alleged racism, fueling the BDS movement, which seeks to isolate Israel through Boycotts, Divestments, and Sanctions.

“BDSers” selected London as a European hub and then targeted Toronto, making York University and University of Toronto anti-Israel hotspots. Off-campus, agitators advocated boycotting Israeli wine, a museum exhibition showcasing the Dead Sea Scrolls, and the Toronto Film Festival’s celebration of Tel Aviv’s centennial. Those efforts backfired.

Delegitimizers have targeted Toronto, like London, because a core group of activists already exists, and the anti-Zionists believe their campaign might flourish there. Many of the most strident anti-Zionists are Muslims. Canada’s Muslim population grew more than tenfold from 1981 to 1991 then doubled to nearly 600,000 by 2001, with a strong concentration in Toronto. “University of Toronto, where I spent my first year, had a far more oppressive anti-Israel atmosphere than McGill,” says Mookie Kideckel, the president of Hillel McGill, who in February mobilized hundreds of McGill students to defeat a resolution advocating boycotting Israel. Many observers believe that there are more Muslims at the University of Toronto than at McGill, and that the Muslims at the Toronto campus are more active.

The Canadian multicultural “salad bowl” facilitates ethnic bonding, for better and worse. Jews, Italians, Greeks, and Muslims often find it easier to maintain their traditions and distinct identities in Canada, without the pressures of America’s “melting pot.” In Canada, according to the UJA’s Sokolsky, ethnic divisions are more pronounced. “As a result,” he says, “these ethnic groups tend to be much more siloed” than in the United States. “Behavior we would think of as improper and undemocratic is much more readily accepted socially.”

The virulent anti-Zionism often leeching into anti-Semitism embedded in some Canadian Muslims’ identities receives more in-group encouragement and even government support here. Harper’s government has cut funding to the Canadian Arab Federation and the Canadian Islamic Congress for supporting Hamas and Hezbollah and demonizing Israel, which has triggered accusations of governmental racism.

As in the rest of the West, Canadian anti-Zionism feeds off an unlikely alliance between Islamist fundamentalists and cosmopolitan leftists. Canadian political culture is more European and New Left than American political culture. David Luchins, an American political science professor at Touro College who worked for the late Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan for two decades, calls Canada a “goo-goo nation,” using the traditional American term for progressive good-government advocates. In this case it means trying to be an upstanding member of the community of nations, which is admirable, but also a devotee of the United Nations, which risks being delusional.

Many Canadian elites still worship at the altar of the international human rights regime McGill Professor John Humphrey helped construct after World War II. An elaborate organizational infrastructure also intensifies and funds Canadian anti-Zionism as an expression of general solidarity with the left, including the CBC public broadcasting system, leading labor unions, some government-mandated student organizations, and certain Quebec nationalist organizations. Jean Ouellette, a retired professor at the Université de Montréal, notes that, like most Canadians, Quebecois see the conflict “in purely territorial terms and not as an existential divide between Jews and Arabs and between Islamism and the West.” Thus, if campuses are among the most Europeanized—and most anti-Israel—spaces in the United States, Canada is the most Europeanized and most anti-Israel space in North America.

Facing this aggressive offshoot of multicultural leftism dominating Canadian universities is an Anglicized administrative culture more primed to appease radicals than to ensure that embattled Jewish students feel safe in their campus homes. The leading Canadian universities are public; most leading American universities are private. Private institutions enjoy more latitude to curtail rambunctious student groups and are more donor-sensitive. At pricier private schools, it is rare for individuals to “take one class and stay as professional activists,” which was a “big problem at Concordia,” notes Dan Hadad, the marketing and communications director for the Canadian Council for Israel and Jewish Advocacy.

This year’s under-attended Israeli Apartheid Week activities revealed that despite all their advantages, the pro-Palestinian forces trying to delegitimize Israel with the apartheid slur have failed to mount a mass movement. Most students on the targeted campuses north and south of the border ignored the activities. The Middle East remains a marginal matter for most Canadians and Americans.

Pro-Israel forces have also pushed back. “Buycotts” have trumped “boycotts,” most notably in Toronto, where Israeli wine, the Dead Sea museum exhibit, and the Israeli films all sold out when targeted. This year, editorials and politicians in Canada denounced IAW vehemently while in the United States IAW was mostly ignored. On February 25, the Legislative Assembly of Ontario unanimously passed, by voice vote, a resolution condemning Israel Apartheid Week “as it serves to incite hatred against Israel, a democratic state that respects the rule of law and human rights, and the use of the word apartheid in this context diminishes the suffering of those who were victims of a true apartheid regime in South Africa.”

University administrators are also starting to lead. Last year, Carlton University—invoking Canadian human rights and equity laws that are less protective of free speech than American laws—banned an IAW poster caricaturing a menacing Israeli Army helicopter shooting at a Gaza child clutching his teddy bear. Others are objecting on the grounds, as a National Post editorial put it, that trying “to vilify a single country [is] an inherently bigoted exercise. Unlike, say, ‘anti-racism week’ or ‘diversity awareness week,’ IAW does not champion a concept—rather, it targets a particular group of people defined by religion and citizenship.”

What most compels administrators is the Concordia calculus. The anti-Netanyahu riot so damaged Concordia University’s reputation that engineering and business students united to unseat the radical, pro-Palestinian student leadership fomenting much of the trouble. Since last year, York University has also recognized the need to undertake massive reputational damage control.

Most Canadian Jewish activists interviewed noted these triumphs, as well as the flashpoints in the United States, especially at Berkeley and another University of California campus, Irvine. The IAW forces seem increasingly marginalized, administrators are responding, and individual students refuse to be cowed. Zach Newburgh not only transferred successfully to McGill University and became the president of Montreal Hillel, but he is also the incoming president of the McGill student society. These subtle but significant successes are often drowned out by louder, shriller protests. The challenge in Canada, as elsewhere, remains to fight the toxic anti-Israel atmosphere that poisons so much discourse about the Middle East without exaggerating the strengths of this megaphone minority.

Gil Troy, a professor of history at McGill University in Montreal and a fellow at the Shalom Hartman Institute in Jerusalem, is the author of six books on American history and Why I Am A Zionist: Israel, Jewish Identity and the Challenges of Today.

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Why Canada allows anti-semitic hate speech on campus? Simple, its anti-semitism. Its really not a difficult answer. (Oh yes, its also the lefties siding with the Islamo-fascists. Just look at the embarrassing letter sent to Anne Coulter. Whether you like her or not, somehow only those who have a rightist agenda are threatened with criminal law, never an anti-semitic hate promotor. How many were arrested during anti-Israel week?)It is deriguer on college campuses since the six day war to be anti-Israel, and with the import of arab oil money onto strategic college campuses the level of violence ratchets itself up. Just ask the head of JStreet. He orchestrated alot of the arab college campaign when he worked for his communications firm before suddenly becoming the savior of the Jewish people.

It is time that the Jewish community understands that they need a concerted effort on campuses across the continent. A recent report says that the anti-Israel activity on colleges has remained steady for the past 30 years since I was in college. That is nothing to be proud of. It is time the Jewish community took this problem more seriously. The status quo is abhorent. It is time the so-called leaders of the Jewish world took their collective heads out of their butts and saw what was going on and did something about it.

Hermam Rosen says:

The last time I was in Canada (Vancouver) I met someone at a laundromat and the conversation turned to the Israeli/Palestinian issue..this is
after finding out that I was Jewish.
He asked me “Why don’t you Jews give the Palestinians back their land”
The term “you Jews” clued me to who this guy was…a live anti semite.
His terminology was not overtly anti semitic but I knew who he was.

The trouble in Canada is the ever overproductive Muslim birth rate …their assertiveness; and their effect on a population willing to accept anti Jewish feelings.
I understand the same thing to a much greater extent is happening in England. Canadien and British Jews have to be more aggressive in pusuing a strategy that Jewish organizations here in the U.S. have……..OVERREACT
This is what was done when Obama snubbed Netanyahu after
“Apartmenthousegate” in Jerusalem. The Obamas made one think that Joe Biden was run over by an IDF tank….The Jewish Orgs like AIPAC and a number of congressman took action and had the Obamas retracting and fumferring.
Now the houses in Jerusalem will go on but a little later.
If Jews are in danger in Canada on College campuses ;they should start hiring private and covert Jewish bodyguards which is a somewhat hush hush practice here on some of the Muslim dominated campuses in America

richard j. brenner says:

Anti-semitism is a scourge and hateful, no doubt, but one can be the most tolerant and inclusive person and Jewish, to boot, and still think that the government of Israel is not really interested in a genuine peace process or in giving even Israeli-Arabs their full rights of citizenship.

Being anti-semitic is, or should be, intolerable to everyone; having a quarrel with how the Israeli government behaves should certainly be open to responsible criticism.

Richard J. Brenner

John Power says:

When will you ever learn.As long as Israel continues to kill innocent man women and CHILDREN in Palestine, rob their land, rob their houses and treat them worse than you would a dog, you are going to be hated all over the world. IT HAS NOTHING TO DO WIT ANTI-SEMITISM.

Ruth says:

My favorite line in this article is “Much anti-Israel activity on campus reflects a strategy with Soviet and Nazi roots” with no explanation. Solid thinking there! That’s an appropriate characterization to throw around lightly… Kudos to writer and editor.

Mr Lahey says:

Good point Johnny Powers….the peace loving Palestines are innocent, and the thousands of rockets finding random targets are not happening…

jack says:

Israel IS an apartheid state. It fits the UN definition of apartheid. By the way, as a USA resident, I am so SICK of my tax money going to Israel. For god’s sake, please, can somebody help make it stop!!!!!

Bert says:

It seems we all need a scapegoat. In that way we never have to be responsible for our irresponsible acts and words. As the product of the Second World War growing up in Holland I learned a great deal about anti-Semitism particularly through stories such as the Diary of Ann Frank. More recently I was introduced to James Carroll’s book Constantine’s Sword – The Church and the Jews. For those who need an education about anti-Semitism this unbiased bestseller may the answer. Written by a former Catholic priest it courageously details how institutional religion played a major role in spreading anti-Semitism in the world during the past two millennia.
The first victim of freedom is usually political censorship. The second victim is always a scapegoat.

Honest Broker says:

Canada unlike the US has always (until the election of an evangelical Christian as prime minister in its minority government) seen itself as an honest broker in the middle east, on the whole pro-Israel but not as a tenet like the US. Further the disruptions at Concordia , and York have a long list of errors on both sides. Not following a Jerusalem Post/ Likkud/Gil Troy view of the world does not make one ant-Zionist any more than not following the excesses of Sarah Palin makes one a socialist. York is a special case with a large Jewish population many of whom come from Jewish neighbourhood and Jewish schools where right wing propaganda is the norm. The Jewish Tribune is to the right of the Jewish Press. These students on the whole when they arrive at York are surprised the whole world doesn’t buy their line and hold demonstrations which inflame as much as the IAW people inflame. On the whole at other Universities IAW and Israel week pass without confrontation. Gil Troy’s assessment like much of what he writes is always a very clever diatribe against the left couched in the language of a reasonable centrist- Tablet readers can see through this I hope and look to other sources to counter his biased views.

I am sick of the blind zionist debate revolving and conflating the Ideas of Zionism and Judaism. These are not the same! How could you encompass milleniums of cultural richness into the 60 year old history of the modern nation-state of Israel, that has so far been rythm by ethnic conflict and wars!

Criticizing Israel does not make you anti-semitic! It is our role not to “deligitimize” the state of Israel, but to speak up when crimes are committed by a country that is receiving OUR tax money! I mean places like Iran or whatever don’t have the cleanest record on Human rights, but at least our Govs aren’t giving them full fledged support!

Also, check out this video where Gil Troy gets DESTROYED by Finkelstein:

Rachel says:

I’d like to thank Gil for writing this. As someone who attended school in Toronto, I think Gil touched on the truths that many people outside of Canada are unaware of. My experience in Toronto has been that those who are anti-Israel are simply that: they are pro-nothing and just cause incitement and excitement. They are uninterested in dialogue and find problems in everything, offering no solutions themselves. I feel that if you want to have a hand in the situation, you should at least have some realistic ideas to contribute.

After observing IAW and other anti-Israel efforts in Toronto for the past few years, I suggest that the people who are out of the streets in the names of the Palestinians (whom they very much claim to represent) are better off spending their campaign money on actually helping them and not on glossy posters that promote themselves and factual inaccuracies. (I was once informed that the entire West Bank is surrounded by a concrete wall, among other things.) I find that they don’t really seem to speak to anyone but themselves but just so loudly that other people can’t help but notice. The student body at the University of Toronto is notoriously apathetic; I’d suggest the general consensus is that most people feel alienated from the conflict than drawn toward the passion and rage demonstrated on campus.

On another note, I would like to point out that there is a journal in Toronto called Yalla that promotes expression of youth over all things related to the conflict. A step in the right direction.

I think much of the so-called “anti-Zionist” rhetoric is barely disguised Jew-hatred, but on the other hand I think people like Irwin Cotler are extreme. It is really upsetting how most cannot seem to discuss the issue as adults and as human beings. Say what you feel, without fear, but allow for a good corrective if you need it.

Bernie says:

Jack, sorry that you feel that US tax money going to Israel is wasted.
We and the west have gained much in dividends on that investment including reinvestment of these funds when Israel purchases military equipment and components from the US. And, oh yes, don’t forget who blew up the nuclear plants that were under construction in Iraq and Syria, it was Israel!
Go Israel!

A.L. Bell says:

I think that one problem is that, because of understandable post (and current) traumatic stress disorder and ordinary human folly, Shlomo Sixpack Israeli voters drive Israel to do things that feel great to Israelis but look cruel and idiotic to outsiders.

Example: why on earth did Israel announce that new construction plan while Joe Biden was visiting? Maybe building the houses is reasonable, but the timing of the announcement was idiotic. I don’t care whether Israel is a wonderful country where my cousins live, where I someday could live, where the Knesset runs the only real democracy in the Middle East, etc. etc. In terms of world public relations, Israel is an whiny, narcissistic public relations disaster.

Some of the smartest public relations people around are Jewish people who love Israel with all of their hearts. Why isn’t Israel taking those PR people’s advice?

But I think another reason for anti-Semitism and unreasonable anti-Israelism (whether, technically, anti-Semitic or not) in Europe and Canada is that those kinds of attitudes help Europeans project uneasiness about their own colonialism and Christian-Muslim culture clash problems onto a scapegoat.

Herzl et al. didn’t decide to get Jews into Israel in a vacuum. They thought the way they thought about Palestine because European countries, such as Russia and England, had been shuffling Jews around Europe for centuries. It was in a completely mainstream European tradition for Jews to be relocated to Palestine, or North Dakota. And, at the time modern Zionism emerged, it was a completely mainstream European idea for Europeans to move to Canada, the United States, Africa, the Middle East, etc. and live beside/displace the local people.

Belgium has its problems with the French speakers and the Flemish speakers, Spain has its problems with the Basque, etc. etc., and they all have roughly the same problems with the Muslim Turks and Moroccans living in their countries that Israel has with the Palestinians.

But it’s a lot easier for Europeans and Canadians to blow off steam by telling Jews to leave Israel than it is for them to think about the possibility of Spain letting the Basque region become independent, or about the possibility of European Canadians going back to Canada and leaving Canada to the native peoples. And it’s a lot easier for Europeans and Canadians to tell Israel to treat Palestinian Muslims better, even though some of those Palestinian Muslims happen to blow up buses, than it is for Europeans and Canadians to figure out how to respond to the burka-wearing — but, at this point, almost entirely peaceful — women in their jurisdictions.

Paula says:

You need only go to Ezra Levant’s website to find out what the problem is. The Canadian Jewish Congress still believes the threat to their safety in the lone “basement nazi” still living with his parents. They refuse to see the real threat which is the Muslims and the strong left-wing idiologues in this country who support them.

In Canada, the CJC is an arm of the Liberal Party and they are refusing to break the ties, despite the overwhelming evidence that the Liberals are no longer their friends… the Conservatives are.

danforth says:

Alot of people in Canada don’t like jews because all they care about is Israel. They need to start caring about the country u live in and not some country they think they’re from, cuz these European “Jews” aren’t acutally from israel at all.

It’s very interesting reading the responses to this piece by Gil. I recently published a piece on a similar topic, but from a different perspective, in the Canadian Jewish News, and this became the feature essay for that week and generated a lot of response. It is entitled, “Be Happy It’s Adar? Not Easy When Purim Coincides With Israel Apartheid Week,” and is written from an activist and politically progressive perspective. It also includes an excerpt from my (as yet unpublished) novel, Exile, which is about the anti-Israelism in the Canadian academe. You can read both pieces at
(Sometimes the title appears without the first four words, for some reason. It should begin with “Be Happy It’s Adar?”)

to Danforth: To say people in Canada don’t like Jews because all they care about is Israel is like saying people in Canada don’t like the Irish because all they care about is Ireland. Actually, Jews as a group contribute in very high numbers to each country within which they live, and do not have difficulty balancing their pride in being Canadian or American while still wanting to support the only democratic country in the Middle East, Israel.
to Tom: unfortunately Mr. Finkelstein’s reputation for being a rabid anti-Semite and anti-Zionist as well as his reputation for having no academic credibility is well-known. You might consider looking further into his background before quoting him as a source of anything but disinformation.

I would like to thank Gil Troy for this article. I found it clear and informative.

I notice that very few of those who support the “Israel as Apartheid” slogan have anything educated or insightful to add to the discussion. It is a shame because if they offered historical facts instead of the ideology of victimhood of the Palestinians and propaganda, others might actually be interested in trying to understand their perspective.

The difficulty in achieving peace in the middle east is that one country, Israel, is willing to recognize the right of the Palestinians to a state of their own, and the other country-to-be, “Palestine” is committed to the destruction of Israel. They have never yet acknowledged Israel’s right to exist as a Jewish State. When they are willing to accept Israel’s right to exist as a Jewish State, there will be peace.

I am not an intellectual by any stretch. Just wondering if the Palestinians would want the area if it was still desert, a wasteland and totally full of scorpions? The area has been tied to the Jews for as long as civilization itself. Why do the “Palestinians” need the whole area? Because they can! It’s my toy!!! Give it back or i’ll hold my breath (and blow up people and things!!@!@??!!) So there!

Bernie says:

Danforth, why the quotation marks around the word Jews?

Mookie says:

The simple reason as to why there is “anti-Israeli vibe” here in Canada and not the U.s is simple. In the U.S, the Jewish Lobby is more powerful and thus stifles debate. Here you can say it’s more democratic thus more opposition. And the idiot who wrote this article said that anti-Zionism stems from being Muslim here. Well guess what you retard, a lot of Jews, Israelis are all in support of Israeli Apartheid Week.

Robert Yufe says:

Mr. John Power:

You write untruths. Israel does not rob or kill innocent Palestinians. More Palestinians have been killed by Hamas/Fatah infighting than by Israel.

Palestinians have killed more innocent Israeli civilians through suicide bombings than vice versa. Israel left Gaza 5 years ago. Its’ citizens remain the targets of rockets which no other country would tolerate. Israeli settlements remain a legitimate issue to criticize but only through direct negotiation and a two State solution will this be resolved. The Palestinians to date refuse to sit at the same table as the Israelis. How can this lead to peace?

Anti-Zionism IS Anti-semitism in the words of the late Martin Luther King.

Siddique says:

Anti-Jewish speech and behavior should be condemned as should attacks and threats based on religion, race, national origin, or sexual orientation.
However criticism of Israel (including asking for the UN Security council to impose complete economic sanctions) is not prejudiced. One may disagree with the politics and policies, but such condemnation and criticism is normal in a democratic society.

Canada should not become like the US. America has zero legitimacy in the Palestinian-Israeli affair because Congress is viewed as being in the pocket of the pro-Israeli lobby (a mixture of Christians, Jewish-Americans, neo-cons,l secularists etc; AIPAC is only they most visible target).

I believe the US should end all economic and military assistance to Israel and Egypt until the Palestine issue is resolved. That may make me anti-Israeli, but it is not the same as being anti-Semitic.

Too often people who simply dislike the Government of Israel and want it to be isolated are labeled as anti-Semitic, anti-Jewish, etc.

Shalom and Salaam to all.


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