And so it begins.
With the fall academic year now well underway Universities Canada - an umbrella group representing 97 Canadian universities (almost every public university in the country) voted late last week to add "place of origin" to the list of prohibited discriminatory criteria in a school's code of conduct. This change was welcomed by Universities Canada president Paul Davidson, who remarked, "Our diverse membership has come together around a shared commitment to non-discrimination, which sends a signal to Canadians that higher education in this country will treat all students, faculty and staff fairly." Current members have until 2020 to comply with the new criterion, while new members will need to meet this requirement immediately.
Significantly, the vote is being hailed as a victory against the anti-Israel boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement by Jewish organizations. And yet, while I join them in welcoming this long-overdue move, I remain cautious about the potential effectiveness of the enhanced code of conduct; it certainly seems to me there is enough authority in individual university anti-discrimination codes to address this issue - if only university presidents and administrators had the willpower to do so.
It is important to understand that those pushing BDS propaganda are not in positions of influence or authority. In truth, BDS is a grassroots misinformation effort fueled by virulent antisemitism and supported by a growing mob which runs the spectrum from those who would annihilate the Jewish state to peace-loving human rights activists ignorant of history and context. It is a campaign fueled by hate and built on lies, and it is growing from the bottom up, with university students as its prime movers and shakers.
In my view, the major problem in halting this defamatory assault on the Jewish people has been the unwillingness of leaders to tackle the problem in a substantive, concrete manner, citing 'free speech' as the main reason for inaction. Now, it is possible this move by Universities Canada will give universities the permission and official sanction needed to finally arrest this discriminatory campaign, which several studies have shown leads to antisemitic attitudes and actions on campus. Perhaps there will be strength in numbers, and fear of being thrown out of the group for non-compliance.
Maybe York University will be moved to take down the mural promoting anti-Israel violence from the Student Center. I truly hope so. I hope Universities Canada will put some teeth into their code of conduct, and that there will be significant penalties for non compliance. I am tired of seeing Jewish students sacrificed on the altar of Free Speech.
However - all it takes is a quick glance at the Facebook page of the group Students against Israeli Apartheid to see their anti-Israel campaign on the very campuses affiliated with Universities Canada across the province, continues. The new policy may be in place, but without a will to enforce it, this enhanced code of conduct will remain a paper tiger.
I intend to hold the organization responsible for enforcement, and am not ready to sing 'Kumbaya' just yet.