FROM THE DESK OF AVI BENLOLO: On Codes of Conduct and Paper Tigers

November 4, 2016



Dear Friend,

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.


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