Update on Antisemitic Protest at York University

November 20, 2019

Statement

Friends of Simon Wiesenthal Center (FSWC) condemns the antisemitic anti-Israel protest that at moments turned violent at York University tonight. The protest was organized outside an event in Vari Hall featuring five IDF reservists who came to York to speak to students about Israel and their experiences in the IDF.

A mob of anti-Israel protesters, some wearing kafiyas over their faces, waved Palestinian flags and chanted “intifada!” as they attempted to block the entrance of the event hall. Several dozen uniformed police officers and dozens more campus security officials were required to push the protesters away from the entry way of the lecture hall so that students could enter the event, scrambling to separate the protesters from event-goers as violent scuffles broke out one after another.

Once the reservists began speaking, the police barred the doors of the lecture hall on both sides so that the approximately 100 students who were able to enter the hall could not leave, nor could additional students enter. Protesters stayed outside the lecture hall doors for the duration of the event, continuing to chant "intifada!", blaring sirens which made it almost impossible to hear inside the hall, and banging on the hall doors.

When the soldiers had finished speaking, police were required to escort students out of the building one small group at a time to protect them from the protesters.

One of the IDF reservists, who has given similar lectures at more than 50 North American universities and is used to seeing protests outside of his talks, commented that the anti-Israel protests at York tonight were the “scariest” he had ever seen.

Yesterday, the IDF reservists sat at a table in York’s Vari Hall with sweatshirts that read “Defending Freedom From Hate,” inviting students to approach them with questions about Israel and its army. Some students approached the table with genuine curiosity and interest in hearing about Israel’s security challenges. “What is BDS?” asked one student. “Why is Israel fighting Gaza?” asked another. The soldiers engaged with student questions, armed with pamphlets, information and chocolates. Other students approached the soldiers with insults and swear words. “Baby killer!” one student shouted at a soldier. The soldier offered him a chocolate and asked if he wanted to sit down and talk, but the student refused.

The FSWC Director of the Campaign Against Antisemitism is working closely with the pro-Israel student club which brought the IDF reservists to campus. Earlier this fall, the York Federation of Students refused to ratify the club, despite the fact that it had already ratified an antisemitic student club that falsely accuses Israel of apartheid. After an unrelenting advocacy campaign launched by FSWC, the York Federation of Students relented and accepted the club.

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