Free speech. Debate. Equality. Respect.
As a university student, I often take these ideologies for granted. These have become norms in my personal and academic life, and I expect them to be upheld in my community, in my city and in my country.
However, in the first week of February, these principals were utterly disregarded at the University of Toronto with the Arab Students’ Collective “Israeli Apartheid Week.”
The week-long event overlapped with IsraelFest, an annual celebration of Israeli art and culture hosted by Hillel.
At a lecture one evening about Palestinian “political” prisoners, the opinions, comments, and questions of Jewish students, including myself, were disregarded, disrespected and not even debated.
In the first part of the lecture, we viewed a video entitled “Stolen Youth” featuring the stories of three Palestinian children who had allegedly been arrested by the Israeli army and who reportedly suffer from physical, sexual and psychological abuses. After the video, the first speaker made a presentation that was not so much a speech as a series of accusations. Of course, only one side of the issue was shown, leaving no room for debate or questions of fact.
The atmosphere of this lecture did not reflect the usual feel of a university classroom. Whenever an anti-Israel, anti-Zionism, or anti-American comment was made, cheers emanated from most of the audience.
Some Jewish students were confident enough to ask questions, but those questions were dodged, remained unanswered, or were turned around to insult Israel or Jewish campus groups in general, claiming that they were sources of hate and racism.
When one Jewish student asked for either speaker to denounce the killing of civilians and children, the answer was as follows: “Terrorism will end when apartheid ends.” This left the impression that the speaker does indeed fully endorse terrorism against Israel and other democracies, including the United States.
Underscoring the radical agenda of the one-sided event, that same week, fliers appeared across campus with the logo of the Al Aqsa Martyrs Brigade, the Fatah-affiliated terror group responsible for the murder of countless Israeli civilians.
My experience stood in stark contrast to the pledges of Ahmad Shokr of the Arab Students’ Collective, who stated Jan. 31 in the Toronto Sun:
The university has a policy of allowing free speech. We believe Israel practices institutionalized forms of discrimination based on racial background. . . . but people are free to come and challenge the arguments.
From the “lecture” and related events, I gained a new-found anger at my educational institution for allowing such a mockery of a debate and “free speech.”
By consenting to host this conference under the banner of “Apartheid,” the university itself is complicit in foreclosing debate and discussion. The point of “Israeli Apartheid Week” was not to educate, but to intimidate and indoctrinate.
In a memo released Jan. 19, David Farrar, the university’s vice-provost, stated: “Vigorous debate, especially concerning human rights and other global issues, provides an opportunity to seek solutions without violence. We must protect that opportunity, for the university and for the larger community.”
It is an admirable goal, but one in which the university dismally failed.
Guest contributor Lisa Anthony is a third-year University of Toronto student majoring in history and political science. A version of this article originally appeared in the Jewish Tribune.