York University has been a centre of sometimes rowdy debate among students over Israel/Palestine for more than a decade. But now Paul Bronfman, a wealthy Jewish donor has threatened the university over a mural he claims is anti-Semitic. The move has provoked even more fierce debate. Read more.
A mural in the student centre at York University has suddenly gained national prominence.
Paul Bronfman ‘outraged’ over pro-Palestinian mural at York University, read an article in the Globe and Mail
Toronto film executive pulls support for York University film program over Israel mural, read another in the Toronto Star.
The offending mural shows a Palestinian man facing off against an Israeli bulldozer. He has some rocks in his hand, an obvious reference to Palestinians resisting further encroachment by Israel on Palestinian land.
Bronfman’s declarations have provoked a fierce debate on campus over freedom of speech and what constitutes anti-Semitism.
Avi Benlolo, President of the Friends of the Simon Wiesenthal Centre for Holocaust studies, was fierce in his attack on York University’s administration, comparing the mural to white supremacist propaganda. “This poster is more than a mere piece of art — it is propaganda, and a clear call to murder, “ he wrote.
The university’s position (at least so far) is that the mural, although it does represent a strong criticism of Israel, is not anti-Semitic. It has the support of many leading faculty members. As one Jewish faculty member said to me, “it’s not as if the Palestinian was throwing a stone at a little Jewish boy wearing a kippah”.
Some senior members of the University administration have also gone public. “As a proud member of York’s University community and the Jewish community (…) I passionately disagree with (Benlolo’s) position”, wrote Lorne Sossin, Dean of the Osgoode Hall Faculty of Law. “Benlolo says he believes in “free speech, but (…) arrogates to himself the right to determine what constitutes hate and intolerance for the rest of us.”
Whether the university stands firm, or decides to back off, the intervention of wealthy Jewish donors raises the curtain on the extent to which Canadian universities are vulnerable to political pressures from outside donors.
The flap at York University is a sign of things to come. Discussion and debate over Israel/Palestine is heating up all across North America. It seems unlikely that either the Simon Wiesenthal Centre or wealthy donors will be able to stop it.