Wednesday, November 24, 2004

Don't ignore intolerance

First published in Excalibur, November 24, 2004.

One year ago, I used this editorial space to entreat my peers at the University with a message of “less talk, more action”.

While appreciating and exercising the freedom of speech that allows me to write that message in 15,000+ hard copies, I am saddened to say that one year later, I have discovered that we have free speech in spades at this school – but we’re sorely lacking the ability to protect those who choose to speak freely yet depart from the party line.

On Thursday, a University professor handed out literature targeting a large number of influential York Foundation board members, stating – effectively – that it was problematic for so many members of York’s fundraising foundation to have a political position that is different than his.

While the direct practical impact of such an activity is minimal, professor David Noble’s actions indirectly help cultivate a culture of fear, which, to York’s detriment, resurfaces every time an event like this occurs.

While most Jewish students at this campus are aware of the benefits of being Jewish at such an open and pluralistic university such as York, the direct focus on whether or not York is too influenced by people with a “pro-Israel orientation” is a personal affront not just to the 14 individuals mentioned, but to all of us who are proud to be pro-Israel.

It is now my third year on York’s Keele campus, and I have become accustomed to having my views challenged and debated. I’ve often been happy to rise to such a challenge and engage in such debates. But vitriol of the sort that reared its ugly head on Thursday defies definition as constructive.

When it is suggested that the pro-Israel lobby is the tail wagging the dog, I just can’t help but feel personally attacked. Will my presence as news editor at Excalibur be used to allege that the pro-Israel lobby is taking over here? On more than one occasion, it has been made clear to me by groups and individuals that I am considered infinitely less able to be news editor than my two Portuguese Catholic predecessors, who taught me most of what I know about good journalism.

As a Jewish Zionist, I occasionally feel that I am only tolerated as long as I don’t advertise who I am or what I believe.

This fact is outrageous. For a sincere, hard-working, capable individual who does good work on behalf of the university (such as the members of our foundation do) to be told that they are extraneous simply because they are pro-Israel is discrimination, plain and simple.

York’s president Lorna Marsden as well as York’s Hillel and Solidarity for Palestinian Human Rights groups should be commended for immediately acting to distance themselves from Thursday’s events and condemning these statements.

Discourse, not discrimination, is the foundation of the university.

Five presidential regulations exist to regulate the activity of students and protect them from acts of discrimination by other students. Where are the regulations governing the conduct of professors and staff of the University?

I commend president Marsden for the show of support she has displayed, because on more than one occasion in the past, high-ranking University officials have willingly and knowingly turned a blind eye to professors who use their status in the classroom to target those students whose political views are different from theirs.

President Marsden must act to show that her moving words of support are not empty platitudes, but stem from the true desire of the University to protect their students from verbal attacks and targeting based on their beliefs.


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