Toronto University student union bans pro-Israel Kosher food providers

The union’s motions were roundly condemned by University of Toronto President Meric Gertler, who said in a statement Friday that they were “inconsistent” with the school’s core values.

By Dion J. Pierre, The Algemeiner

Canadian Jewish groups demanded “concrete action” from the University of Toronto administration after a student union resolution called for sourcing kosher food from providers that do not support Israel, while a second motion was stripped language proposed to protect Jewish students.

Passed at the Nov. 24 annual meeting of University of Toronto’s Scarborough Campus Student Union (SCSU), one measure reaffirmed a commitment to the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) campaign — and pledged to “refrain from engaging with organizations, services, or participating in events that further normalize Israeli apartheid.”

It continued: “Efforts should be made to source Kosher food from organizations that do not normalize Israeli apartheid, however recognizing the limited availability of this necessity then exemptions can be made if no alternatives are available.”

That language drew a broad outcry from Jewish students on campus and Canadian Jewish groups, as well University of Toronto administrators, who in a Friday statement said it was “deeply troubled” by the directive.

A second motion’s passage during the same session — “Re-Affirmation of the Rights of Jewish Students,” submitted by University of Toronto, Scarborough student Max Fine — drew further controversy after it was passed only after key passages had earlier been removed.

Among other edits, the amended motion struck a clause committing not to place restrictions on Jewish students affiliating with outside organizations that overstep University policy — citing SCSU’s “own policies, independent of U of T.”

It also changed a resolution to fund all recognized, qualifying student groups to remove the phrase, “without exceptions for particular political beliefs held by the student groups, the views expressed by participants or organizers of such events, or the political views of co-sponsors of the events.”

And a third passage — struck in its entirely — had resolved to “defend the principles of academic freedom” by ensuring that UTSC community members can attend events about Israel/Palestine, participate in research with Israelis, and travel to Israel with pr0-Israel groups.

Fine, an SCSU director who is active in Jewish student organizations on campus, charged that the edits had been made “behind closed doors” by an SCSU committee — and argued they “showed the executive’s intention to strike specific protections and freedoms that Jewish student groups enjoy.”

“I support peace, and human rights for the Palestinian people,” said Fine, who also sharply criticized the BDS resolution. “The motion blacklists organizations that fight for peace, but don’t share the SCSU executives preferred tactic (BDS). The idea that Canadian Jewish and Jewish student organizations like Hillel, UJA, or an American anti-racism advocacy group like Dimensions need to answer for the actions of a foreign power is asinine.”

Both union motions were roundly condemned by University of Toronto President Meric Gertler, who said in a statement Friday that they were “inconsistent” with the school’s core values.

“A requirement that providers of food as a religious accommodation be required to apply for an exemption, or even be asked about their views about issues elsewhere in the world is unacceptable,” Gertler said.

He also criticized the striking of language about academic freedom, saying that student organizations should not “restrict the speakers that they can invite, or organizations with which they can cooperate based on their connections to a particular country.”

“The motions are specifically focused on Israel in a way that is troubling to many members of the community. Such motions would be no more acceptable if focused on another country, or if a student organization in which members are enrolled by their registration were to take multiple stands on a wide variety of issues,” Gertler continued.

A satellite University of Toronto campus located in the city’s east, UTSC enrolls over 14,000 students.

The administration’s response was praised by Jewish groups on campus and nationally who had slammed the union’s resolutions as antisemitic.

“The University of Toronto’s President and Scarborough Principal were right to condemn this latest act of persecution against Jewish students at the Scarborough Campus,” commented Michael Mostyn, Chief Executive Officer of B’nai Brith Canada. “Actions speak louder than words. U of T must now comply with its Policy for Compulsory Non-Academic Incidental Fees and withhold funding from the SCSU until it rescinds this resolution and apologizes to Jewish students.”

The group argued further that because the SCSU controls club funding and other aspects of student life on campus, the motion “threatens to effectively shut down Jewish life.”

“The odious motion put forward by the Scarborough Campus Students’ Union is a brazen escalation of the long-standing problem of discrimination being faced by Jewish students and faculty members,” said Michael Levitt, President and CEO of Friends of Simon Wiesenthal Center. “We acknowledge the strong statements from President Gertler and Principal Tettey which are an important first step, but much more needs to be done to address the ongoing scourge of antisemitism on campus.”

University of Toronto Hillel had earlier called for “immediate steps to reverse this shameful resolution,” and later said it would work with the administration to ensuring a safe and inclusive campus environment.

Gertler said Friday that the University would be “following up” with the union to address its concerns.

The SCSU did not respond to an Algemeiner request for comment.

On Monday, third-year student Yardena Rosenblum — president of the campus group Jewish Student Life — told The Algemeiner that the measures continue what she sees as a pattern of discrimination in the SCSU body and university at large.

“They went through and changed the motion as much as possible so that it is not a reaffirmation of Jewish students rights but a performative action pretending to support us,” Rosenblum said. “But really, they changed the language of the motion to continue their discrimination and support of BDS.”

“With the Student Union, whenever we bring up complaints of discrimination or blatant antisemitic such as classic antisemitic tropes, they are dismissed,” she continued. “I’ve had people ask me where my horns are, which is a classic antisemitic trope, and the Student Union says, ‘Yes, we hear you, it’s happening.’ But there’s no change.”