On November 18, 2019 The University of Toronto Graduate Students’ Union (UTGSU) that represents over 17,000 students studying in over 85 departments, issued the following statement:
Please see attached a statement and apology from the UTGSU Executive Committee concerning a response to an email from a Board of Directors Member regarding the Kosher Forward Campaign.
Dear UTGSU Members,
University of Toronto Graduate Students’ Union 16 Bancroft Avenue Toronto, ON., M5S 1C1 firstname.lastname@example.org
On November 11, 2019, the UTGSU’s External Commissioner received an email from a UTGSU Board of Directors Member which included a motion for the UTGSU to officially support the Kosher Forward Campaign. The email also requested that the UTGSU’s Executive Committee present the motion as an Executive Motion at the UTGSU’s upcoming General Council/Board-of-Directors meeting on November 26, 2019. The email response to this request sent on November 14, 2019, has unintentionally caused harm towards the Jewish community at U of T. Although the response was not on behalf of the UTGSU’s Executive Committee, the UTGSU Executive Committee is nonetheless deeply sorry for this harm.
In the response in question, the External Commissioner both offered support to the Kosher Forward Campaign through the UTGSU’s Equity and Advocacy Committee and gave the Board of Directors Member direction as to how they could submit their motion directly to the UTGSU’s General Council/Board-of-Directors as a Member of this body. Mistakenly, the External Commissioner also insinuated that the UTGSU Executive Committee might be reluctant to bring the motion forward to the UTGSU General Council/Board-of-Directors as a result of HiIlel being “pro-Israel”. The External Commissioner did not intend to do harm in using this language but recognizes that this is not an excuse for the harm that the wording of this response caused to the individual receiving it as well as to Jewish students at U of T. At this time, no UTGSU body has deliberated the request received from the Board of Directors Member, and, as such, no actual decisions have been made as to whether the UTGSU Executive Committee will be bringing forward the proposed motion as an Executive Motion at the UTGSU’s next General Council/Board-of-Directors meeting. To date, the External Commissioner has offered to bring the request forward to the UTGSU’s Equity and Advocacy Committee as a means for having the UTGSU support the Kosher Forward Campaign. In addition, the UTGSU Executive Committee has reached out to both Hillel U of T and the Board of Directors Member to request a meeting to discuss how to remedy harm and how to mitigate future harm towards Jewish students on campus. The UTGSU Executive Committee is deeply sorry for the harm that this response has caused. The UTGSU Executive Committee recognises the importance of Member-driven campaigns and initiatives. Any member can contact infotOut4su.ca to request to have items circulated via our Digest or to share events via social media. Additionally, members seeking financial support for their initiatives may submit a donation request to the UTGSU’s Finance Committee. (https://utasu.ca/fundina-2/donation-requests).
If you have any further questions, concerns, or any accessibility needs, please contact the UTGSU at infoPutgsu.ca.
The UTGSU Executive Committee
Marc Newburgh: “The UTGSU’S response is a clear example of where BDS has crossed the line into antisemitism”
Marc Newburgh, CEO of Hillel Ontario, added that the UTGSU is the only student union in Canada which funds a BDS committee. “Ever since this committee was created, Hillel UofT and Hillel Ontario have worked tirelessly to stand against their efforts to promote divisiveness on campus and to target those who identify as Zionists,” he told Newsweek.
Newburgh claimed that when BDS is promoted on campus, it “creates an unsafe environment for Jewish students.” He added: “The UTGSU’S response is a clear example of where BDS has crossed the line into antisemitism in its effect, if not in its intent, and why those who stand against antisemitism need to stand against BDS.”
Hillel Toronto’s statement (November 15, 2019)
Discrimination Against Hillel’s Kosher Forward Campaign
Hillel UofT has been working tirelessly on its Kosher Forward campaign. This campaign argues that Jewish students deserve the same access to food on campus as any other student. As part of this campaign, a Hillel graduate student leader reached out to the University of Toronto Graduate Students’ Union (UTGSU) to request their support for Hillel’s campaign. The UTGSU responded by explaining that since Hillel has conducted “pro-israel” activities that “the Executive Committee strives to abstain from this type of discourse in order to ensure the will of the membership is accurately reflected in any votes on these motions.” The “type of discourse” and the “will of the membership” being referred to is left unclear.
If “the will of the membership” entails not supporting a campaign undertaken by a religious minority group on campus to gain access to food that they can eat, the UTGSU is failing in its mandate to represent the interests of minority groups on campus.
Hillel strongly condemns this type of rhetoric, which associates support of the State of Israel with a campaign to make campus more accessible for Jewish students. The attempt by this student body to change the conversation away from the needs of Jewish students to their support for the Jewish state is a blatant attempt to marginalize Jewish students connected to Hillel simply for their identity. The UTGSU’s issues with the Israeli government and stance on BDS have influenced its attitude towards supporting Jewish students on campus. According to the |HRA definition of antisemitism, holding Jews or Jewish organizations collectively responsible for the actions of the State of Israel is an example of antisemitism, especially in a situation where Israel is clearly unrelated to the conversation at hand. This type of divisive and alienating language only serves to isolate Hillel students who seek basic accessibility to food on campus that is readily available to a majority of the student body. The UTGSU’s inability to separate the needs of Jewish students on campus from their opinion on the government of Israel is highly problematic and amounts to denying Jewish students university services due to their potential political beliefs.
Kosher Forward requires the support of more than just Jewish students to make kosher food on campus a reality. In its unwillingness to support Hillel in this campaign, the UTGSU has violated its mandate to support its Jewish students by conflating the largest representative of Jewish students on campus with the actions of the Israeli government.
This inability to separate Jewish individuals from the Israeli government’s actions is, indeed, a form of antisemitism. The UTGSU has made it explicit that it would rather see Jewish students’ needs go unmet than to support Hillel UofT in this equity campaign.
Hillel UofT will continue to work to make kosher food a reality on campus, and looks forward to the support of its many allies to make the administration aware that kosher options are something that students want to see on their campus to make it a more accessible place for its diverse student body. We encourage campus allies who seeks a diverse, equitable, and inclusive campus to stand with Hillel UofT and join this important campaign.
For further inquiries, please contact: Rob Nagus
Hillel at The University of Toronto