Something's Seriously Wrong at York University

Next week, York University will once again open its halls and classrooms to "Israel Apartheid Week," so-called. This year as every year, militants and activists will use the taxpayer-funded facilities of York to vilify the Jewish state.

Well, that's free speech, isn't it? Everybody gets to express his or her point of view, no matter how obnoxious, right?

No, not right. Not at York. At York, speech is free--better than free, subsidized--for anti-Israel haters. But for those who would defend Israel, York sets very different rules.

In advance of York's annual hate-Israel week, the campus group Christians United for Israel applied to use university space to host a program of pro-Israel speakers.

At York, speech is free--better than free, subsidized--for anti-Israel haters. But for those who would defend Israel, York sets very different rules.

The university replied that this program could only proceed on certain conditions.

It insisted on heavy security, including both campus and Toronto police--all of those costs to be paid by the program organizers. The organizers would also have to provide an advance list of all program attendees and advance summaries of all the speeches. No advertising for the program would be permitted--not on the York campus, not on any of the other campuses participating by remote video.

These are radically different and much harsher terms than anything required from the hate-Israel program. The hate-Israel program is not required to pay for its own security. It is free to advertise. Its speakers are not pre-screened by the university.

The pro-Israel event, scheduled for this past Monday, Feb. 22, was cancelled when the organizers declined to comply with the terms. A university spokesman told the Jewish Tribune that it insisted on the more stringent requirements on pro-Israel groups "due to the participation of individuals who they claim invite the animus of anti-Israel campus agitators."

The logic is impressively brazen: Since the anti-Israel people might use violence, the speech of the pro-Israel people must be limited. On the other hand, since the pro-Israel people do not use violence, the speech of the anti-Israel people can proceed without restraint.

Over the past days, however, the university appears to have realized that this "We brake for bullies" policy on speech might present some PR problems.

So now it seems they have reverted to a bolder policy: flat-out denial.

I called York on Thursday for comment on the incident. York's smooth chief communications officer was out for the day. So apparently was his deputy. I got instead an audibly nervous substitute.

I asked: Is it York's policy to allow thugs to decide what may be said on campus, and what can't? He insisted that, no York had the same rules for all.

"Are you telling me," I asked, "that York imposes precisely the same requirements on all student groups?"

"All student groups that request university space, yes."

I said: "I'm going to print that answer in the newspaper. It's going to be kind of embarrassing if you are quoted as saying something blatantly untrue. Do you want to modify your statement in any way?"

The spokesman said he would stick with his "precisely same requirements" quote.

I offered one more chance to amend the answer. Pause. And then burst forth a flood of amazing flack-speech reprising Chevy Chase's legendarily incoherent performance in Spies Like Us.

What he meant, he said, was that it was the "process" and the "protocols" that were the same, leading to a "needs-based assessment" of each particular case. Hemina, hemina, hemina.

The truth is this: York students are treated "the same" only in the sense that every student is equally exposed to the utterly arbitrary ad hoc decision-making of a fathomlessly cowardly university administration.

It was not always this way. One of the speakers invited to the pro-Israel event, Daniel Pipes, spoke at York in 2003. Violence was threatened then too. Local militants distributed leaflets urging the disruption of Pipes' talk. But York's then-president Lorna Marsden refused to allow thugs to veto academic speech. She provided the police presence to ensure that Pipes' talk could proceed unmolested, although admittedly in a tense atmosphere that might have daunted someone less personally courageous than Pipes.

But the current York administration lacks Marsden's commitment to freedom.

Even when public speech is not an issue, Jewish students at York experience ethnically and religiously based intimidation and even violence. On the rare occasions when the university disciplines anyone for such incidents, it takes care always to penalize both the Jewish targets of harassment and the anti-Jewish culprits. The motive again is not fairness, but fear.

Something has gone seriously wrong at Canada's third-largest university. You can find a list of York's board of governors at yorku.ca/univsec/board/members.htm.If so minded, maybe you should contact them and ask them what they will do to correct York's betrayal of the values of a free society.

David Frum is a resident fellow at AEI.

Photo Credit: Flickr user Piero Sierra/Creative Commons

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About the Author

 

David
Frum
  • David Frum is the author of six books, most recently, Comeback: Conservatism That Can Win Again (Doubleday, 2007). While at AEI, he studied recent political, generational, and demographic trends. In 2007, the British newspaper Daily Telegraph named him one of America's fifty most influential conservatives. Mr. Frum is a regular commentator on public radio's Marketplace and a columnist for The Week and Canada's National Post.

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