Canadian student unions, from York University to the University of Toronto, are facing backlash over anti-Israel statements issued amid Israel facing the deadliest Hamas attack in decades.
The statements are the latest in a string of anti-Israel activity that has come out of Canadian academia since the attack.
In a joint statement, the York Federation of Students, York University’s Graduate Student Association and the Glendon College Student Union said the events that took place in “so-called Israel” serve as “a reminder that resistance against colonial violence is justified and necessary.”
“Recently, in a strong act of resistance, the Palestinian people tore down and crossed the Illegitimate border fence erected by the setter-colonial apartheid state of so-called Israel. These resistance efforts are a direct response to the ongoing and violent occupation of Palestine,” says their statement.
“So-called Israel has continually restricted Palestinian movement to & from Gaza, creating an open-air prison and obstructing access to essential resources within the apartheid fence for decades.”
The statement goes on to liken North America (referred to by some Indigenous people as Turtle Island), to the West Bank and Gaza as “occupied lands.”
“From Turtle Island to Palestine, and across all occupied lands, these events serve as a reminder that resistance against colonial violence is justified and necessary. This is ‘decolonization’ and ‘land-back’ actualized as we continue to see the Palestinian people stand firm in their resistance against their oppressors.”
The statement also denounced “so-called Canada” for being a “settler colonial state” that continues to be “complicit in the ongoing genocide (of Palestinians).”
York University condemned the unions’ statement on X.
“York University unequivocally condemns the inflammatory statement shared by three student unions last night. Freedom of expression has limits and comes with responsibilities. It must never reach into promoting or justifying violence against unarmed civilian,” the school said.
“To suggest otherwise is abhorrent and does not reflect the views of York University, nor the perspective of many thousands of York University students.”
The statement was also condemned by Ontario’s Colleges and Universities Minister Jill Dunlop, who called it “unacceptable” and said such language “must not be tolerated.” She wants the unions to “apologize and rescind their statement.”
Others have called for the union to be decertified, and for the student representatives behind the statement to be expelled.
Michael Mandel, a third year Jewish student at York, told True North he was “disgusted and saddened by the student unions’ statement regarding Hamas’ war on Israel. A student union’s responsibility is to ensure the safety of all students on campus, but that statement does the opposite to Jewish and Zionist students.”
He added that “going back to campus is scary and knowing we do not have the support of our student unions makes it worse.”
“But the Jewish community is resilient, and I appreciate the support of our non-Jewish Zionist allies.”
York students have also been signing a Change.org petition condemning their unions.
Neither the York Federation of Students, the York University’s Graduate Student Association nor the Glendon College Student Union responded to True North’s request for comment.
The University of Toronto Mississauga Students’ Union also issued an anti-Israel statement – which was subsequently condemned by the university administration and Jewish groups.
In an Instagram post, the union said it stood “in solidarity with all Palestinians and innocent civilians affected by the ongoing conflict in Gaza and around its borders.”
They also accused Israel for having “maintained a military occupation over Palestinians, stripping them of their lands and rights. The colonization of Palestine has resulted in ethnic cleansing and mass genocide, which has violated international law time and time again.”
“As a student Union, we advocate for peace and for the investment of weaponry, arms manufacturing and any investment in apartheid.”
In response to the statement, University of Toronto Mississauga vice-president & principal Alexandra Gillespie said “many of our students, staff, faculty, alumni, and parents of students have shared their pain and disappointment over a statement made by the University of Toronto Mississauga Students’ Union (UTMSU).”
“We remind everyone to be mindful of the impact of their words so that they do not deepen polarization, create anxiety and division, fuel animosity, or create fear. Anti Semitism, islamophobia, racism, and discrimination of any kind have no place on our campus.”
Jewish groups also issued condemnations.
Allied Voices for Israel executive director Daniel Koren said in a statement “we demand that the UTM administration takes accountability for the actions of its students and ensures a safe space for Jewish and/or Israeli students and their allies on campus.
“It is time to make clear that anti-Jewish hatred goes against the values of the University of Toronto and has no place on its campus or among its campus community. UTM must take a strong stand against the glorification of terrorism – now.”
The University of Toronto Mississauga Students’ Union did not respond to a request for comment.
Student Unions are not the only ones in Canadian academia to share anti-Israel sentiments following the Hamas attack.
As previously reported by True North, several Canadian academics expressed support online for Palestinians “taking their land back,” decrying so-called Israeli “colonialism.”
SCREENSHOT: McGill campus club celebrates Hamas’ attack on Israel
At McGill University, an official campus club praised Hamas’s action as “heroic” and “monumental” in a Facebook post. The group also cheered on the launching of rockets and the taking of hostages.