Source: Élie Cantin-Nantel

Canadian Jewish students are speaking out after seeing protesters openly praise terrorists, as well as presence of outside agitators and radical ideology in their universities’ anti-Israel encampments. They say the encampments make many in their community feel unsafe.

Encampments began popping up on Canada’s campuses two weeks ago, with participants demanding that universities divest from Israel. They were inspired by far-left students at American Ivy League universities like Columbia. 

Tents have been put up at McGill University, the University of Toronto, the University of Ottawa, the University of British Columbia, McMaster University, Ontario Tech University, and Western University.

Many are now calling for the encampments to be removed, citing among other things the threat they pose to Jewish students after many instances of antisemitism and hate from protesters.

It is worth noting that the encampments come after an already hostile school year for Jewish students, who have been the target of increased hate and harassment following Hamas’ Oct. 7 attack on Israel. Back in November, Jewish students told True North it was “best not to be visibly Jewish” on Canadian campuses amid a rise in antisemitism.

University of Toronto student Max Rotenberg and University of British Columbia student Chaim Yoel Ben Adama recently visited the encampments occupying their university campuses. What they saw was shocking. 

Max Rotenberg, left, and Chaim Yoel Ben Adama, right.

They both spoke to True North about their experiences.

Rotenberg told True North he visited the U of T encampment with some of his friends last weekend. While organizers had been banning those who support Israel from entering, he says they were let in.

“It was pretty scary,” he recalled. “On almost every tent and poster they had something about the intifada, they had the Hamas red triangles, there were a lot of flags of the Islamic regime of Iran.” 

“It was just a whole mess,” he added. “They’re openly supporting organizations that are designated as terrorist organizations by the Canadian government.”

Rotenberg said that he and his friends were followed around while at the encampment. 

“They were following us around, but they didn’t cause any issues with us,” he said. 

“We took some pictures and videos, and then afterwards just walked around outside, recorded the chants and took pictures of the Hamas posters and signs.”

Ben Adama had a different experience.

He said he was initially invited into the encampment by one of the protesters, who wanted to show him that it was a peaceful and inclusive protest. However, soon after he got to the encampment, he was told to leave because some protesters reportedly felt “unsafe” with the presence of a “known Zionist.”

“Within 20 minutes, I was removed from the premises because apparently me being there as a ‘known Zionist,’ whatever that means, made people feel unsafe,” he said.

“For that, I had to leave.”

Ben Adama noted that it was rather hypocritical that protesters who often wave signs and yell chants calling for the violent destruction of Israel which caused many Jewish students to feel targeted, suddenly felt unsafe with the mere presence of a Jew who believes in Israel’s right to exist.

“It’s quite funny, you see, on the one hand, (they chant) ‘there only one solution, intifada revolution,’ ‘globalize the intifada’… (but) where’s the toughness when someone is actually there, wanting to sit down?”

“It is quite a double standard.”

Both Rotenberg and Ben Adama noted that many of the people protesting at the encampments were not students.

“A lot of them aren’t even students or faculty, and aren’t even part of the UBC community,” said Ben Adama

Rotenberg, on  his part, said that some of the U of T protesters were “recognized to be from other cities.” He also said that there were parents who brought their children, as well as middle-aged and elderly people, to the encampment.

Rotenberg and Ben Adama also said many of the protesters have a fundamental misunderstanding of what is truly going on in Israel.

“From the conversations that I managed to have inside, they have no idea the political reality of what it’s like in Israel,” noted Rotenberg.

Ben Adama said that a lot of students from privileged backgrounds seem to cling to whatever is the current thing to stay relevant.

“(The Palestinian movement) seems like some social cause that people want to cling to,” he said, noting that “most of them chant about rivers and seas, but they couldn’t tell you which river and which sea.”

“They don’t know, they don’t know what was there before 1948,” he added. “They learned about the conflict maybe six months ago on TikTok.”

Ben Adama also said that protesters are misrepresenting Zionism.

“Zionism is just the idea of Jewish autonomy, Jewish self-determination, in our ancestral homeland, the land of Israel. That’s it. Nothing more, nothing less,” he said. “Zionism is not about removing Palestinians or Arabs. It’s not about any kind of violence. It’s not about any kind of evil.” 

“It’s just self-determination,” he added.

Rotenberg wants to see the encampments removed both at U of T and across Canada. 

“They’re creating a very hostile and toxic environment for Jewish students, and especially Israeli Jewish students. And that’s just not acceptable at an academic institution,” he said.

Ben Adama added that he knows many people who are scared of walking around campus amidst the presence of the encampment and pro-Palestinian activists who are covering their faces. “When someone’s covering their face, you don’t know what their intentions are.”

He also said that many of his visibly Jewish female friends have told him they feel unsafe.

B’nai Brith Canada manager of research Richard Robertson, condemned the encampments in an interview with True North. “The situation on campus, enhanced by the encampments, is untenable for Jewish students,” he said.

Robertson also wants to see the protest encampment removed, noting that what is currently going on “cannot be tolerated by the leaders of our academic institutions and by our society in general.”