SAIA York Statement on Supporting Free Speech and Condemning Harassment and Intimidation

Dear members of the York community,

We would like to make the following points in light of recent events and regarding President Mamdouh Shoukri’s January 25 "Presidential Statement on Supporting and Defending the Right to Free Speech".

We affirm President Shoukri’s stated commitment to social justice, inclusivity, and diversity, the embrace of respectful dialogue, the rejection of hatred and intolerance, the upholding of the rights of York community members to work and study free from discrimination and harassment, the support and defence of the exercise of free speech when conducted in a peaceful, non-threatening manner, as well as his stance against anti-Semitism and Islamophobia.

Our mission statement proclaims our opposition to anti-Semitism and Islamophobia; our #YUDivest campaign calls on the Board of Governors to uphold York’s commitment to social justice by divesting from weapons; and we have been at the forefront of free-speech activism when the administration violated its own commitment to free speech and the Canadian Charter.

At the same time, we find it necessary to highlight the presidential statement’s timely release considering the ongoing harassment and intimidation of individuals and organizations at York.

Extremists who are posting in and administering the “Never Again Canada” Facebook page have been posting threats against and spreading false information about York students and community members. The comments inciting violence and racism on the page are too many to count; however, both President Shoukri and York alumnus Hammam Farah have been singled out by particularly vicious threats and anti-Arab and Islamophobic comments. The administrator(s) of the page even request(s) from one of the commenters to “find every Muslim that is in a position of management in the university, then report back”.

The threats of violence from Never Again Canada come at the same time as a campaign is being waged against the campus newspaper, Excalibur, with the intention of forcing a media blackout on issues related to York University’s investments in arms manufacturers and our popular #YUDivest initiative. In addition, Excalibur writer Abdul Malik has been singled out for abuse and character assassination, with false accusations of anti-Semitism ranging from Israel-advocates at York to Sun News Network to even the Israeli press.

It has also come to our attention that Excalibur was contacted by the extremist “Friends of Simon Wiesenthal Center” (FSWC) in order to admonish and intimidate the paper’s editorial staff into changing the course of their reporting. What is even more alarming is the revelation that Honey Sherman, who sits on FSWC’s Board of Directors, also sits on York University’s Board of Governors. This has raised questions—and fears—regarding the potential involvement in the attempted silencing of the campus paper by a high-ranking—indeed, governing—member of York University. We strongly condemn interference in the affairs of our community’s newspaper—from both internal and external influences—and we voice support for the autonomy of Excalibur’s editorial line.

We also find it necessary to draw attention to the juvenile and Islamophobic rhetoric by members of the club Hasbara at York. The Hasbara VP Education and YFS presidential candidate has tweeted that a better York would be one “free of Islamic Jew hatred”. We condemn the participation of members of Hasbara at York in the trend of Islamophobic incitement against their fellow community members. We also condemn Hasbara’s harassment of CUPE 3903 members both in person and on social media.

Lastly, especially disappointing and unprofessional are the recent actions of York VP Students Janet Morrison. While members of the York community are facing threats, harassment, and intimidation, Morrison felt it fitting to provide a quote for an article in the Jewish Tribune regarding a photo that was taken of York Lion mascots with Hammam Farah as he held a poster promoting the #YUDivest campaign. Morrison sought desperately to absolve the two Lions—and herself—of any perceived wrongdoing, assuring readers that “the mascot costumes afford a very limited visual field”.

Despite the harassment and intimidation of our members and others in the York community, we would like to affirm our own commitment to moving forward with the #YUDivest campaign. We will continue to push for a Board of Governors that follows through on York’s commitment to social justice. We reiterate prominent political science professor Saeed Rahnema’s statement in Excalibur that investment by an educational institution in a military-related company is totally unacceptable: “The university should find ways to contribute to efforts towards peace and avoid any involvement with anything that has to do with military and war.” 

Indeed, a better York is one that divests from any companies that produce weapons and military technologies that are responsible for violence and bloodshed against York community members and their families around the world.