SAIA York Condemns President Lenton's Participation in Israel Lobby Conference

Dear members of the York community,

We strongly condemn President Rhonda Lenton’s participation as a keynote speaker in the “Combating Hate Speech and Antisemitism: Legal Perspectives” conference on February 13, hosted by hardline Israel-lobby group, the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs (CIJA) and one of its principal funders, UJA Federation of Greater Toronto (UJA).

CIJA has a history of defending far-right pro-Israel policies, including illegal settlements, and recently praised the Trump administration’s decision to openly disregard international law by recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.  

Moreover, CIJA is leading the charge to criminalize Palestine solidarity activism by falsely equating legitimate criticism of the Israeli government with anti-Semitism.

CIJA has accused the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement (BDS)—a  Palestine-led, nonviolent campaign aimed at pressuring Israel to end its illegal occupation of Palestinian territories and systematic violation of human rights—as being “unavoidably anti-Semitic,” and UJA has claimed that activists encouraging the boycott of Israeli goods while “wearing pro-Palestinian shirts” represent a “dramatic surge in global anti-semitism.”

The York community has rejected this position: In recent years, major representative organizations—including YFS, YUGSA, and CUPE 3903—have all endorsed the BDS movement. Moreover, there is no consensus within the Jewish community that BDS—a global movement rooted in principles of human rights and democracy—constitutes anti-Semitism.

Independent Jewish Voices Canada (IJV), an organization that supports the right of Canadians to challenge Israeli policy, including through BDS, states that CIJA and UJA “distinguish themselves by their unconditional support for the policies of the Netanyahu government of Israel… These organizations may represent their members, but in no way can they claim to represent, or speak for, all Jewish communities. Jews are diverse in their political views, religious beliefs, and ethnic backgrounds.”

CIJA has often attempted to sideline organizations like IJV and other Jewish activists for their support of those who stand in solidarity with the struggle for Palestinian rights under attack by the lobby group.

Notably absent from the conference are speakers who contend that by falsely equating anti-Semitism with criticisms of Israel, Israel lobby groups including CIJA are distracting us from the reality that it is the far-right—not Palestine solidarity activists—who are generating a new wave of anti-Semitism around the world. Ironically, far-right organizations, despite their virulent anti-Semitism, are often Israel’s strongest supporters.

The rise of anti-Semitism in recent years is a real and alarming phenomenon. Here at York University we saw several incidents of disturbing racist graffiti targeting Jewish students on campus. The Palestine solidarity movement stands unequivocally opposed to anti-Semitism.

By engaging with organizations that “fight anti-Semitism” by lobbying for the criminalization of human-rights-based activism, while also praising an American President whose hateful rhetoric has fuelled the rise of bigotry around the world, President Lenton has demonstrated that she lacks the moral clarity and political conviction to combat racism in all its forms.

We will continue to monitor these events closely.


Students Against Israeli Apartheid at York University
York Federation of Students
Independent Jewish Voices - Toronto