I remember my first experience with anti-Semitism in Toronto playing football for my very Jewish high school against an inner city school, facing some players with swastikas on their helmets. I think that was the only team we ever beat. We were not very good but were highly motivated that day.
I had no problem recognizing anti-Semitism – the swastikas being obvious – but more so because my Dutch Jewish mother survived the war in hiding in Holland, and my siblings and I, early on in our lives, were made very aware of her suffering and of her distaste for anything German. As an adult, I spent much of my surgical career at two wonderful Jewish hospitals, Mount Sinai in Toronto and the Jewish General in Montreal, whose existence was born out of the prejudices that prevented Jewish doctors from obtaining hospital positions in Toronto and Montreal in the 1930s.
Consequently, it is with some disgust that I witness the promulgation of the vile boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement on North American university campuses, most recently and viciously at the University of Ottawa, under the canard that BDS is not anti-Semitic, just anti-Zionist. What nonsense. Any movement, cause célèbre, white paper, United Nations motion supporting the BDS movement against Israel “promotes the demonization and delegitimization of the State of Israel,” as a motion passed in the House of Commons in 2016 notes.
It is not by chance that the rise of BDS has corresponded to a dramatic rise in campus anti-Semitism. Like many strong advocates for Israel, I am quite open to legitimate criticism of some of Israel’s policies and politics. The fine line between the legitimate criticism of Israel and anti-Semitism is actually not so fine. It is crude and obvious.
I am extraordinarily impressed with the heroic efforts of the uOttawa Hillel students this past winter and spring to successfully fight off three rapid fire attempts to have BDS supported officially by the disreputable leadership of uOttawa’s student union executive. The students were admirably supported by the lay and professional leadership of Hillel Ottawa, the Jewish Federation of Ottawa, the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs and, most notably, by President and Vice-Chancellor Jacques Frémont of uOttawa.
It is cowardly and unacceptable to use our schools to foster anti-Semitism in the Diaspora. It is so sad for me to see the modern equivalent of a swastika-helmeted football player of my youth in the form of a BDS placard-carrying university student today. I will do what I can to fight it.