Hillel Ottawa – Standing up for Jewish students on campus

Hillel is internationally known for the social, religious, and educational programs it provides for Jewish students on campuses in the U.S., Canada, and around the world.

Founded in 1923, their mission is to “enrich the lives of Jewish students so that they may enrich the Jewish people and the world.” Here in Ottawa, that statement has taken on a new meaning.

Since Oct. 7, the campus climate has shifted dramatically, and protests, encampments, and hateful lectures have taken place in the name of free speech and academic freedom. In response to the emotional and physical toll these acts have taken on the Jewish student body, Hillel leadership has taken action. Most recently, Hillel leaders wrote letter to uOttawa President Jacques Fremont pressuring the university to dismantle the pro-Palestinian encampment which began on April 29 on the lawn of Tabaret Hall. It is violating at least three university policies, is perpetuating hate, and it inflicts emotional trauma for Jewish students. Students, parents, and community members can sign the petition here. As of writing this, over 1100 students, parents, and community members have signed.

“Antisemitism today is largely from the left and is a toxic mix of ignorance and malevolence,” explains Hartley Stern, Board member, University of Ottawa. “It is not surprising that it is manifested on university campuses across North America because that is where the ignorant students and outside agitators feel most comfortable particularly when masked, and when supported by a small number of faculty who teach the nonsensical narrative of Jews being white colonialist oppressors. It is all our responsibilities to be advocates for Jewish students’ and faculty safety on campus. Signing a petition to remove encampments on all University campuses beginning in Ottawa is the minimum we must do as advocates for the safety of our children and colleagues.” --This has deeply impacted the work of Ottawa Hillel which has taken on a huge advocacy role in addition to the usual programming. Students need a place to feel safe, a place to process their emotions around what they are seeing and hearing, and a place to receive support to file reports to the school, the Jewish Federation of Ottawa, and the police after they have been victimized. Hillel serves this purpose for all Jewish students in Ottawa.

The University of Ottawa has been a particularly troubling institution as noted by uOttawa professor Cary Kogan.

“My most direct experiences have been with our faculty union leadership who, with no consultation with Jewish faculty, passed a motion in 2021 repudiating the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s (IHRA) definition of antisemitism, effectively denying Jewish faculty, a minority group, the right to define antisemitism,” Kogan shared, adding“ They have also been intransigent to our multiple requests to withdraw the motion, which contains wording suggestive of a one-sided view of Israel as a colonial, racist state. More recently, the same union even after all the back and forth about their 2021 motion and a mediated discussion contrary to EDI principles, issued a statement supportive of the illegal encampment occupiers at the University of Ottawa despite our group having provided photographic evidence of antisemitism as well as personal accounts of Jewish faculty being denied access to the Tabaret lawn, because they are Jewish.”

Kogan explains he has also fielded numerous complaints from Jewish students who have been subjected to outrageously false claims about Israel in classes, unrelated to Middle East politics and with professors who are not experts in this field and are visually assaulted with images calling for an escalation of violence against Israel including, “globalize the Intifada,” “Israel=Nazis,” and seeing Hamas flags being worn by students.

“These students, have been singled out in front of their classmates, threatened with sexual violence by other students, forced to denounce their connection with Israel, and had multiple complaints dismissed by the Human Rights office with no serious investigation of the facts.”

This shift in the knowledge and nature of the antisemitic professors and students has added an additional layer that our students must contend with; their typical “safe spaces” are no longer welcoming. In turn, this places an even greater need for a strong and dedicated Hillel Ottawa team. 

"Since Oct. 7, our focus has been on ensuring that our students are able to use Hillel as a safe space. This includes reporting incidents through our online incident report system and connecting with other Jewish students during these difficult times. We have seen an enormous rise in antisemitic incidents both on and off campus, highlighting the fact that our students are being targeted by hate,” explains Oren Baray, Student Life and Advocacy Coordinator. “

To address this, we have been working tirelessly to ensure that dialogue between Jewish organizations and the university administration, including the president of the University of Ottawa, Jacques Frémont, is constant and consistent. Our letter was a means of unifying the community to send a clear message that we do not accept hate speech on our campus or in Ottawa.

On a positive note, the University of Ottawa announced on June 25 that Artur Wilczynski has been appointed the first Special Advisor of Antisemitism. Read about the appointment here

We are doing everything in our power to make sure our students feel safe returning to campus come September." –Please support the staff and students of uOttawa by signing the petition and sharing with your networks so more signatures can be added.