Jewish groups condemn ‘toolkit on teaching Palestine’ at York University

A crowd assembled in the Vari Hall Rotunda in late November to protest the suspension of several York staff in relation to the defacement of an Indigo bookstore. Ashleigh Stewart

Prominent Jewish groups, including an on-campus association, are reacting to the charge that a York University union distributed a toolkit to teaching assistants, advising them to divert tutorials to discuss “Palestinian liberation” and conflict in the Middle East.

On Tuesday, York University said it was seeking a meeting with CUPE Local 3903 over a document circulated called a “toolkit on teaching Palestine” that asked union members to “collectively divert” lessons to the topic of the Middle East during the week of Jan. 21.

Despite the document — which a spokesperson for the university said was not “in accordance” with its expectations for the union — there were no reports of teaching assistants actually following the instructions and changing lesson plans.

One Jewish group, the Friends of Simon Wiesenthal Centre, said it was “alarmed” by the toolkit, which it compared to “a political manifesto.”

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Repeated attempts were made through various channels to contact CUPE 3903 about the toolkit but did not receive any response. A version of the document appears to have been shared online by an Instagram account apparently associated with the union. Global News, however, was not able to independently verify its authenticity.

The toolkit shared online specifically references Hillel, a Jewish student association on campus, as an example of “Zionist cultural institutions” that make York University complicit “in Israel’s occupation of Palestine.”

Dean Lavi, the director of Hillel York, said in a statement to Global News the reference to his organization was “unacceptable” and “deeply concerning.”

“It goes beyond mere political discourse and ventures into a territory that compromises the safety and inclusivity of our campus,” he said, describing Hillel as a “haven” for Jewish students at York University.

He called for the university, which said it has asked to talk to the union about the kit, to address the issue “head-on” and ensure Jewish students are supported.

Friends of Simon Wiesenthal Centre said it had expressed its “outrage” to both the union and the university.

Bargaining updates available on the union local’s website show it has made Palestinian concerns a key part of its ongoing negotiations with York University.

“The (bargaining team) remains committed to challenging the Employer’s lack of response in the face of the genocide taking place in Palestine,” one update from early January said online, referencing Israel’s ongoing military operations in the Gaza Strip.

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Earlier this month, South Africa asked the ICJ, also known as the World Court, to order an emergency suspension of Israel’s devastating military campaign in the Palestinian enclave, accusing it of carrying out a state-led genocide.

Israel dismissed the genocide allegations as “grossly distorted” and said it had a right to defend itself and was targeting Hamas, not Palestinian civilians.

— with files from Reuters

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