The future of any society rests on the foundation of its youth. University and college students from coast-to-coast represent the best and the brightest of Canada’s next generation of leaders. From the business world, to the political sector, to lawyers, doctors and teachers, these young Canadians will drive our country forward in the years to come.
Universities often provide students with their first exposure to national and international issues. It’s no wonder, then, that many in the Jewish community are rightly outraged when they see anti-Israel activists descend on university and college campuses to demonize and vilify Israel and anyone who supports her. With the 2014/15 school year coming to a close, it’s worth looking back at where we’ve been and looking forward to upcoming opportunities and challenges.
Canadian campuses have been a central focus of the anti-Israel movement since its inception. Arguably, the most infamous example was the violent riot that took place at Concordia University in 2002, which forced the cancellation of Benjamin Netanyahu’s scheduled speech on campus. Then, of course, there was the creation of the offensive campaign “Israel Apartheid Week” in 2005, and the disturbing images of Jewish students being surrounded inside the Hillel lounge at York University in 2009.
At CIJA, and with our on-the-ground partners at Hillels across the country, much work has been done over the last number of years to change the landscape for Jewish and pro-Israel students on campus in Canada. Today, for the vast majority of students, the picture is very different than it once was. Having worked for a major Canadian university in 2007-08, I can attest to the fact that circumstances today – however imperfect – are better than the days when I was on campus.
Just last month, CIJA surveyed Hillel professionals who work on campuses across the country. Of those that responded, 71% reported that this school year was “better than previous years” on campus. This is no small feat, and it didn’t happen by accident.
In supporting students over the course of the last year, CIJA worked closely with Hillels on more than twenty campuses across Canada. On a daily basis we served as consultants, providing expert strategic advocacy guidance, resources, programming, unique campaigns, and professional development to assist Jewish and pro-Israel students to advocate proudly and effectively.
This year, a record number of Hillel staff benefited from training by CIJA, and hundreds of students from coast-to-coast met face-to-face with our political and media specialists.
Also on the student side, CIJA expanded its product line #ThisIsIsrael (which highlights Israel’s accomplishments in the areas of innovation, technology, human rights and peace-building) and #ThisIsHamas (aimed at responding to the recent conflict with Hamas in Gaza).
We launched the first ever Barry Rubin Prize Essay Competition aimed at encouraging scholarly discourse among students about Israel and the broader Middle East.
CIJA hosted the highly competitive “Israel Young Leaders Program” fact-finding mission to Israel, which focuses on students involved in campus and federal politics. This is in addition to educational trips to Israel that CIJA organizes with the Ivey School of Business (at Western) and the University of Calgary School of Public Policy – all of which are once-in-a-lifetime opportunities for the next generation of Canadian leaders to learn about how Israel has managed to survive and thrive as the Middle East’s only advanced democracy.
And CIJA has increasingly looked to foster grassroots innovation by providing microgrants to individual campuses, resulting in initiatives such as the highly successful Shanghai Jewish refugee exhibit that was placed at U of T’s Robarts Library for nearly two weeks in partnership with the Chinese Students & Scholars Association.
On the faculty and administration side of our campus agenda, CIJA has worked tirelessly to increase the bilateral relationship between Canadian and Israeli universities. This year we continued to build on the 2013 Memorandum of Understanding that was signed between the Association of Universities and Colleges Canada (now called UnivCan) and its Israeli counterpart which called for closer research collaboration and increased exchange, which occurred on a CIJA-led delegation.
In October 2014, UnivCan hosted a conference of virtually all Canadian university presidents focused on learning from Israel’s model of innovation – and how it can be adopted here in Canada. In December 2014, CIJA led a delegation of Vice Presidents (Research) from the U15 Group of Research Universities (the largest fifteen in Canada), which is expected to result in additional partnerships. All of this to say simply that while certain student groups are endorsing divestment from Israel, Canadian universities are actually investing in, and increasing ties with, Israel.
As the summer months approach and we begin to plan for next year, we – along with our valued partners on campus – will have many challenges to address. CIJA is the only national pro-Israel organization in Canada that employs a multi-pronged advocacy strategy on campus, with proactive initiatives directed at students, faculty and university administrators. We invest in campus advocacy because universities are partners in the bilateral relationship with Israel, the training ground of the next generation of business and political leaders, and the four-year (plus) home to thousands of Jewish students. Members of our community and all students should benefit from meaningful opportunities to engage with Israel, learn from Israelis, and proudly voice their love for the Jewish state.
In the year to come, we will redouble our efforts on all fronts to ensure university and college campuses remain safe, welcoming and respectable places for all students to work, learn and socialize.
For more information about what CIJA is doing on campus, I encourage you to learn more here.