Frontpage Interview’s guest today is Josee Chiasson, a York University student in Toronto completing an Honours Bachelor’s Degree in psychology. She wrote her undergraduate thesis about the influence of media bias on group attitudes towards Israelis. She is a recipient of the 2010 Israel Experience College Scholarship. In her capacity as immediate past President of Christians United for Israel at York University, she fought for Israel by trying to change the name of Israel ‘Apartheid’ Week to Middle-East Peace week and by educating and mobilizing other students in support for Israel on campus. Josee has spoken on student panels as well: she has appeared on MENCHlife and has written an article for the Prince Arthur Herald addressing the politics at York and the administration’s responsibilities.
FP: Josee Chiasson, welcome to Frontpage Interview.
Before we get into all your courageous efforts on behalf of Israel, first give us a bit of background about yourself. How did you come to being so passionate about the issues you are involved in?
Chiasson: In my first year of University, I witnessed two large groups of students separated by campus security shouting at each other waving Palestnian and Israeli flags with signs that read “Free Palestine”, and “Zionism is Racism.” I thought this was a display of international students bringing the politics from their home countries to campus. My conclusion was that this had nothing to do with me. However, in January 2010, I became friends with Jewish and pro-Israel Christian students at York who taught me about why supporting Israel is important and also told me about the Israel Experience College Scholarship. I got the scholarship and spent three weeks in Israel where I attended lectures from politicians, Rabbis and intelligence experts. I visited parts of the West Bank and met Israelis and Arabs at all levels of society. I came back with first hand experience, a deep knowledge base and a deep spiritual conviction that it is my responsibility to be a voice against anti-Semitism in this generation.
FP: So tell us about the campus politics at York University. I’m wondering how things may have changed since I went to York in the 1990s — as I am well aware of the leftist and anti-Semitic climate there.
Chiasson: The democratically elected student government/union, the York Federation of Students (YFS), has been a divisive force on campus. The YFS used student fees to bring a Hamas supporter, George Galloway, to speak on campus while refusing to sponsor speakers of different opinions to which students responded in a protest.
In 2009, the YFS stringently condemned the state of Israel on behalf of ‘all York students’. In response, a facebook group was created to protest this declaration. Furthermore, in 2009, York students collected 5000 signatures necessary to impeach the executive of the YFS. This resulted in a group of pro-YFS protesters (which included members of the YFS and students) trying to intrude on the press conference. Feeling unsafe, the students retreated to the Hillel office at York. The protesters followed them and blocked them into the office while shouting things like ‘f*ing Jews’ and calling the president of Hillel a ‘dirty Jew’.
York University has a large and diverse Middle-Eastern population which has fostered a distinctively charged atmosphere. For instance, when Hasbara Fellowships at York showed the movie Iranium they received bomb threats and Iranian students protested outside the event. Also, there was a dispute when the Middle-East Student Association refused to hang the Israeli flag and recognize the legitimacy of the state of Israel.
FP: How does Israel Apartheid Week manifest itself there?
Chiasson: The dynamics have changed drastically during Israel ‘Apartheid’ Week (IAW). IAW typically led to rallies in which pro-Israel and anti-Israel students were separated by campus security, yelling at one another and waiving Israeli and Palestinian flags and signs. Any hate speech or other offenses committed during these rallies were difficult to prove because of the intensity of the moment and the lack of police presence. There was also outrage because certain groups were expected to pay exorbitant security fees to host certain pro-Israel speakers. The York administration was criticized by students and community members for their ‘laissez-faire’ attitude.
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