In the past two years, I have been involved in bringing about a change in the atmosphere during IAW and have seen the administration’s approach improve significantly. This year during IAW four pro-Israel groups set up displays throughout the week, protected by the campus security and police while anti-Israel displays were only seen for 2 hours during the entire week. Furthermore, the anti-Israel group only made a minor contribution to the main article covering IAW in the York student newspaper. The anti-Israel groups were also forced to pay for their security needs, (thus treated with the same standard as the pro-Israel groups) which lead to them canceling the only IAW event planned at York. Essentially the pro-Israel voice was the loudest and the strongest and the atmosphere on campus was one that fostered respectful dialogue instead of divisive rallies.
FP: What advice would you give to students who would like to stand up against intimidation of Jewish students and anti-Semitism during Israel Apartheid Week and beyond?
Chiasson: Students must be committed to respecting others and being solution-oriented. Students can lobby the administrations of their university to implement the code of conduct, to increase security presence on campus during events like IAW, to hold accountability meetings between the administration and the student leaders involved in Middle-East politics. Actively and consistently reporting discrimination or anti-Semitism to campus authorities is also important because complaints are recorded and reviewed by the University. Students should also pay attention to anti-Israel groups and seize opportunities to expose their rhetoric by involving student newspapers or other media sources as much as possible (like in the flag dispute situation mentioned earlier). Students should also be intentional about establishing open communication and partnering with key members of the administration throughout the year.
Students should to establish unity within pro-Israel groups by focusing on common goals. These groups can pool resources and support each other’s events. This applies especially to pro-Israel Christian and Jewish groups who can be great sources of support for one another.
When dealing with students, listening before responding is the key. I have spoken with Radical Muslims, anti-Israel Palestinian Christians, Humanitarians and many other people with opposing viewpoints and have found that the more I am willing to listen and to respectfully disagree, without getting emotional or too passionate, the more people are willing to hear what I have to say. Furthermore, establishing friendship with people of opposing points of view and who hold prejudice is a great way to break down the stereotypes and misconceptions which divide us.
FP: Expand for us a bit on your own efforts and the changes you have helped put into place.
Chiasson: I have been heavily involved in lobbying the administration of York University to change the name of Israel ‘Apartheid’ Week (IAW) to something like ‘Middle-East Peace Week’. I wrote a letter to the administration and included statements from a diverse group of students including Jewish, Christian, South African and emotionally unattached students. I also found a professor who was willing to lobby the administration from a faculty member’s perspective. While the administration did not see itself forcing the group Students Against Israeli Apartheid to change the name of IAW, the idea was planted and the topic is still on the table for discussion.
As president of Christians United For Israel, I successfully built a relationship with the presidents of Jewish groups at York like Hasbara, B’nai Brith and Hillel by meeting with them, building friendship, supporting each other’s events and standing by them in rallies and during IAW. I also partnered with other Christian groups and together we held several Israel-focused events like a Day to Pray for the Peace of Jerusalem. I also brought Jews and Christians together in coordinating an educational series to teach students about Israel from various perspectives. As the number of pro-Israel Christians began to grow, we established a weekly prayer meeting focused just on Israel.
FP: Josee Chiasson, thank you for joining Frontpage Interview. And thank you for your valiant fight for Israel, freedom and the truth.
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