Jewish community speaks out against deal to end Windsor university encampment

Organizers of an encampment on the University of Windsor campus say they are nearing a deal with university administration.  (Jennifer La Grassa/CBC - image credit)
Organizers of an encampment on the University of Windsor campus say they are nearing a deal with university administration. (Jennifer La Grassa/CBC - image credit)

Members of the Jewish community are speaking out against the agreements reached Wednesday between the University of Windsor and pro-Palestinian protesters.

Justin Hebert, president of the Jewish Law Students Association at the University of Windsor, says the deal appears to align with boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) policies against Israel, which in his view are "inherently antisemitic."

The school has a very small Jewish population, he says, and to his knowledge, they were not consulted on the deal.

"We are, as it stands, given the state of academia right now, already very much at risk of being marginalized, very much at risk of having our legitimate concerns not heard by university administrations," he said. "And, you know, one of the biggest challenges that we face is basically being told that our perspectives don't matter, that more importantly, our perceptions or our experiences of antisemitism are invalid."

Hebert says the language of the agreement frames Israel as an illegal settler colony — a position he disagrees with.

The agreement does not use those terms but refers to the "occupation of Palestine" and supports "the right of Palestinian self-determination."

The university announced Wednesday it had reached a deal with students to end a pro-Palestinian encampment that had been set up on the school's campus since early May.

The protest was one of many in Canada and the U.S. that have sprung up related to the months-long Israel-Hamas war in Gaza and the deaths and destruction it has caused.

In addition to protesters agreeing to dismantle the encampment within 48 hours, the school said the deal includes more anti-racism initiatives, support for students impacted by the crisis in Gaza, "responsible" investing, and annual disclosures of direct and indirect public fund investments. It includes support for Jewish and Palestinian students.

The agreement also involves boycotting institutional partnerships with Israeli universities until the "right of Palestinian self-determination has been realized," unless they are supported by the university's senate. Individual academics are still permitted to collaborate with academics at Israeli institutions. The school has no current partnerships with Israeli universities.

Demonstrators called the deal a victory.

Jana Alrifai, a spokesperson for the group, said it was "one the best, if not the most comprehensive deal in Canada, in North America. I would even say out of all of the encampments that have come out."

The agreement has generated reaction beyond those on campus.

Liberal MP Anthony Housefather, also the federal government's new special adviser on Jewish community relations and antisemitism, said on the social media platform X the agreements are "deeply disturbing."

Housefather said he's working with Canada's special envoy for combating antisemitism "to engage on this issue," and reached out to the provincial minister responsible for universities.

Meanwhile, the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs (CIJA)  said on X that the university caved to "the harmful demands of the encampment protesters."

The group says they're working closely with Jewish students and faculty as well as the local Jewish federation with regards to the university's agreement.

Deal 'emboldens lawlessness'

The Windsor Jewish Federation also responded Thursday, saying it is "profoundly disappointed and concerned" with the agreements reached Wednesday between the University of Windsor and pro-Palestinian protesters.

Stephen Cheifetz, president of the Windsor Jewish Federation, called the agreements "far reaching" in a statement on Thursday.

"Making such agreements further emboldens lawlessness on campus and will only serve to further marginalize Jewish students and discourage them from attending the University of Windsor," the letter reads in part.

The university says the protest was "largely peaceful and without significant incidents."

Cheifetz also wrote that Jewish life on campus has become "unbearable" on the University of Windsor campus since Hamas' Oct. 7, 2023, attack.

Cheifetz says his organization is working with CIJA and plans to talk with the university's board of governors about the negative impacts these agreements will have on the Jewish community.

Hebert says the Jewish Law Students Association also plans to reach out to the university and sit down with them to see how some policies could be amended.

Hebert also wants to see his school change its policies surrounding what's considered antisemitism on campus.

University says it's committed to combating antisemitism

In response to CBC's request for comment, the University of Windsor said it is committed to combating "all forms of identity-based violence and discrimination, including antisemitism" and said it appreciates the advocacy of the Windsor Jewish Federation and the school's Jewish Students Association.

"We are dedicated to continuing this dialogue and progress, including providing increased support for both Jewish and Palestinian students, which was part of the agreements," a spokesperson for the university said in a statement.

The statement says the university believes negotiated agreements yield better long-term outcomes.

The university spokesperson also said that administration engaged separate negotiations with the University of Windsor Student Alliance (UWSA) and students involved in the encampment and "while the agreements reached with these specific student groups may reflect their concerns, which is typical in a negotiation process, they in no way encompass the university's comprehensive plan and its commitment to address all forms of identity-based violence and discrimination."