A pro-Israel North American advocacy organization announced on Thursday that it had won a legal victory after an Ontario university’s student association banned it from participating in an event last year, due to its connection with Israel.
The event in question was Social Justice Week, held at University of Ontario Institute of Technology. Robert Walker, national director of Hasbara Fellowships Canada, had responded to an open invitation for community groups to participate.
When he was denied entry, Hasbara Fellowships filed legal action with the Ontario Human Rights Tribunal, citing discrimination. The group demanded a public apology, an invitation back to campus, and $50,000 in damages.
On Thursday, the Student Association released a public apology on its website saying it “deeply regrets the decision made to deny Mr. Walker and Hasbara the opportunity to participate in Social Justice Week. The SA sincerely apologizes to Mr. Walker and Hasbara. The SA aims to promote healthy debate on campus and rejects discrimination of any kind, including against Israeli students or community members. We welcome Mr. Walker and Hasbara’s participation at a future multicultural event on campus.”
Robert Walker in front of the student centre at the University of Ontario Institute of Technology campus, February 2017.Robert Walker in front of the student centre at the University of Ontario Institute of Technology campus, February 2017.
The statement noted that Hasbara had been denied entry to the event based on a false piece of information that the 2015-2016 Board of the SA had ratified a motion to support a boycott campaign against Israel under the banner “BDS.” The motion was passed but it was not ratified by the 2015-2016 Board.
As for the $50,000 demanded by Hasbara Fellowships, Walker told the The Jerusalem Post on Thursday that he was not at liberty to share anymore details of the settlement, but emphasized that he was “extremely satisfied with the result.”
According to Walker, this is the first time ever that a Canadian Jewish group has filed legal action against a university association and he sees the result as a huge victory for Jewish students in Canada.
“We can see a major change in tone,” he remarked.
“Only one year ago the Student Association prevented us from participating in a program because we were ‘connected to Israel.’ And one year later, they apologized, are welcoming us back to campus, outlining their opposition to discrimination against Israelis and regretting what they have done…
This is a major step which we hope will be noticed by universities and student governments across the country,” he said.
Since the incident occurred last year, the fellowship has helped a local group of Jewish students form a pro-Israel club, the first of its kind of the campus.
“The silver lining was not just that we righted a wrong, but that true proactive steps have been taken and that the Student Association has really made a big change from last year and we’ve been able to engage and empower a group of Jewish students to be able to tell the truth about Israel on a campus where there is zero Jewish presence,” Walker said.