FSWC Outraged by CUPE Calling On York U TAs to Misuse Tutorials for Anti-Israel Lessons, and Targeting Jewish Student Group

January 30, 2024

News Release

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Toronto (January 30, 2024) – Friends of Simon Wiesenthal Center (FSWC) is alarmed by a CUPE local's recent distribution of a “toolkit” to members that called on all York University teaching assistants to engage in anti-Israel teachings during their regularly planned lessons.

The “Toolkit on Teaching Palestine” distributed by the local union CUPE 3903 earlier this month called on teaching assistants it represents at York University to “collectively divert” tutorials between January 21-28 “to teaching on Palestinian liberation.”

The blatantly biased, so-called toolkit reads like a political manifesto. It presents a series of resources and an example of how to present the topic in class, including declaring an interest in “ending Canada’s and York’s complicity with genocide and the settler-colonial occupation of Palestinian land and life.”

Most disturbingly, it demonizes pro-Israel Jewish groups, singling out the student group Hillel, stating York is complicit in “Israel’s occupation of Palestine” through its “economic and academic relationships with various Zionist cultural institutions (e.g. Hillel) and Israeli universities (e.g. Hebrew University).”

FSWC has expressed its outrage over the toolkit to both the York University administration and CUPE leadership.

During a discussion with York University President Rhonda Lenton yesterday, FSWC President and CEO Michael Levitt said the targeting of a Jewish group and misuse of tutorials to promote anti-Israel rhetoric seriously undermine a safe space for Jewish students and faculty at York, and called on the administration to protect its Jewish community.

Lenton noted York University’s concern about Hillel being named in the CUPE document and that the university is reaching out to the student group to provide support. She reaffirmed the university’s commitment to ensuring that the university is a safe space for Jewish students and employees.

In an official statement issued yesterday evening, Lenton stated the university does not find CUPE 3903’s call for the diversion of their teaching from the planned curriculum “to be in accordance with the rightful expectations of the University as an employer, the needs of the students and the legitimate claims of the community” and that it has written to the union’s leadership to discuss the issue.

In a letter to CUPE National, FSWC called on leadership to take steps to help ensure that the classroom remains a safe space for learning, and immediately intervene to ensure its members do not exploit their teaching platforms in such an inflammatory, unprofessional manner in the future.

“The baseless, defamatory accusations of complicity levelled against Jewish groups on campus, and the directive to cancel regularly scheduled lessons in favour of teaching about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, are not only inappropriate but offensively irresponsible,” the letter states. “At a time of surging antisemitism, it is now more incendiary than ever to target Jewish groups on-campus like Hillel, or to suggest that Jewish students are complicit in the events in the Middle East. The reckless incitement of CUPE 3903 has made an already tense situation more difficult for Jewish faculty and students at York.”

FSWC is aware of a number of CUPE 3903 members who have expressed their concerns about the toolkit. It’s far from the first time in recent years that CUPE members have spoken out forcefully against their union’s overtly biased, malicious stance on the complex Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Late last year, some 30 members of CUPE filed a human rights claim, alleging that the union engaged in systemic discrimination and promoted antisemitism.