Photo Credit: Wikimedia / JPhillips23
University of Toronto's University College Building

The University of Toronto Graduate Students’ Union (GSU) was forced to eat crow this week after refusing to support an ongoing campaign by the campus Hillel organization to secure kosher food access for students.

In a statement issued Sunday evening, the GSU apologized for ““unintentionally caus(ing) harm toward the Jewish community” after a union official suggested that the executive board would not support a campaign by the school’s Hillel to make kosher food available on campus since it is “pro-Israel.

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The External Commissioner did not intend to do harm in using this language, but recognizes that this is not an excuse for the harm that the wording of this response caused to the individual receiving it as well as to Jewish students at U of T.”

The statement notes, however, that no official decision has yet been made on whether to bring the motion forward at the next board meeting.

The GSU said, in addition, that it has “reached out” to Hillel and the student who received the email “to request a meeting to discuss how to remedy harm and how to mitigate future harm towards Jewish students on campus.”

In response, the University of Toronto Hillel has said it appreciates the apology by the GSU and its agreement to consider the motion on kosher food, but notes that, “This apology does not address the anti-Semitic nature of their original response. This is the core issue that must be discussed.”

The entire issue began with a letter written by a Jewish student to the GSU asking the student union to consider providing support for Jewish students to obtain access to kosher food on campus.

The student was told in a response, “I doubt the Executive Committee will be comfortable recommending this motion given that the organization hosting it is openly pro-Israel.”

According to a report by the Canadian B’nai Brith organization, the response email added that any move to support the kosher food campaign could be contrary to “the will of the membership” — an apparent reference to the GSU’s adoption of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) campaign that wages economic war with the State of Israel.

B’nai Brith immediately wrote to officials at the University on Sunday, asking them to swiftly condemn the GSU’s stance on the kosher food initiative, ensure that the complaint against the GSU BDS Committee is expedited, and to work to make kosher food more accessible on campus.

The B’nai Brith organization has intervener status in a lawsuit between the Canadian Federation of Students and the Ontario government, where it is defending Jewish students’ rights not to be forced to pay fees to student governments that support anti-Semitic policies. The GSU also has intervener status in that litigation, but is arguing that students should have no choice but to fund student unions, including the GSU itself.

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Hana Levi Julian is a Middle East news analyst with a degree in Mass Communication and Journalism from Southern Connecticut State University. A past columnist with The Jewish Press and senior editor at Arutz 7, Ms. Julian has written for Babble.com, Chabad.org and other media outlets, in addition to her years working in broadcast journalism.