So far we have a number of posts about the incident in Feb., 2009 when identifiably Jewish students were blocked inside the university’s Hillel office while a crowd outside chanted hysterically and intimidatingly at them. The chants, “Racists off campus” focused on the theme that the Zionists were racists and racists should leave campus. By focusing on Zionists and conducting the sudden rally outside the identifiably Jewish Hillel offices, the angry mob made their intentions clear.
A York University investigation concluded that Jesse Zimmerman and the incoming student federation president, Krisna Saravanamuttu, should both be reprimanded by York for this event. You can see the two leading chants at 1:20 of this video. Then keep watching as Saravanamuttu blames Jewish groups, Hillel, Hasbara and campus Zionists for keeping him and others out of a press conference because of ulterior motives.
Later that day, after protesters were finally removed by police, Saravanamuttu denied any culpability or any bigotry. He told a reporter that charges of anti-Semitism were “categorically false” and that he “heard nothing of that nature at all.” Demonstrators, according to his version merely chanted, “Racism off campus” and “Students united will never be defeated.”
After being reprimanded and fined for his actions on May 22, Saravanamuttu remained unrepentant. In that report he is quoted as saying:
“Several formal complaints were made to the University about students making racist comments on campus, yet the University did nothing. I decided to stand up against racism and I think it’s absurd that I was fined by the University for saying “racists off campus,” said Saravanamuttu. “When racist incidents happened on campus and nothing was done about it students took a stand, and for that we were punished.”
So he was standing up to racism?
Let’s check the facts.
There used to be a video on Youtube, now gone, of Jesse Zimmerman and a mob of supporters outside the Hillel offices chanting against Zionists by accusing them of racism and demanding the racists leave campus. Zimmerman is heard saying, “Zionism does not speak for Jews. Zionism is an embarrassment. Shame on the Zionists.” Had Zimmerman not said anything about Zionists, we might think this was just about a bunch of racists, but between the diatribe against Zionists and the fact they were yelling outside the Hillel office, it’s clear who they meant.
In interviews with members of Hillel, they state that on that day, as they were moving to their office because of the fear they felt at an earlier press conference, they were called dirty Jews and other abhorrent language.
Now, it’s possible to say that since these nasty comments don’t exist on tape, they aren’t provable. However, I believe that the context of what Zimmerman was leading with this mob that was blocking the Hillel room where students were cowering in fear clarifies exactly what this was.
Here is the backstory:
The students hiding in the Hillel office included Jews and non-Jews. They were all members of a group called Drop YFS which was focused on removing the York Student Federation from office because they felt the YFS completely mismanaged the CUPE strike by supporting CUPE to the detriment of the York student body. CUPE is the union representing contract faculty and teaching assistants. They wanted improvements in their pay and employment conditions and ended up striking for nearly 3 months. York students were severely affected as a result and it cost some their academic year or delayed graduation for others. This made many students angry and the support of their own government in this infuriated them. That’s why the impeachment drive with Drop YFS was launched.
It so happened that many of the organizers of Drop YFS were Jews, some of whom belonged to Hillel. They had been planning these protests since December of 2008. The CUPE strike began in November and the YFS’s support was already in place.
Then, at the end of December, Israel attacked Gaza. On January 21, the YFS condemned Israel for the Gaza offensive, making no mention of Hamas and its actions. To put this in context, this vote happened after Drop YFS began its campaign.
But the YFS soon changed the subject of the impeachment drive and began blaming the DROP YFS campaign on pro-Israel interests that were opposed to their vote on Gaza. There is only one way to view this in my opinion: the YFS lied to gain favor and avoid impeachment.
On the day that Drop YFS held the press conference to announce their feat of gaining the 5000 votes (out of 50,000 students on the York campus) needed to impeach the standing YFS council, the room was closed because it could only hold 30 people legally and after 40 people entered the hosts – the leaders of Drop YFS – were ordered by police to stop letting people in.
It was then that Krisna Saravanamuttu stood outside the room and led a large group of supporters through accusatory chants, supposedly for being excluded from the press conference.
Did he accuse the non-Jews of Drop YFS for this exclusion? Nope.
Did he blame the police which prevented the organizers of the news conference from letting more people into the room? Nope.
He, a member of the YFS, blamed Hillel and Hasbara, two Jewish campus groups, along with campus Zionists, for trying to bring the YFS down because of the Gaza vote. This can be seen in the video above at around 1:35.
As he and the others around him disrupted the news conference, they created a very uncomfortable barrier for the students seeking to leave the room. They left the press conference room and moved to the Hillel offices. Reportedly, it was then that members of the mob gathered around Krisna called some of the Drop YFS members nasty anti-Semitic things – and went on to shout about Zionists being racists and down with racism outside the Hillel office. There is no evidence that Krisna did any of these things. The video shows him at an earlier point in time as a leader, but not visible later.
Since there was no racism here on the part of Drop YFS, and since the members of Drop YFS came from different parts of the university and included non-Jews and people of color, and since the campaign began in December before the YFS Gaza vote, it is very difficult to read what happened here and conclude that this was anything but an anti-Semitic incident. It may have been cynical in its nature and meant to buttress the standing of the YFS, but the targeting of Jewish groups with unfounded accusations is anti-Semitism.
So when Krisna is quoted as saying “When racist incidents happened on campus and nothing was done about it students took a stand, and for that we were punished” to absolve himself of the reprimand he received from York, his reconstruction of the event just doesn’t fit with the video where he makes the statement at 1:35 in which he accuses Jewish groups of trying to knock off the YFS because of the Gaza vote. I don’t see any connection between these statements.
Congratulations to the York student body on electing Krisna Saravanamuttu to lead their student federation.