Update: Human rights group addresses ‘growing on-campus antisemitism’ at Queen’s University

Kingstonist file photo.

Editor’s note: This article has been updated since it was originally published on Wednesday, Nov. 22, 2023, at 4:11 p.m. Please see bottom of article for most recently updated information.

Content warning: This article contains references to antisemitism and photos of antisemitic graffiti.

A Toronto-based human rights organization is calling on the administration of Queen’s University to “tackle the extreme rise in antisemitism on campus and take action to protect the safety of Jewish students.”

The Friends of Simon Wiesenthal Center for Holocaust Studies (FSWC) announced that it had written to Queen’s University about the matter in a press release issued on Tuesday, Nov. 21, 2023. Citing information from Hillel Queen’s — a student organization founded in 1941 to be “the voice of Jewish students at Queen’s University” — FSWC referenced antisemitic graffiti that was discovered in a washroom on Queen’s campus on Saturday, Nov. 18, 2023. The vandalism included graffiti that read “Satan + IDF” inside a heart (IDF referring to the Israel Defense Forces); “It is apartheid… It is genocide”; and “Alright Hitler, I’ll do it for you. I’m going to bat for you Hitler.”

According to FSWC, both Campus Security & Emergency Services and Kingston Police were notified about the graffiti.

Images of antisemitic graffiti reportedly discovered in a washroom on Queen’s University campus on Saturday, Nov. 18, 2023. Submitted images.

Again citing Hillel Queen’s, the press release stated that “there’s been a disturbing surge in antisemitic incidents at Queen’s University over the past five years, including campus groups justifying violence against Jews, mezuzahs ripped from residence doors, faculty spreading hate against Jews and Israelis, an attempted vehicular assault on pro-Israel rally attendees, and hateful graffiti, among other incidents.” Some of those incidents referred to align with those discussed in the recently filed class action lawsuit against Queen’s, alleging antisemitism on campus. However, reached for comment on this matter, Queen’s University pointed out that the incident involving a driver revving their engine at pro-Israel rally attendees did not occur on campus, but rather on the streets surrounding Springer Market Square behind Kingston City Hall.

“They referenced incidents that didn’t actually happen on campus… We feel they are conflating the incidents,” a spokesperson for Queen’s said in response to Kingstonist inquiries.

The university did, however, confirm that Campus Security & Emergency Services was notified regarding the antisemitic graffiti discovered on campus this past weekend.

“Queen’s does take these matters very seriously, so it is being looked into,” the university spokesperson stated, noting that, because the university had only received a press release from FSWC at 4 p.m. on Tuesday, Nov. 21, 2023, they had not yet had the chance to respond, but “we will absolutely respond.”

Kingstonist reached out to Kingston Police to confirm they were notified of the graffiti and find out if police are currently investigating the incident. No response was received by time of publication.

And while Queen’s said that they received the press release from FSWC, they did not mention the letter that the human rights organization said they’d sent to Principal and Vice-Chancellor Patrick Deane, which “expressed concern over the recent rash of antisemitic incidents and called on the university administration to outline what steps it is taking to address this endemic problem.” Kingstonist also asked Queen’s what actions the university is taking to address these matters, but no official response was received by time of publication.

“While it’s important for the Queen’s University administration to strongly denounce antisemitism and declare that hate will not be tolerated on campus, words are no longer enough,” said FSWC Director of Allyship and Community Engagement Dan Panneton, who is himself a Queen’s University alumnus.

“The administration must call out the incidents Jewish students have been facing and point to concrete action it’s taking to confront the latest spike in antisemitism. Like all students, Jews on campus deserve to feel safe and welcomed, not targeted and ostracized with hate.”

According to their website, the Friends of Simon Weisenthal Centre for Holocaust Studies is “one of Canada’s leading human rights and social advocacy organizations. Inspired by the legacy of Simon Wiesenthal, FSWC works to build a more inclusive and respectful Canada by sharing the lessons of the Holocaust, advocating for human rights and combatting both antisemitism and hate in all its forms.”

This is a developing story. Kingstonist will provide updated coverage as more information becomes available.

Update (Thursday, Nov. 23, 2023, at 3:30 p.m.):

After Queen’s University indicated its intent to respond to the letter from the Friends of Simon Wiesenthal Center (as mentioned above), Kingstonist requested that the university share that response once it had been sent. In response to that request, Queen’s refused.

“This organization reached out directly to the university, and we intend to respond directly and do not have comment to share,” the university said in an email.

Additionally, in response to Kingstonist’s requests for confirmation that Kingston Police had been notified about the antisemitic graffiti located on Queen’s campus — as well as any details on any ensuing investigation — local police said the graffiti had not been reported to them as the FSWC had indicated.

“After an exhaustive search, we were able to confirm that Kingston Police did not take a report/complaint in regards to the graffiti/mischief incident that you had referenced,” Constable Ash Gutheinz, Media Relations Officer for Kingston Police, said in an email to Kingstonist on Thursday, Nov. 23, 2023.

Gutheinz said police “simply do not have the information to support that a complaint was made with us at this time,” and noted that he had surveyed several police units with the Kingston Police Force about the matter.

Kingstonist followed up with the FSWC at 11:57 a.m. the same day, asking for further information on who contacted Kingston Police about the graffiti and when. The human rights organization did not respond by time of publication.

This remains a developing story. Kingstonist will provide updated coverage if/when further information becomes available.

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