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Canadian Student Union apologizes to Montreal’s Jewish Community for Lack of Action over Antisemitism

On the day before Holocaust Remembrance Day, the Concordia Student Union issued a letter of apology to the Jewish community at large.

The letter, posted on the CSU’s Facebook page Tuesday, apologizes for years of turning a blind eye to antisemitic incidents that have contributed to creating an unwelcoming environment, and one of hostility toward Jewish students on campus.

“By doing so, the CSU has assisted in fostering a campus culture where Jewish students are afraid to openly identify as Jewish,” the letter states.

The letter said the union will remove antisemitic graffiti on campus and require mandatory sensitivity training for all CSU club executives.

“While we stood idly by in the past while acts of anti-Semitism occurred, we hope not to repeat those mistakes again and hope the Jewish community will give us another chance to support them in the future,” the letter concludes.

Speaking to the Montreal Gazette, Eduardo Malorni, the incoming general co-ordinator for the CSU, said the letter came about after an initiative this year to reach out to the Jewish community.

He said he was saddened to hear that Jewish students felt unwelcome, continually faced anti-Jewish slurs from other students and were constantly seeing swastikas painted in numerous places around the university.

Nicole Nashen, a CSU councillor and the incoming president of Hillel Concordia, said she was heartened by the apology, especially considering that she was initially hesitant to attend the university because of its history of anti-Jewish incidents.

“I was really touched by it,” Nashen said. “As someone who was scared to enroll in Concordia because of its reputation, I was pleased to see it was taking the initiative to acknowledge the wrong it did for decades, and putting actionable steps towards correcting that wrong and trying to mend that relationship.”

Malorni said the letter is the beginning of a new attitude the CSU wants to adopt to combat hatred.

“An apology is only the first step; it means nothing if we don’t follow through with it,” he said. “And that’s why in the next year, it is going to be super important to follow through on what we said, to make sure it’s something more and not just a one-time ‘I’m sorry’.”

Reacting to the letter, Rabbi Reuben Poupko, co-chair of the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs-Quebec (CIJA), commended the CSU for facing up to its past and committing to improve the situation.

“Our first reaction is gratitude and pride in the students of our community who very intelligently and very courageously engaged in the necessary dialogue to bring this about,” he said, adding that CIJA accepts the apology and expects “improved behaviour” in the future.

In recent years, the CSU has supported an event called Passover Against Apartheid, and was an active force behind the 2002 riot that erupted when Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who was not the head of the Israeli government at the time, was booked to speak at Concordia’s Hall building.

Poupko added that antisemitism has been supported by the CSU for many years.

“I remember being at a CSU event close to 30 years ago, when they hosted the No. 2 to Louis Farrakhan, where he gave a speech for the CSU, which was three hours in length, denouncing Jews and Judaism in ways that were obscene,” he said. “To many, that is ancient history, but our involvement on this issue on Concordia campus goes back a long time.”