Pro-Israel Event at York Cancelled
B'nai Brith calls cancellation a "de facto decision" by university.
A pro-Israel event scheduled to take place at York University in advance of “Israel Apartheid Week” was cancelled at the last minute after organizers were unable to comply with strict security requirements.
“The pro-Israel voice was lost right before Israel Apartheid Week,” said Michael Mostyn, National Director of Public Affairs for B’nai Brith Canada. “It was a real opportunity at York to establish some balance.”
Put together by the Imagine With Us coalition (a partnership of Canadian pro-Israel Jewish and Christian groups) and led by B’nai Brith Canada and My Canada, a Christian non-partisan social justice organization, the event was set to take place on Monday, February 22 and Thursday, February 25. Its purpose was to act as a counterweight to Israel Apartheid Week (IAW), which runs from March 1 to 7 and has multiple campus events at York.
The Imagine With Us conference featured Middle East political commentator Daniel Pipes, B’nai Brith Executive Vice President and CEO Frank Dimant, human rights activist Rev. Majed El Shafie, Israeli academic Dr. Mordechai Kedar and My Canada founder Faytene Kryskow. Lectures were going to be streamed live to campuses across Canada as well as made available online for international audiences.
On Monday, February 22 at 9 a.m., a representative of Christians United for Israel (CUFI), a campus partner of Imagine With Us, met with York representatives. He informed them that the coalition could not meet the stipulations York had placed on the event and asked if it could still take place on campus. He was told that due to the coalition’s failure to meet the requirements –specifically to pay for their own security – York was cancelling the event.
“The decision then to cancel the event was a de facto decision by York University, not the students,” wrote Mostyn in a February 25 letter to Robert J. Tiffin, York Vice President, Students. Mostyn’s letter was in response to a letter Tiffin had sent to B’nai Brith earlier in the day that stated the event was cancelled by its student organizers, and not by York.
The portion of Tiffin’s letter in question said: “Let me clearly state at the outset of this response the decision to cancel the ‘Imagine With Us’ event was made on February 22 solely by the student organization – not the University.”
However, in its February 25 issue, the Jewish Tribune reported that York security director Rob Kilfoyle confirmed the event had been cancelled. He further told the Tribune that each campus event is individually accessed for security needs and that the strict security requirements were placed on the Imagine With Us event due to appearances by Pipes and Dimant.
Shalom Life made repeated attempts to speak with Kilfoyle but was unable to reach him, eventually being referred to Keith Marnoch, York media relations associate director.
When asked to explain the contradiction between Kilfoyle’s confirmation that the event had been cancelled and Tiffin’s later charge that student organizers had made the call to shut it down early Monday morning, Marnoch said: “I don’t know. He’s certainly involved with the security. There may have been a misunderstanding with that.”
Marnoch said that the university only found out the event was no longer taking place after they “got wind of an email (from CUFI) that went out in the early hours of Monday basically saying that the event was not going to be happening at York. And that was news to us.”
However, in an email, B’nai Brith Canada communications officer Dan Rabkin told Shalom Life that the email in question was actually a Facebook message that was sent to everyone signed up for the event by CUFI “a few hours” after the 9 a.m. meeting, long after the event had already been cancelled by the university.
“Regardless of the language used in that (Facebook) message, by that time we all already knew that York had cancelled the event,” Rabkin wrote.
Organizers behind the Imagine with us coalition had begun the process of booking the event with York administration in early January, including lots of “back and forth” and “many meetings by the students” with York officials, said Mostyn.
“There were a number of back and forths over the course of the weeks before the event to determine what was needed in terms of security,” Marnoch said.
Marnoch told Shalom Life that York administrators worked with the event’s organizers to come up with “an itinerary that they wanted to have and as a result of that try to come up with a way that made the most sense to provide services around the event, one thing being security.”