Student group alleges anti-Semitism at AMS-hosted event

Social Issues Commissioner is ‘open to feedback’ 

Ericka Hart was invited to discuss anti-colonial and anti-capitalist work at university. 
This article includes descriptions of anti-Semitism and may be triggering for some readers. The Peer Support Centre offers drop-in services and empathetic peer-based support and is open from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. Online services can be accessed here.
 
On Nov. 9, the Social Issues Commission (SIC), Queen’s Committee Against Racial and Ethnic Discrimination (CARED), and Levana Gender Advocacy Centre held an event on navigating colonial institutions and intersectional student activism with guest speaker Ericka Hart.
 
Hart is a former adjunct professor at the Columbia School of Social Work.
 
Queen’s Hillel claims Ericka Hart expressed anti-Semitic sentiments in a recent conference at Yale.
 
“Three days ago or something, I just happen to see this news story in which [Hart] had spoken at Yale Law and talked about diversity activism,” Rafi Matchen, Vice-President (Advocacy) for Hillel Queen’s, said in an interview with The Journal. 
 
“Somebody asked [Hart], ‘it seems very conspicuous that you’ve left off anti-Semitism on the list’.”
 
Matchen alleged that Hart said anti-Semitism only extended to Black Jewish people.
 
According to what was reported from the event, Hart also allegedly insinuated statistics of hate crime on Jewish folks are inflated by the FBI. 
 
According to Matchen, such narratives trace back to old stereotypes of Jewish people controlling the media building on claims that victimization of Jewish people is “exaggerated.”
 
While allegations of anti-Semitism against Hart only broke out a few days after the AMS set the event, Queen’s Hillel alerted the event organizers and expressed the importance of addressing concerns of anti-Semitism.
 
According to Matchen, what was discussed at the event was “broadly radical,” ranging from discussions on Israeli Apartheid and criticisms of the Israeli government. 
 
“I think it has to be clear that you’re doing something like accusing Israel of genocide—that itself an anti-Semitic thing to say,” Matchen said. 
 
“Israel is important enough to the Jews and is central enough to the Jews and to Judaism—to say something that Israel is committing a genocide, that can’t not be anti-Semitic.” 
 
Matchen added while respecting freedom of speech and academic freedom is important, there’s a fine line that shouldn’t be crossed. 
 
“I would say this is firmly past that line,” Matchen said. 
 
“This was somebody who was speaking to issues of inclusion, equity, and diversity, that’s not somebody who you want to be hearing this kind of thing from.”
 
Ideally, Matchen said the AMS should have cancelled the event.
 
“I think the right thing to do would have been to say, ‘we’ve heard from Hillel, and we just want to share what’s going on to avoid this issue.’” 
 
The Journal reached out to AMS Commissioner of Social Issues, Samara Lijiam, to discuss Hart’s event. 
 
“The discussion was about student activism and navigating predominantly white institutions. [Hart] is a professor and educator and has a lot of experience doing anti-colonial and anti-capitalist work in university settings,” Lijiam said in an interview with The Journal
 
“Ericka shared her journey through advocacy, and how her journey through activism related to her personal journey and life.”
 
During the interview, Lijiam responded to concerns raised by Queen’s Hillel. She said there was not enough time to address the issues they alleged.
 
“We did receive an email with concerns a day before the event, it was just too late and incredibly short notice for us to cancel the event,” Lijiam said. 
 
“We definitely take these concerns seriously and are always open to feedback and what type of speakers students want to see from us.”
 
“We went through all of the information that was sent to us. [...] Comments were made very recently, and we booked the speaker months ago. So I don’t know if [allegations of anti-Semitism] were made when we had made the booking, although I do not want to speculate,” Lijiam said. 
 
Lijiam said no apology would be issued by the AMS at this time.
 
“I feel bad. I don’t know that I apologize for booking Ericka Hart as a speaker, I think that we did the best that we could given the information at the time. Knowing the information [from Queen’s Hillel], I listened to what [Hart] said very carefully, and she didn’t say anything problematic,” Lijiam said. 
 
“I feel that everything said at our event was incredibly appropriate.” 
 
Lijiam says she wants to hear from those impacted by Hart’s comments at the AMS event. 
 
“If anybody has any issues with our event in particular, I want them to please reach out. I am open to hearing from
anyone who believes inappropriate comments were made,” Lijiam said. 
 
Lijiam added that the SIC belongs to all student groups. 
 
“Within the SIC, we represent such a large group of students, so it’s definitely important to work with and partner with all students. We are always open to working with every student group,” Lijiam said.
 
“We want to prioritize safety and inclusion while promoting dialogue.”

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