Jewish Canadian mogul pulls support over ‘anti-Semitic’ mural
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'Only when it pertains to Jews do we see this disturbing double standard'

Jewish Canadian mogul pulls support over ‘anti-Semitic’ mural

Paul Bronfman stops cooperation with York University after request to remove politically charged artwork by Palestinian student goes unheeded

Renee Ghert-Zand is a reporter and feature writer for The Times of Israel.

Detail from 'Palestinian Roots' by Ahmad Al Abid, which hangs in York University's Student Centre. (http://yusc.ca/mural/palestinian-roots/)
Detail from 'Palestinian Roots' by Ahmad Al Abid, which hangs in York University's Student Centre. (http://yusc.ca/mural/palestinian-roots/)

A leading Canadian film industry executive and a scion of one of the country’s wealthiest families has withdrawn his support for Toronto’s York University after it refused to remove a mural he claims is anti-Semitic.

Paul Bronfman, founder of Comweb, a group of integrated entertainment firms providing production related services, studio facilities, and equipment to the film and television, learned of the mural only last week, despite the fact that it has been on display for almost three years.

However, he told The Times of Israel on Tuesday that he has long been aware of York University’s reputation as a campus with strong pro-Palestinian and anti-Israel activism.

Although opinions differ as to the extent to which this anti-Israel, and even anti-Semitic, reputation is deserved, Bronfman said York’s leadership has set the tone for tolerance of anti-Israel and anti-Semitic rhetoric and activities.

Paul Bronfman (Tom Sandler Photography)
Paul Bronfman (Tom Sandler Photography)

The artwork, which hangs prominently in the York University’s Student Centre was created by a student named Ahmad Al Abid, who graduated in 2013. Titled, “Palestinian Roots,” the large painting shows a young man (shown from the rear, and from the shoulders down) wearing a keffiyah decorated with the Palestinian flag and a map of Israel, the West Bank and Gaza—with no border demarcations. The man gazes out at a scene including hills, a bulldozer in front of a building, and a tree. In his hands, which are behind his back, he holds stones. At the bottom are the words for “peace” and “justice” in a variety of languages, including Hebrew and Arabic.

“My inspiration for this piece is the ongoing issue in Palestine where illegal settlement expansions have become common. These expansions come at the expense of uprooting century old olive trees, trees intertwined with the roots of the Palestinian people,” the artist said in a statement on the Student Centre’s website.

Bronfman said he contacted the university’s president Mamdouh Shoukri on January 19 to express his concern about the mural.

“It’s an anti-Semitic piece of garbage and it offends me as a Jew and as a Canadian. It should offend all Canadians,” Bronfman said.

‘It’s an anti-Semitic piece of garbage and it offends me as a Jew and as a Canadian. It should offend all Canadians’

Jewish students also disapprove of the painting, with some saying that the image makes them feel unsafe.

“If a mural condoning violence against any other nation was hung on campus, it would rightfully be condemned. Only when it pertains to Jews do we see this disturbing double standard,” Danielle Shachar a York University psychology student and Israel advocate told the Canadian Jewish News in December of last year.

Bronfman told the university that unless the artwork was removed by January 22, he would withdraw tens of thousands of dollars of donated equipment and educational services that one of his companies, William F. White International, had been providing the university’s cinema and media arts department.

The university stood to lose television production equipment used by student filmmakers, access to experts, student training and seminars, workshops and open houses.

“The administration just gave me a bunch of bureaucratic jargon. They told me they appreciated my concern, blah, blah, blah,” Bronfman reported about his conversation with the administration.

York University's Vari Hall (photo credit: CC, Andrei Sedoff, Wikimedia Commons)
York University’s Vari Hall (photo credit: CC, Andrei Sedoff, Wikimedia Commons)

When the mural was still hanging last Friday, Bronfman wrote to Shoukri to confirm that he was withdrawing his support from the university.

The Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs (CIJA) issued a statement on the matter.

“It is outrageous that the York Student Centre continues to display a painting that glorifies Palestinian rock-throwing and uses the themes of ‘peace’ and ‘justice’ to justify violence. This is particularly offensive to Jewish and Israeli students given that Palestinian terrorists have murdered dozens of Israelis in the past several months alone, including Israeli drivers who died after rocks were thrown at their vehicles,” it said.

“There should be no place for that kind of message in a civilized society, let alone a university,” it added.

‘We know the subject of the artwork is offensive to some individuals and groups. We understand and respect their concerns’

A York University spokeswoman told The Times of Israel that the university regretted Bronfman’s decision to withdraw his support. She also pointed out that the university’s administration did not have decision-making power regarding artwork hung at the Student Centre, which is a separate legal entity.

“We know the subject of the artwork is offensive to some individuals and groups. We understand and respect their concerns. As a result, York’s administration continues to explore all available options to address the concerns in ways that will ensure we continue to foster an environment reflective of our core values of diversity, respect and inclusivity,” the spokeswoman said.

“We do not tolerate discriminatory, harassing or hateful behaviour or actions in any form,” she added.

Bronfman doesn’t believe there is anything to further explore or discuss with regard to the image. To him, the painting’s message is clear, as is what he believes should be done about it.

“It’s bloody simple to see that it’s anti-Semitic. You don’t have to be a rocket scientist to know that. York should be ashamed of itself that it is still hanging there,” he said.

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