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Challenge: Anti-Semitism and anti-Israel rhetoric combine

Sometimes, swastikas are crudely scrawled in hallways. Sometimes, bathroom walls are defaced with anti-Jewish slurs. Often, campus newspaper articles decry Israel as a brutal oppressor. And most recently, a Jewish student at York University has alleged an assault at the hands of protestors denouncing war with Iraq. These are just a few of the incidents that have left their mark on Jewish students at Toronto universities this year.

Since the eruption of the Palestinian campaign of violence against Israel in September 2000, reports of vandalism and graffiti on university campuses have escalated. "One particular elevator had to be painted every two weeks for months," says Shayna Allen, Director of Hillel:The Centre for Jewish Campus Life at York University. At Ryerson, students were chilled to see their sukkah sprayed with the words "How many more children are you going to kill?" An investigation into the incident by campus police led nowhere.

As troubling as these incidents are, those occurring inside the classroom can be even more challenging for students. "A handful of professors and teaching assistants have dropped offhand derogatory comments," says Lisa Isen-Baumel, Allen's counterpart at the University of Toronto. "Students are very sensitive to it now."

Inside and outside the lecture hall, Jewish students are often placed in the awkward position of confronting their teachers, while others shy away for fear it will impact their grades

The unease Toronto's Jewish students are experiencing on campus is symptomatic of a larger ill that is pervading academic institutions across North America. Hating Israel has become acceptable, as sympathy for the Palestinian cause gains momentum. And, although some pro-Palestinian academics have protested that criticism of Israel is too readily labelled anti-Semitism, the two are often difficult to distinguish.

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