TORONTO — Allowing an American academic who targets professors and others whose views he considers anti-Israeli to speak on campus is a violation of academic freedom, a group of academics and students said Tuesday.
Members of the Coalition for Academic Freedom argued that York University should have barred Philadelphia-based Daniel Pipes, who was invited to speak by the Jewish Federation of Students, from the campus.
Pipes, the director of the Middle East Forum, runs a Web site called Campus Watch, which critics argue singles out academics who criticize Israel's treatment of Palestinians or Washington's pro-Israeli policies.
Those academics are then subject to harassment and threats, said Malcolm Blincow, an anthropology professor at York.
"Huge amounts of spam was sent to the e-mail sites of these people, making it impossible for them, not only to function personally, but academically. Their academic work was fundamentally undermined," said Blincow.
"There were also death threats."
Last week, the university decided against allowing Pipes to speak on campus.
However, citing York's "strong tradition of providing a venue for the free expression of a broad range of opinions," the school relented within days.
Pipes was welcome to speak as long as he didn't break the law, the university said.
The Canadian Jewish Congress praised that decision.
Pablo Vivanco, of the York Federation of Students and a coalition member, said the intention was not to silence anyone's political opinions.
"(However), there are also large numbers of the student community who feel offended and attacked by some of the things that Daniel Pipes is promoting," said Vivanco.
"If we're going to be speaking about academic freedom, is the line going to be totally erased in terms of actual appropriateness and ensuring that people feel safe."
To make their displeasure at the speech known, the coalition called on students to walk out of their classrooms and hold a silent protest.
Last fall, former Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu was forced to cancel a speech at Montreal's Concordia University amid demonstrations by pro-Palestinian protesters