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Jonah Davids: Why are normally outspoken universities suddenly hesitant to condemn violence against Israel?

Commentary

Canadian universities aren’t known for being shy when it comes to commenting on politically charged events, both domestic and international. But their response to the recent crisis in Israel has been uncharacteristically reserved. 

During the first 48 hours following the attacks, seven of Canada’s ten largest public universities released public statements addressing Hamas’ rape and murder of innocent Israeli citizens. Only four of the seven statements mentioned Israel or Palestine by name, and of those that did, only York University’s statement did not equivocate between the Israeli and Palestinian situation.

  • University of Toronto:#UofT is deeply concerned about the safety and wellbeing of our students and other members of the university community who are currently in the Middle East region, or who have friends and family there.”
  • University of British Columbia: “We are deeply saddened and concerned by the recent violence in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the tragic loss of lives across the region. The escalation of this longstanding conflict and developing events is intensifying distress and concern among members of our university community.”
  • York University: “York denounces the weekend attacks against civilians in Israel and is deeply troubled by the ongoing violence. We have reached out directly to our students most impacted to offer support.”
  • Head of the University of Montreal: “I am distressed by the events of recent days in Israel and the Gaza Strip, and shocked by the brutal escalation of violence.”
  • University of Ottawa: “Members of the #uOttawa community affected by the current hostilities between Israel and Hamas can access available support if they feel the need.”
  • University of Waterloo: “#UWaterloo recognizes the detrimental impact of the violence taking place in the Middle East. We are monitoring the situation closely and we encourage our students, faculty, and staff, especially those with loved ones in the region, to reach out for support.”
  • Western University: “The violence in the Middle East this weekend has had a deep impact abroad and here at Western. We have contacted our international with ties to the region and our broader community, sharing our heartfelt concern and the support we have available. We want you to feel safe and heard. Our thoughts are with those impacted in the region and around the world.”

Sensing they had misstepped, UofT, UBC, uOttawa, and Waterloo each released second statements throughout the week in which they more definitively condemned attacks on Israeli citizens. Laval University, McGill, and the University of Alberta did not release statements.

Now, universities are under no obligation to comment on any events that do not directly affect students and faculty. But it is revealing to contrast how they initially reacted to what’s going on in Israel to other events in the past three years.

I’ll use my alma mater Toronto Metropolitan University (formerly called Ryerson) as an example. After the death of George Floyd in 2020, TMU released a statement condemning anti-Black racism, which they later followed up with an “Anti-Black Racism Campus Climate Review Report. Four days later, motivated by since-debunked reports of Indigenous children’s graves in Kamloops, protestors toppled the statue of Egerton Ryerson on campus, and TMU’s leadership said the statue would not be restored or replaced. When Russia declared War on Ukraine, TMU’s president sent a message expressing how concerned he was about the violence taking place and its impact on Ukrainians. On the day of the recent parental rights march across Canada, TMU posted a detailed response in which they framed the rallies as being “anti-trans” and “anti-2SLGBTQ+” and unequivocally denounced hatred of the LGBT community. 

TMU clearly has no issue opining on current events or taking sides on controversial issues. It’s revealing then that, at the time of writing, all that TMU has released when it comes to Israel is the following message, posted to their X feed:

“We are concerned about the escalation of violence and the tragic and complex situation unfolding in the Middle East. We know that many members of the TMU community are directly or indirectly connected to the region and are experiencing uncertainty, worry, and distress.” 

The message fails to mention either Israel or Palestine by name, let alone express condemnation of the attacks against innocent Israeli citizens by Hamas.

We see very similar behaviour from other universities. While UofT, UBC, Waterloo, and others had no trouble taking sides when it came to condemning anti-Black racism, the war in Ukraine, or parental rights protestors, they were initially reserved when it came to condemning the barbaric actions of Hamas, a terrorist group under Canadian law whose charter explicitly calls for the annihilation of all Jews, and only made additional, clarifying remarks after realizing they had misread the moment.  

So why do Canadian universities find the murdering of innocent Israelis less objectionable than innocent Ukrainians? Or for that matter, why do they find terrorism less condemnable than parents protesting the way many schools are teaching gender and sexuality to young students? Perhaps the answer lies in the fact that for years, universities have been teaching and promoting postcolonial theory, which views relationships between people, organizations, and countries through a simplistic oppressor/oppressed framework. It’s easy to view these theories as ivory tower pantomime, but this week’s events have made clear that their adherents take them very seriously, and believe that violence is acceptable if it’s an “oppressed” or “colonized” group rising up against an “oppressor” or “colonizer.” Pro-Palestinian protesters across Canada have employed this rhetoric, calling Israel and Canada colonialist states and justifying Hamas’ activity as part of decolonization. 

Such an explanation, however, may overintellectualize what is simply a gross failure to educate the Canadian public on the atrocities committed against Jews historically and to dissuade them from antisemitism. In a 2019 survey, half of Canadians said they did not know that six million Jews had died during the Holocaust, and one in five young Canadians had never heard of the Holocaust. Canada is an increasingly diverse nation lacking a sense of identity or common values, and pro-Hamas protests demonstrate the limits of our pluralist approach to statecraft. Perhaps university administrators trying to size up the conflict, knowing little of Jewish history but much postcolonial theory, opted for a “both sides” approach. This is a charitable reading, but it is the one I would prefer to be true, rather than them actually believing that hundreds of Jews in Israel are less worthy of a public statement than the death of a single Black man in America. 

Canadian universities should never have gotten into the business of commenting on current events and condemning and supporting various groups in the first place. It politicizes the education system, emboldens radical activists within universities, and it’s none of their business. But what we have seen in their messaging reflects a complete and utter rot at the moral and intellectual core of Canadian academia. The decolonization rhetoric of protestors, academics, and organizers is the direct result of a failed education system that has taught the public to fetishize oppression, elevate grievance, and celebrate the taking of innocent lives so long as they’re of the right kind. Viewing all conflicts through the lens of a Sociology 101 textbook has stupefied our public institutions and alienated us from true notions of justice, equality, and morality.

Andrea Mrozek: Stop saying women don’t want kids

Commentary

Stephen J. Shaw is a mild-mannered Brit. He is also a demographer, and in analysing global birth data he noticed there is a collapse in births coming. His response was to create a documentary called The Birth Gap, parts of which are now available free online.

If you watch the documentary, you will notice an important aspect of this demographic decline that is most often entirely missed or rebranded in any discussions of fertility. This is the sadness of women who are struggling with the loss of children in their own lives. There are women whose husbands are immature playboys, women who experience divorce and have to start afresh, women who cannot find partners—all while the biological clock ticks on. Of course, not every woman feels this way, but a good portion does. After all, having children is a human universal, something once taken for granted.

So the question is why does this angle on fertility receive so little attention? Why do the voices of these women go unheard? A recent column by John Ibbitson in the Globe and Mail sums up the received wisdom. When women are educated, he says, they by default desire fewer children. “When women in any given society acquire the power to decide how many children they are going to have, they choose to have fewer,” he writes. He assumes broadly that, while there might be negative social consequences, on an individual level—the one that really matters for him—low fertility is a good thing.

But what if we actually asked, rather than assumed, what women want?

Cardus wanted to know precisely how Canadian women felt about their own fertility ideals and intentions, so we asked them. In a survey done by demographer Lyman Stone in conjunction with Angus Reid, we found that nearly half of women at the end of their reproductive years have had fewer children than they wanted. As we go about our lives, we should know that one in two women at work, in stores, and jogging on the street, wish to have more kids, and were unable to fulfill this. The survey also shows how unfulfilled fertility goals come with a discernable loss in life satisfaction. (So too do “excess births”—it’s just that the number of Canadian women experiencing that problem is vanishingly small when contrasted with those who experience missing births.)

That women choose a lower ideal family size today in contrast with bygone decades might speak to Ibbitson’s point about increasing education translating into lower fertility, except that he does not provide evidence of this being desirable, simply that this is what happens. Our survey points to multiple and diverse reasons for women who want (more) children deciding not to have them. Included in the top five are “wanting to grow as a person,” “desire to save money,” “kids require intense care,” need to focus on career,” and “no suitable partner.” Each would deserve its own discussion but the bottom line is that by the end of a woman’s reproductive life, half of women say they wished for children they do not have. To neglect the sadness associated with this is to do half of Canadian women a disservice. 

Further on the point about education levels consistently facilitating lower fertility: If we take income levels as a proxy for education, in that higher income women most likely have higher education levels, the survey shows that regardless of income, fertility ideals are higher than fertility intentions. Ideals are the dreams we have for our fertility. Intentions are what we actually think we will do. And in Canada today, both ideals and intentions are higher than Canada’s low and getting lower fertility rate.

There are actually plenty of uncontroversial ways to support a higher fertility culture, in which women can get an education, work, and have the number of children they desire. Some of these may include more family-friendly workplaces for parents and public policy that recognizes the desire to form families. It almost certainly involves cultural change; a different public narrative that doesn’t place motherhood in opposition to fulfillment and a media culture including movies, television, commercials, and yes, newspaper columns, that don’t abide by outdated visions that pit motherhood against satisfaction in a variety of areas of life. It may also include women speaking to the sadness of family foregone. But any and all change starts with accepting the data: “missing” children are a far greater problem for women today than “excess” children.

In his documentary, Shaw says a shrinking young population means “taxes are destined to soar, pension systems will become unsustainable while our health-care systems will not be able to cope with the ratio of old people to take care of compared to the shrinking number of taxpayers. Businesses will struggle to find workers to hire, school closures will accelerate while social care will continually be slashed.” Yes. It also means diminished life satisfaction for all women.

So many Canadians are rightly thankful for their kids. It’s well past time to give a thought to those who hope to have (more) children and find they cannot. In an emptying planet, it’s time to stop reciting decades-old myths when it comes to women’s fertility ideals and intentions.