A Star of David dangles from Marci Ullman’s neck as she slathers peanut
butter on a slice of white bread.
A black head scarf conceals Karen Gaffar’s hair as she stands nearby and
scoops jam from a jar.
And Ashley Nix wanders around two long tables, at the University of
Waterloo’s Student Life Centre, making sure everyone has what they need to
make sandwiches — and to bridge their differences.
It’s not a scene that immediately comes to mind when one ponders
Jewish-Muslim relations at university campuses in Canada.
In the fall of 2002, students at Concordia University in Montreal clashed
after pro-Palestinian students blocked a speech by former Israeli prime
minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Police quelled the melee with pepper spray and
arrested five people before the lecture was cancelled. Four months later,
Jewish students at York University in Toronto organized a lecture by
outspoken American commentator Daniel Pipes.
About 100 people protested Pipes’ lecture. Muslim students accused him of
being racist because of his staunch pro-Israel stand.
At the University of Toronto late last year, police stepped in between
pro-Israel demonstrators and pro-Palestinian protesters over a cancelled
conference on the Middle East. And last month, someone spray-painted the
words “die Muslim die” in a multi-faith prayer room at Ryerson University
But except for a single incident last year, relations between Jewish and
Muslim students attending the University of Waterloo have been relatively
quiet. Tensions rose briefly last June after various clubs organized a
lecture by a controversial U.S. author, Norman Finkelstein..