A Toronto film industry executive is pulling his company’s support for York University’s Cinema and Media Arts program due to a mural he said is “anti-Israel.”
“It made me sick to my stomach and very angry,” Paul Bronfman said Monday when describing his initial reaction to learning of the portrait. “We live in an amazing city, an amazing country, and to have this happening under our noses is disgusting. It’s subtly anti-Semitic and anti-Israel. It’s anti-Canadian.”
The mural is currently displayed in the York University Student Centre. It shows a person looking at a bulldozer close to a building while holding rocks. The person is shown wearing what looks like a Palestinian flag with a map of Israel without its borders. At the bottom of the mural, the words “justice” and “peace” can be seen along with other text.
Bronfman, who is on the board of directors at the Friends of Simon Wiesenthal Center for Holocaust Studies, said he learned of the mural through his work with the organization.
Bronfman is also chair and CEO of William F. White International Inc., a provider of movie and theatrical production equipment. He said the company provided thousands of dollars of equipment and technical services as well as access to seminars, student lectures, trade shows and open houses.
“I’m finally putting my money where my mouth is. I’m withdrawing all of our student filmmaker support from William F. White International,” Bronfman said, adding that he withdrew the support as of Friday.
Bronfman said he contacted York University, but he said he was told the student centre is its own legal entity.
According to Gayle McFadden, chair of the York University Student Centre, the mural has been in the centre for a couple of years after a mural competition. She said the student’s piece was “an artist’s interpretation of what’s currently going on in Palestine.”
She said the mural will not be removed and York University officials haven’t asked her to have the mural removed.
“I think that it’s important to look at that word (anti-Semitic) and to actually identify that word is not used in terms of critics of state, but it’s instead used as critics of the religion, and I think that’s not what this painting is portraying,” McFadden said.
“Anti-Semitism is directly against people of the Jewish faith, and I think that is abysmal and horrible, but critics of the state of Israel are not that.”
McFadden said she received the letter from Bronfman and is aware of comments — both negative and positive — being made about the mural since it was hung.
However, she wasn’t able to say exactly how many comments were received and when they were received. She added she is open to hearing comments from individuals who are concerned about the mural.
Joanne Rider, chief spokesperson for York University, said in an email statement to the Star the university understands the concerns, but the matter doesn’t fall under their jurisdiction.
“We know the subject of the artwork is offensive to some individuals and groups. We understand and respect their concerns,” Rider said. “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.”
“Members of the York community have the right to express their views and to test and challenge ideas, provided they do so within the law and in a peaceful and non-threatening manner.”
Rider said that, since the centre is its own legal entity, the university consulted “with experts who have concluded that the University cannot compel (the mural’s) removal.”
York University film production students said they’re upset with the situation.
“We’re sort of the collateral damage,” third-year film production student Robert Murdoch said, explaining that the company usually offers grants for fourth-year productions. “The disagreement is between the Friends of Simon Wiesenthal and the York University student centre, and I think it’s an unfair situation that’s resulted in the students bearing the brunt of these consequences.”
Fourth-year film production student Marileina Pearson said she received $4,000 worth of lighting and grip equipment from William F. White for her final project, and that while the university has its own gear, it’s not enough for the number of productions students work on.
“I think people are pretty upset . . . This whole situation has nothing to do with us, but we’re the only ones really suffering,” she said.
In an email, Rider said the department will assist film production students with organizing rental equipment and that York University will cover rental costs.
Bronfman said he would reinstate his support if the mural was removed.
“I’m hopeful York University will do the right thing, but I’m not holding my breath,” Bronfman said.
– With files from Jackie Hong