Mural at university charged as anti-semitic

Some students and Jewish representatives call artwork 'hate speech'

Ahmad Al Abid's mural, "Palestinian Roots" is displayed at York University's Student Centre and is drawing complaints of anti-semitism.
Ahmad Al Abid’s mural, “Palestinian Roots,” is displayed at York University’s Student Centre and is drawing complaints of anti-Semitism. (Ahmad Al Abid/York University's Student Centre)

A mural at York University is under attack after television and film executive Paul Bronfman decided to withdraw his support of the university due to charges the artwork is anti-Semitic.

The artwork “is offensive to some individuals and groups,” York spokesperson Joanne Rider says.

The university’s administration is exploring ways to ensure it continues to foster an environment reflective of “our core values of diversity, respect and inclusivity,” she says.

The inspiration behind the mural

The mural, titled “Palestinian Roots” was created by Ahmad Al Abid as an entry to an art contest in 2013. His artwork was meant to be displayed for two years, according to the contest guidelines.

Questions as to why the artwork is still being displayed have not been answered by the chair of the York University Student Centre, Gayle McFadden.

On the York University Student Centre website, Abid explains his work as follows:

“My inspiration for this piece is the ongoing issue in Palestine where illegal settlement expansions have become common. There expansions come at the expense of uprooting century old olive trees, trees intertwined with the roots of the Palestinian people.”

Some students at the University and members of the Jewish community, such as S.L., a Jewish businessperson who has requested a full name not be used, call it “hate speech.”

“It’s upsetting,” S.L. says. “If you want to put it up as a part of a dialogue, then that’s fine. There’s nothing wrong with having dialogue. But when dialogue is shut down from one side only then that’s not right.”

The artwork is in the Student Centre, which legally operates separately from the university and is responsible for its display. The mural has not been removed because it is considered a form of free expression.