York dialogue initiative embraced by academic institutions

Dialog - two blank speech bubbles

York University Professor Randal Schnoor, recognized for his efforts in fostering genuine dialogue on the Israel-Palestine issue through the Bridging the Gap (BtG) student dialogue group, finds his community-building work gaining traction and support from other academic institutions amidst tensions on campuses in Canada and abroad.

Randal Schnoor
Randal Schnoor

The BtG initiative, led by Schnoor and an executive team of eight students, has been instrumental in creating safe spaces for healthy discussions about Israel-Palestine at York University.

“We are a group of York University students and alumni, both Palestinian Arab and Israeli Jewish, who want to change the way that the conversation about Israel-Palestine is happening at York University,” says Schnoor, a sociologist at York’s Israel & Golda Koschitzky Centre for Jewish Studies who teaches the Antisemitism and Islamophobia in Canada course.

“We believe that, as fellow students who have a connection to this land, we all deserve human dignity and an honest conversation.”

The first dialogue session took place on the Keele Campus on Feb. 12. Led by student moderators, the successful outcome garnered attention and praise both locally and beyond.

The Canadian Jewish News covered the inaugural event in a story published Feb. 21, reporting that despite some heated exchanges the panellists, representing diverse perspectives, demonstrated a commitment to civil discourse.

“There is a great appetite for this kind of initiative, as other campuses are also facing similar challenges around the Israel-Palestine issue,” says Schnoor.

He has since been contacted by professors and senior administrators at Western University, Toronto Metropolitan University, the University of British Columbia and the University of Sydney in Australia to share his insights on the proactive advocacy work being done at York.

Earlier this month, BtG travelled to the University of Toronto Scarborough and Queen’s University to present additional panel discussions that explored the opportunities and challenges Schnoor and York students have encountered since the launch.

There are now plans to expand outreach by visiting synagogues and mosques this summer, followed by scheduled campus visits in the fall.

This outreach and ongoing exchange of ideas highlights the broader impact of initiatives like BtG in promoting constructive dialogue beyond York’s borders.

“York should be proud of the leadership role it is taking in Canada – and beyond – in promoting respectful dialogue on Israel-Palestine,” Schnoor says. “The goal of dialogue is not to win debates, but rather to use constructive communication to gain a better understanding of experiences and work towards a more positive future.”