Thursday, April 7, 2022

“Faculty at the University of Toronto fight back against antisemitism” by Brian Henry


Irwin Cotler

Antisemites and Israel-hater would like Jews to just shut up. So it warms my heart when I see the Jewish community fighting back – which is what’s happening at the University of Toronto. There 339 Jewish professors have signed a letter to the Dean of the Temerty Faculty of Medicine calling out the antisemitism of some of their fellow faculty members.

It all started back in January when Irwin Cotler – possibly Canada’s foremost defender of human rights – gave a talk on Contemporary Antisemitism for the UofT’s Temerty Faculty of Medicine (see here). Cotler observed that, rather than accusing individual Jews of being the enemy of all that is good, contemporary antisemites have shifted their hatred to the Jewish state as the embodiment of evil.

Individual Jews in turn get attacked for supporting Israel. To clear their names, antisemites demand Jews declare that they too see Israel as demonic – as racist, colonial, apartheid, Nazi-like, baby-murdering, etc. And if Jews decline to repeat the antisemitic creed, then they, too, must be demons.

A former law school professor, Minister of Justice, and currently serving as Canada’s Special Envoy for Holocaust Remembrance and Antisemitism, Cotler phrased things with more nuance and went into far more detail on the antisemitic trends we’ve seen gaining traction, especially in the past two decades. 

Delegates to the UN's 2001 World Conference Against Racism

He also spoke about the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s working definition of antisemitism, which he had a hand in drafting, and which calls out this new antisemitism. 

For Israel-hating faculty at the UofT, all this was too much.

Forty-five of them wrote a letter to the Dean of the Faculty of Medicine, calling Cotler an anti-Palestinian racist. Not that Cotler said a single word against Palestinians, but he had the nerve to point out the kind of antisemitism practiced by some people who like to call themselves progressive.

The anti-Israel profs were particularly incensed that Cotler discussed the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s definition of antisemitism. A committee looking into antisemitism at the UofT’s school of medicine had recommended against adopting this definition of antisemitism (or any other definition). The anti-Israel profs seem to think this means the definition must not be talked about.

It would indeed be convenient for some if Jews were no longer allowed to talk about antisemitism.

This isn't the first time in recent months that we’ve seen Israel-haters trying to shut up a Jew objecting to antisemitism. Back in December, Toronto School Board Trustee Alexandra Lulka was investigated by the school board and faced a formal motion of censure for anti-Palestinian racism. Not because she’d said a word against Palestinians, but because she’d objected to a teacher distributing material that was grossly antisemitic and that praised terrorism and terrorists. See here.

Toronto School Board Trustee Alexandra Lulka

Cotler also annoyed the anti-Israel faculty because he had the nerve to point out that the United Nations has an Israel obsession, with the UN’s Human Rights Council passing far more resolutions against Israel than for all the rest of the world combined, as if North Korea, China, Iran, and Russia were gardens of delight, while all evil in the world comes from a sliver of a country that happens to be the world’s one Jewish state. 

Of course, Israel must observe human rights, the same as every state, said Cotler. But the same as every state.

Clearly Israel is being held to a different standard entirely.

Cotler also had the nerve to call out the United Nations’ 2001 World Conference Against Racism for itself sinking into racism. Cotler knows what he’s talking about, as he was at that conference representing Canada, and recounted how it devolved into a “festival of hate” against Jews.

Twenty years later, Cotler is still clearly shocked by what he experienced at that conference, with “Jewish students being assaulted and being told, you don’t belong to the human race.”

UofT’s anti-Israel faculty describe this conference as “legitimate criticism of Israel.”

Finally, much to the annoyance of UofT’s anti-Israel faculty, Cotler had the nerve to dismiss the claim that Israel practices apartheid. Again, unlike the anti-Israel crowd, Cotler knows what he’s talking about. He was part of Nelson Mandela’s legal team. Indeed, his talk to the UofT’s faculty of medicine happened to take place on the 41st anniversary of Cotler’s arrest by South Africa's apartheid government. 

Not content with calling Cotler racist, the UofT profs also smeared the Friends of Simon Wiesenthal Center for Holocaust Studies, which was a sponsor of Cotler’s talk.

According to the anti-Israel profs, the FSWC “has actively targeted colleagues of colour.”

Irwin Cotler and South African President Jacob Zuma

They were referring to an incident in which some UofT students had called for Dr. Ritika Goel to be fired from her position as the faculty of medicine’s Justice, Anti-Oppression and Advocacy Theme Lead. 

In social media posts, Dr. Gael has championed the movement to boycott Israel, while referring to support of Israel as “#BarbaricCulturalPractices.” And sharing a post showing former Prime Minister Stephen Harper as a puppet controlled by SodaStream, an Israeli carbonated water company. Jews as puppeteers is a long-standing antisemitic motif. 

Though her social media posts were from a number of years ago, they convinced Jewish students that Dr. Gael was not appropriate for an anti-oppression role. The FSWC supported them. It had nothing to do with her being “a person of colour.”

As Jews are not in fact puppeteers secretly pulling the strings of power, Dr. Gael kept her position as Anti-Oppression Lead.

The letter of complaint about Cotler’s talk from 45 anti-Israel faculty, prompted Jewish faculty to write their own letter (see here) to the Dean of the faculty of medicine, led by Dr. Frank Sommers, co-founder of Doctors Against Racism and Antisemitism (DARA).

Signed by 339 Jewish faculty at the UofT, the letter calls out their colleagues’ “falsehoods, twisted logic and antisemitic rhetoric.”

In their complaint to the Dean, the Jewish faculty concluded:

“Taken in its entirety, their letter is an example of the very antisemitism that Mr. Cotler dismantled in his presentation. Naturally the other Faculty members don’t like being exposed. That is why they have attacked Mr. Cotler. Sadly, Jews have had to live with this kind of hostility for centuries.”

The Dean could not ignore 339 Jewish faculty, not entirely. She replied politely pointing out various measures against antisemitism taken by the faculty of medicine, but also saying she couldn’t comment on the letter from the anti-Israel faculty because it wasn’t an “open letter” thus, theoretically private, despite having been seen by thousands.


Brian Henry is a writer, editor, creative writing instructor, and publisher of the Quick Brown Fox blog. He’s written opinion pieces for the National Post and the Toronto Star. He was also a regular contributor to the (now defunct) Jewish Tribune and the Engage and Harry’s Place websites in the UK.

"Faculty at the University of Toronto fight back against antisemitism" previously appeared in

No comments:

Post a Comment

Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.