Toronto Star ePaper

Antisemitism cloaked as pious principle


Anti-Israelis. They hardly look Jew-hating at all.

If one crosses one’s eyes and stuffs cotton batten in one’s ears.

I’m looking at you, bunch of University of Toronto professors. At you, Graduate Students’ Union.

Because a fixation with Israel — bad little democratic state, such a pain in the global arse! — is a righteous cause among the academic enlightened. Not at all — perish the thought! — antisemitism dressed up as pious principle.

Except, of course, that’s precisely what it is, the demonizing of Israel by a tireless echelon of privileged pedants, who, with a straight face, actually claim that Palestinian voices as a whole are being silenced and their plight ignored. I can honestly think of no other people who’ve been more loudly championed over the past seven decades, even when mass terrorism is committed in their name.

For Israel, substitute “Jews,” although 21 per cent of the country’s population is Arab. But even Israel’s most impassioned critics are careful — in the western world at least — to cloak Jew-bile as virtuous Israel condemnation (even if, Lord knows, there are legitimate reasons for criticizing the State of Israel).

Which brings me to the 45 signatories, faculty members at U of T, who recently sent a shame-on-you letter to the acting dean of the university’s medical faculty, deploring an event organized by the Office of Inclusion and Diversity and the Temerity Faculty of Medicine, sponsored by the Friends of Simon Wiesenthal Centre, where the featured speaker was Irwin Cotler, on the subject of contemporary antisemitism.

Cotler, Canada’s former justice minister and professor emeritus of law at McGill University, is international chair of the Raoul Wallenberg Centre for Human Rights. He spoke (virtually) on the eve of Holocaust Remembrance Day.

Some professors had a hissy-fit, accusing Cotler of reinforcing “anti-Palestinian racism in a way that is consistent with a broader pattern of silencing and erasure of Palestinian voices.”

What were Cotler’s purported crimes, that should be rendered unspeakable?

Well, he knocked the United Nations for its obsession with Israel, year after year targeted as the worst human rights violator on the planet.

The observation is correct; some 50 formal resolutions, from the General Assembly, aimed at Israel since 1948. Last year alone, there were 14 condemnations of Israel (70 per cent of the resolutions) while the remaining 194 countries drew a grand total of four: North Korea, Iran, Myanmar and Russia, specifically for its activities in Crimea.

Cotler also cited the deplorable UN-sponsored Durban World Conference against Racism, Racial Discrimination, xenophobia and Related Intolerance as an example of antisemitism, a conference that has been boycotted by Canada and many other countries, by the way, because of its historic blackguarding of Israel.

As well, Cotler said calling Israel an “apartheid state,” the go-to aspersion, is an example of modernday antisemitism.

But most reprehensibly the signatories were appalled that Cotler spoke in support of the non-binding, working definition of antiSemitism from the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance — Cotler helped craft it — which has thus far been adopted by 31 countries, including Canada, the United States and the United Kingdom.

It reads: “Antisemitism is a certain perception of Jews which may be expressed as hatred towards Jews. Rhetorical and physical manifestations of antisemitism are directed toward Jewish or non-Jewish individuals and/or their property, toward Jewish community institutions and religious facilities.”

Here, I would point out that Toronto has recently experienced a spate of antisemitic incidents, including ugly graffiti at several schools, which is being investigated by police as “hate motivated,” and a clot of students who made a Nazi salute to a Jewish teacher. Further, the Toronto annual statistical hate crime noted that Jews were the primary targets, followed by Blacks, the LGBTQ community, and AsianCanadians.

All of which seems to have gone over the heads of these aggrieved professors in their ivory tower and they clearly have no shame saying so. Because, while anybody can get up on a soapbox and lambaste Israel, defenders of the state, of Jews, must be censored.

A much larger contingent of U of T faculty, 316 signatories, rightly clapped back in their own followup letter to the dean. They wrote: “(T) he signatories in the open letter have diverse views on the conflict between Israelis and Palestinians. The signatories are united in their condemnation of the antisemitism which characterizes the letter sent to you from the 45 faculty members. Their missive also noted “escalating” antisemitism, “now overtly expressed by (Temerity Faculty of Medicine) members and experienced by Jewish students and faculty.”

In response to the Star’s request for comment, a U of T spokesperson responded by email, in part, and in boilerplate: “The Temerty Faculty of Medicine … ensures there is a safe and respectful environment where difficult and sometimes controversial ideas can be shared and debated. Any kind of discrimination based on religion, race, ethnicity, ability sexual orientation, gender identity, Indigeneity, class or other social identity, including antisemitism, Islamophobia or anti-Palestinian racism, is not tolerated in Temerty Medicine or any other faculty or division at the U of T.”

The spokesperson added that the university is developing a new Faith and Anti-Racism Education Strategy, “which will include antisemitism,” also appointing an antiracism adviser to the Anti-Racism and Cultural Diversity Office, “whose mandate will include a focus on countering antisemitism.”

At a time, when academics the world over are being browbeaten into cancel culture bootstrapping, it is frightful that a considerable rump of professors should be advocating for censorship and strangling freewheeling debate in the crib.

It is therefore with relief and respect that I applaud U of T for telling the Graduate Students’ Union (GSU) to stuff it, this week announcing that it will finally begin withholding fees over the union’s policy of forcing students to fund boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) activities.

The university and the union have been at loggerheads for quite some time over the latter’s nose-thumbing of protocols to prevent discrimination based on nationality through its funding of BDS. The lengthy struggled was triggered by a graduate student’s formal complaint, which was upheld following exhaustive consultations. Yet the GSU refused to implement the resulting recommendations.

In December, after the Scarborough Campus Students’ Union, which represents about 14,000 students, tabled and passed a policy to expand BDS undertakings against Israel, stating, among other intentions, it would no longer engage with events, services or groups, including kosher food ventures from organizations that “further normalize Israeli apartheid.”


The university’s president, Meric Gertler, publicly denounced the motion.

The university pointed the Star to a recent article in the U of T News, specifically a quote from vice-president and provost Cheryl Regehr. “The UTGSU has had a year to implement the ruling of the Complaint and Resolution Council for Student Societies,” referring to a review of the matter by the independent student panel. “The university administration calls upon the Graduate Students’ Union to now reconsider their inaction and implement the recommendations …”

BDS is all the rage on too many campuses, causing extreme duress among students who, at the very least, don’t wish to contribute financially to propping up the regrettable campaigns. The university has agreed they shouldn’t have to do so and, beginning March 31, it would withhold $10,918.36 of student fees earmarked for the GSU. The sum represents the university’s calculation of the amount spent annually by the union to promote BDS.

It is believed to be the first time in history that a Canadian university has withheld funding from a student union over BDS support.

I pity those students, with their smugly closed minds and their sanctimonious certitudes.

But the blame more correctly lies within a culture of freewheeling Israel vilification and the professor polemicists shaping their impressionable brains.

While anybody can climb up on a soapbox and lambaste Israel — Lord knows there are legitimate reasons for criticizing its policies, particularly in the treatment of Palestinians — Israel-bashers would deny the same intellectual liberty to others.

Make no mistake: Israel-hatred is Jew-hatred, steeped in millennia of malice and malevolence.

It is a blight on humanity.

Toronto has recently experienced a spate of antisemitic incidents … which seems to have gone over the heads of these aggrieved professors in their ivory tower, and they clearly have no shame saying so





Toronto Star Newspapers Limited