Letter signed by over 300 Jewish faculty members addresses anti-Semitism on campus
45 U of T faculty members sign a letter accusing renowned human activist of anti-Palestinian racism resulting in backlash from Jewish community.

Over the past few months, students and faculty have criticized U of T regarding the recent rise of anti-Semitism on campus. On March 7, 316 Jewish faculty members at U of T signed an open letter addressing the matter and accusing 45 other faculty members of launching an anti-Semitic attack.

The controversy stems from a speech given on January 26 for International Holocaust Remembrance Day by Irwin Cotler, former Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada. The retired politician and human rights activist based his speech on contemporary anti-Semitism, which prompted complaints from 45 U of T faculty members who released a public letter in response to Cotler.

In their own letter, they acknowledged that Holocaust Remembrance is important to commemorate, however, the event had instead “reinforced anti-Palestinian racism in a way that is consistent with a broader pattern of silencing and erasure of Palestinian voices.” While Cotler’s aim was to address prejudice against Jewish people, some members felt the speech fortified racism against Palestinians.

Further, the letter goes on to address current Palestinian concerns around campus, specifically the “ongoing targeting and harassment of medical students and faculty who speak up in support of Palestinian life and liberation.”

At the end of their letter, members demand the acknowledgement of anti-Palestinian racism on campus and for the support of all students and faculty to speak against racism and harassment without fearing “reprisal and defamation.”

In response, Jewish faculty members submitted their own letter denouncing these anti-Palestinian claims and deeming the contents of the letter as “twisted logic and antisemitic rhetoric.” Directed to Acting Dean Patricia Houston of U of T’s Temerty Faculty of Medicine, the letter accuses the 45 members of not only attacking Cotler’s presentation, but also attacking the Jewish community. A response to the statement is yet to be voiced.

However, anti-Semitism has been an ongoing discourse among U of T students and staff even prior to the signing of these letters. U of T’s Anti-Semitism Working Group recently released a report in December 2021 presenting eight recommendations to address anti-Semitic racism and religious discrimination on campus. The report also outlines definitions of anti-Semitism and how U of T can combat improper use of the term.

One of the recommendations includes emphasizing accommodations such as kosher food—an ongoing issue that was readdressed late last year. After a particular motion was passed, students promptly took the matter to social media expressing their discontent.

U of T’s Scarborough Campus Student Union voted for the passing and endorsement of boycott, divestment, and economic sanctions (BDS) against Israel which led to sudden backlash from students and faculty. Passed in November 2021, the motion prohibited union members to purchase Kosher foods unless bought from companies that do not support Israel—essentially banning pro-Israel Kosher caterers.

While some Palestinian students advocated for this movement, several Jewish students expressed their dissatisfaction against U of T and their student union. Students and faculty continue to monitor the university at this time to ensure the avoidance of further anti-Semitic concerns.

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News Editor (Volume 48) | news@themedium.ca
Going into her third year, May is currently completing a double major in Sociology and Criminology. Before becoming News Editor, May contributed The Medium for two years as a Staff Writer and Associate Features Editor. One of her biggest goals is to launch a nonprofit organization that mediates humanitarian crises around the globe and that supports children living in third-world countries. When she is not writing or studying, May spends her time working with canine coaches to provide supervised fun to four-legged furry friends at Dogtopia Applewood.

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