The University of Toronto was ranked third on a list of the 40 worst colleges for Jewish students, alongside McGill University placing fourth, and York University in seventeenth.
The Algemeiner, a New York-based weekly publication which refers to itself as the “fastest growing Jewish newspaper in America,” released in late December its first-ever annual article on the 40 worst colleges for Jewish students in 2016.
According to The Algemeiner’s list, the ranking was based on “the number of antisemitic incidents on each campus; the number of anti-Israel groups, and the extent to which they are active; the Jewish student population, and number of Jewish or pro-Israel groups; the availability of Jewish resources on campus; the success or lack thereof of Israel boycott efforts; and the public positions of faculty members with respect to BDS [Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions Movement].”
In an interview with The Medium, Dovid Efune, the editor-in-chief of The Algemeiner explained that they calculated the results for the ranking by looking at each of these factors, giving them a certain amount of points, then adding them up to see the conclusion.
“The idea is to give people a snapshot of the challenges that they might face in advance to their coming on the campuses as Jewish or supporters of the Jewish states,” said Efune.
The list reasoned the U of T ranking, as it has “hosted a considerable number of events in recent years portraying the Jewish state as barbarous and colonialist.”
When asked if there was a particular incident that led to this ranking, Efune stated, “There’s definitely no particular issue. We didn’t feel that it was right to be grading based on one isolated incident […].”
Anna Shternshis, the director of the Anne Tanenbaum Centre for Jewish Studies at U of T, stated in an email to The Medium that the centre is one of the biggest in North America, with over 3,000 students taking Jewish courses annually.
Shternshis added that anti-Semitism is not an issue on the rise at U of T in student communities, university professors, or the administration.
“We are troubled by these ratings,” said Shternshis, “because they warn students away from institutions like the University of Toronto, which are deeply committed to studying and researching antisemitism, the Holocaust, and all forms of bigotry.”
Shternshis also wrote that The Algemeiner did not contact the centre or the university to get their perspective, “but instead created the ranking based on partial and wrong information.”
Efune stated that they did not hear from U of T about the ranking. He added that whereas they have spoken with different students, the list was not solely based on student testimonies; it rather focused on speaking to academics, activists, and student leading groups.
Shternshis further elaborated, based on her communication with students, that she has not heard any complaints about antisemitism.
Included in the same email with Shternshis was another comment by U of T professor Sol Goldberg, who has taught about the Holocaust and anti-Semitism.
“My suspicion is that the only relevant sort of antisemitism here is anti-Zionism. Of course, anti-Zionism sometimes is and sometimes isn’t antisemitism,” said Goldberg. “But I imagine that, for The Algemeiner, there’s no difference between the perception of antisemitism by Jewish students and antisemitism per se.”
Goldberg added that there’s “no doubt, students with a sense of allegiance to Israel often feel alienated by anti-Israel peers, activities, and groups on campus, and their feelings are real and should be taken seriously, even if the behavior that triggers them falls short of antisemitism per se.”
“What the ranking probably picks out more than anything are universities likely to have: (1) a Jewish student population committed to Israel; and (2) a larger student population with the normal left-wing sympathy for the Palestinian cause (and corresponding lack of sympathy for Israel); and/or a significant Arab student population with an even stronger identification with the Palestinian cause,” stated Goldberg.
According to Efune, the goal of the ranking is to make the campuses see this as an “aspirational calling” to try and take action by improving the climate for students on campus, to become on the “good” list next year.
The ranking list is expected to be released annually from now on.