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Ryerson University Scandal Speaks Volumes About its Antisemitism Problem

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Sara McCleary

As it turns out, student groups and professors aren’t the only ones on Canadian university campuses that promote anti-Israel stances. Administrators are guilty of it, too.

A report came out this weekend on a student about to graduate from Ryerson University’s Social Work program. A prerequisite for her program, Rebecca Katzman had to complete a certain number of placements, and submitted her request to be placed at either the Prosserman Jewish Community Centre or at UJA Federation of Greater Toronto. She felt that both organizations had a history of tackling social justice issues, and wanted to be a part of it. 

However, her placement coordinator Heather Bain refused to follow up with the organizations. According to The Toronto Sun, Bain told Katzman that the JCC and UJA appeared to have values “in opposition” to those of the school and program, which Bain cited as including “the advancement of anti-oppression; anti-racism; anti-colonialism and decolonization; [and] feminism,” among others. 

So what was the issue? How did the JCC and UJA not meet these standards? “My understanding is both agencies have a strong anti-Palestinian lean,” Bain told Katzman.

As the article points out, while both groups are pro-Israel, there is nothing on either organization’s website or social media platforms to suggest that they are anti-Palestinian. In fact, the only mention of Israel that I could find on the JCC’s site was one line on its Mission & Vision page that reads: “Building on a solid foundation of Jewish values and with a strong connection to Israel, the Prosserman JCC strives to strengthen individuals, families and communities within an inclusive and welcoming environment.” That was it.

It’s clear that the placement coordinator did little more than see the word “Jewish” (maybe she also looked for the word “Israel”), and automatically assumed that it meant anti-Palestinian and from there, an “opposition to human rights.” As a volunteer with B'nai Brith Canada, I've seen firsthand that there are many ill-informed Canadians out there who quickly (and falsely) make that assertion. It would literally be akin to saying that organizations that support the Jewish people’s thousands-year-old connection to the land of Israel are automatically in support of racism and oppression.

That smells an awful lot like antisemitism to me.

In what world is it acceptable for a university administrator to demonstrate such blatantly anti-Jewish bias, and single out religious organizations for supporting the rights of their own people? Rights that, by the way, Jewish people are entitled to and deserve? Where have we gone wrong that Jewish people are not only being discriminated against by their peers and teachers, but also by the administrators that are supposed to be looking out for their best interests?

After follow-up emails to Bain and her boss, the school admitted that it does not require student placement agencies to “align with Palestinian solidarity movements,” yet they never offered to place Katzman at either organization.

And, to add insult to injury, even after the school admitted that its reason for denying the placements in the first place was bogus, it continued to deny Katzman’s request, ultimately sending her to work with autistic children.

What makes this report most disappointing is that it seems to confirm a pattern that has developed at Ryerson. In November, a motion to establish a yearly Holocaust Education Week was initially blocked by students after a walkout resulted in a loss of quorum. The motion later passed, but only after the issue became public. Then in February, B’nai Brith called on Ryerson to fire a teaching assistant after he made antisemitic statements during a sermon he lead at a local mosque. Following B’nai Brith’s demands, the T.A. was fired from his position.

Meanwhile, administrators have refused to comment on whether or not Bain had been disciplined for her actions. One can only hope that she faced some sort of reprimand, given how negatively her actions impacted Katzman and the rest of her time at Ryerson, which is the absolute antithesis of what a student should experience on campus. Fearing reprisal from the faculty – the fact itself that she kept this to herself already speaks volumes about Ryerson’s antisemitism problem – Katzman chose to wait until she was ready to graduate to speak out about what happened, and also opted not to request a placement with a Jewish organization for her fourth year.

Ryerson’s website claims that the school “is supported by a team of dedicated professionals tasked with ensuring the university maintains its reputation as a student-focused institution of higher education.” Unless by “student” they really mean “non-Jewish students,” I think the school has a bit of work to do.

Sara McCleary has written extensively on a wide range of topics while working as a news reporter and freelancer. She has also completed a master's degree in history, and further graduate work in interdisciplinary humanities.

Published : May 29, 2017

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