August 24, 2021
VICTORIA – B’nai Brith Canada is calling for public action to ensure that an upcoming course on antisemitism at the University of Victoria (UVic) does not become a forum for antisemitic views.
For the upcoming fall semester, UVic was originally slated to offer a course called “Towards an understanding of Antisemitism,” taught by Dr. Shamma Boyarin. The course description bizarrely asserted that “even the most fundamental aspects of antisemitism are controversial,” while promising that “Students will develop the ability to examine both current and historical instances of antisemitism with a critical eye.”
It does not appear that Boyarin has any academic background in antisemitism, having never taught a course about it before or published any articles on the subject. However, in recent months, he has issued a series of extremely incendiary tweets on the subject, including one calling Abe Foxman, the immediate past president of the Anti-Defamation League and one of the world’s most prominent opponents of antisemitism, a “Zionist pig.”
In one particularly disturbing outburst, Boyarin alleged that “North American Jews” have “actively contributed” to “ethnic cleansing and genocide” and “raised our kids to take part in it.” In another tweet from June discussing his syllabus, Boyarin mocked the experience of Eve Barlow, a Jewish woman who endured a massive wave of online antisemitism during fighting between Israel and the Hamas terror group in May of this year.
After B’nai Brith raised the obvious impropriety of Boyarin teaching a course on modern antisemitism with UVic officials, given his publicly expressed hostility toward North American Jews, the course was overhauled in early August. Instead, the course description on the UVic website now calls it “a historical survey of key texts and moments from Augustine to Luther,” and notes that the course “ will focus on the particular role Christianity has played in developing and sustaining antisemitism in Europe.” This revamped course is still being taught by Boyarin.
“Moving this course away from modern antisemitism is an important first step,” said Michael Mostyn, Chief Executive Officer of B’nai Brith Canada. “However, we are still concerned that instead of educating students on the scourge of Jew-hatred, there is a risk, albeit a reduced one, that hostility toward Jews will instead be promoted.
“UVic must provide assurances to the Jewish community that academic freedom will not be used as cover to falsely accuse Jews, as a whole, of contributing to genocide, among other antisemitic canards.”
May of 2021 bore witness to the highest number of violent antisemitic incidents reported to B’nai Brith since it began its Annual Audit of Antisemitic Incidents in 1982, many of them connected to fighting between the State of Israel and the Hamas terror group. Indeed, more antisemitic assaults were reported to B’nai Brith in May of 2021 than in all of 2020, 2019 and 2018 combined.
B’nai Brith has long been at the forefront of combating academic antisemitism in Canada. From 2016 to 2018, the group waged a lengthy struggle against now-former University of Lethbridge professor Anthony Hall, who taught his students that Israel and its supporters were responsible for the 9/11 terrorist attacks, and travelled to Germany to produce Holocaust denial videos. After a lengthy suspension, Hall eventually retired rather than face an internal university inquest into his activities, which was a precondition for any return to the classroom.