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Carleton University Should Condemn Antisemitism, Take Action on Professor’s Remarks

Carleton University in Ottawa (Maclean’s Magazine)

February 26, 2021

OTTAWA – B’nai Brith Canada is calling on Carleton University to publicly condemn antisemitism and speak out after one of its professors alleged that Jewish money was corrupting the institution, while casting aspersions on its Centre for Jewish Studies.

In a Feb. 10 online event hosted by “Carleton University Students for Scholars at Risk,” Nahla Abdo, a panelist and professor of sociology, lamented supposed Israeli influence at the University, saying: “Money works – I wish we had money. We could have donated a lot of money and buildings. Israeli… you know, you have tons of buildings, everywhere, actually named after donors. That is not a strategy that Palestinians can do. They are not there, in that world. So they can continue to be victims of that.”

Abdo also disparaged the Jewish Studies Centre at Carleton as “basically Israel studies, not really too much Jewish studies.” In fact, of the seven Jewish studies courses offered at Carleton in 2020-2021, only one is concerned primarily with Israel. She went on to accuse the Centre of exposing students to “Israeli culture, most of which is stolen from the Palestinians.”

At a later stage of the event, Abdo walked back her antisemitic remarks “about the money term,” noting that “it is often used as a stereotype of the Jewish People.” This prompted an interjection from Sheryl Nestel, a member of the steering committee of the “Independent Jewish Voices” fringe group, who remarked while laughing: “Let me say it. Let me say Jews and money. I can do it.”

Professor Abdo also made a host of baseless allegations against Israel during the event, accusing it of committing genocide against Palestinians, using “genocidal tactics” against Arab Jews and bringing in Ethiopian Jews “as cheap labour power.”

These remarks came as part of what was intended as a discussion of the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance Working Definition of Antisemitism; a definition which has been adopted by Ontario, Canada and dozens of other countries, along with a large number of prestigious universities including Oxford and Cambridge. In January, a motion was brought before the Carleton University Academic Staff Association to condemn the IHRA definition, but it was ultimately removed from the agenda and did not come up for a vote.

“We have had a productive discussion of Feb. 10’s unfortunate language with Carleton’s President,” said Michael Mostyn, Chief Executive Officer of B’nai Brith Canada. “The Scholars at Risk initiative is endorsed by the University. Professor Abdo’s remarks to the Scholars at Risk students group, if not called out, will be perceived as carrying the university’s imprimatur. This should be rejected. We appreciate President Bacon’s reaffirmation that the University stands very strongly against antisemitism and against racism of any kind.

“We have stressed how Jewish students can perceive that what took place can be threatening. We also remain concerned that unwarranted attacks on the Jewish Studies Centre can impinge on academic freedom and the capacity of the faculty to conduct research and teach courses. What is now needed is for the University to investigate Professor Abdo’s remarks, publicly condemn antisemitism, and ensure clarity of language to combat antisemitism in the university’s policy on equity, diversity and inclusion.

“The casual use of antisemitic slurs by academics is an illustration of why the IHRA definition is needed in our institutions of higher learning,” Mostyn added. “We call on Carleton, along with all other Canadian universities, to adopt the IHRA definition of antisemitism to provide a guardrail that safeguards Jewish students and faculty from unjustified attacks.”