Meric Gertler June 30, 2021
Human Resources and Equity
University of Toronto
The purpose of this letter is to request appropriate responses to an act of bigotry from a member of the University of Toronto faculty. As explained below, speed of reaction matters. As also elaborated below, the situation is a matter of some gravity.
Before the particular act is addressed, a few general remarks are in order. Prejudicial slurs often occur in the form of a noun and an adjective. The noun refers to the group under attack. The adjective asserts a stereotype about the group.
These prejudicial slurs may occur generally. They may also occur in response to a particular incident which, abstracted from the prejudicial slur, may itself be objectionable. The problem here is not criticism of the incident but rather the attribution to all members of the target group the blame for an incident for which they are not responsible.
Bigotry can occur against a group in whole or in part. When it occurs in part, the bigoted would say that there are good members of the group and bad members. The good are those whose behaviour contradicts the stereotype. The bad are those who conform to the stereotype. For the bigoted, what they would characterize as the good are exceptions.
Bigotry often engages in victim inversion. The bigoted often claim that they are the victims and that their targets are the victimizers. The bigotry here takes the form of claimed defense against the target group.
The bigoted often uses double entendres, words that have both an innocent meaning and a coded meaning to their bigoted cohort. They use dog whistles, sounds with the intent that only their bigoted cohort will appreciate.
The particular remarks we wish to draw to your attention is a statement of University of Toronto Faculty Association president Terezia Zorić made from the floor after a panel discussion at York University Osgoode Hall, June 15, 2021. A link to the video of her remarks can be found at the link below at the 1:58:50 mark.
The transcript of her remarks, in their entirety, is this:
“Very, very quickly many thanks to the organizers of this wonderful event on the censure [by the Canadian Association of University of Teachers (CAUT) of the University of Toronto] of u of t [the University of Toronto] and all the activists who’ve made it possible for those of us doing institutional work to have some room to maneuver.
I wanted to offer that, as an early leader who defended the folks at the law school and the principles of academic freedom and collegial governance, there was nothing short of unending harassment and psychological warfare where those of us were supportive of the principles at stake at the heart of the censure. [We] experienced horrible backlash by an entitled powerful Zionist minority that felt that any criticisms of Cromwell [the author of a review report] or anyone else could be met with accusations of antisemitism. And it took an enormous amount of work to get us to a point where we could have even have a conversation about what went on why it went on and so on.
Many graduate students with whom I’ve worked ‑ I teach in the Department of Social Justice Education ‑ have complained that any time they want to talk about a boycott [and] divestment [against Israel in support of] Palestine or anything like that, they feel targeted in similar ways. If you don’t think faculty themselves, including those of us in senior positions, can be intimidated by the powerful response you don’t understand what’s at stake and we continue to be in that position.”
The sentence from the quote above which encapsulates the problematic nature of the remarks of Ms. Zorić is this:
“[We] experienced horrible backlash by an entitled powerful Zionist minority that felt that any criticisms of Cromwell or anyone else could be met with accusations of antisemitism.”
To be even more specific, a phrase and an attitude which imbues her remarks throughout, is this: “an entitled powerful Zionist minority”. This phrase is an antisemitic slur.
The form of her statement is
“We experienced horrible backlash by a group of [insert here a prejudicial slur against the group] who felt that any criticisms of their views could be answered with accusations of prejudice against the group.”
The very form of discourse is an exercise in bigotry. The form of discourse is ridiculous because, on the one hand, it rejects the accusation of prejudice and, on other hand, manifests it. The discourse is internally self-contradictory. It establishes the charge of bigotry against which it claims to defend. Ms. Zorić, on the one hand, uses an antisemitic stereotype “an entitled powerful Zionist minority” and, on the other hand, defends herself against the charge of antisemitism.
Robert Wistrich, in 2004, then Professor of European and Jewish history at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and director of the Vidal Sassoon International Center for the Study of Antisemitism, described antisemitism as including attributing “to Jews excessive power and influence”. He observed that “‘anti-Zionist’ attacks on Jewish … targets show that we are talking about a distinction without a difference.”
Martin Luther King stated:
“When people criticize Zionists, they mean Jews. You’re talking antisemitism.”
That is what is going on here. When Ms. Zorić criticizes “an entitled powerful Zionist minority”, she means “an entitled powerful Jewish minority”.
The antisemitic stereotype Ms. Zorić uses is the classic, the original, antisemitism, the very source of the term. Antisemitism, literally, means opposition to semitism and semitism according to Wilhelm Marr, who coined the term, was self‑interested Jewish power. Antisemitism was opposition to this fantasized power. Marr opposed “the Jewish spirit and Jewish consciousness [which] have overpowered the world”. He founded an organization titled – “The League of Anti-Semites”.
Until the defeat of Nazi Germany, antisemites commonly identified as such. Before the end of World War II, there was a proliferation of self-identified antisemitic organizations – for instance the Anti-Semitic Union of the Diet of Lower Austria or the Universal Anti-Semitic Alliance of Romania. The Nazis themselves self-identified as antisemitic.
All of these self-identified antisemitic individuals and organizations espoused the very ideology Ms. Zorić telegraphs with the phrase “an entitled powerful Zionist minority”. As Holocaust scholar Yehuda Bauer observed, the term “antisemitism” has now gone out of fashion, even among antisemites. Even the most virulent antisemites today do not self-identify as antisemites. Ms. Zorić fits within this pattern, both asserting antisemitic ideology and denying that it is antisemitism.
Zionism may seem objectively to be an innocent or positive term, a national liberation movement for the Jewish people, a short hand for the existence of Israel as the expression of the right to self-determination of the Jewish people. Yet, it is used by antisemites as, at least among themselves, an acceptable form of antisemitism.
Ms. Zorić uses a dog whistle or double entendre with the term “Zionist”. To her, there are good Jews and bad. The bad are the Zionists.
Ms. Zorić uses victim inversion. She both attacks Jews (Zionists) and claims that she is the victim of the group she attacks.
Adding to the weight of concern is the fact that Ms. Zorić made her remarks publicly as head of the University of Toronto Faculty Association (UTFA). She was introduced as representing UTFA. In her remarks, she referred to herself as the “leader” of UTFA.
By making her remarks in a public forum as president of UTFA, she misrepresents UTFA as itself antisemitic. Her remarks do not just discredit herself. They discredit the University Faculty Association.
By doing and saying nothing about these remarks, UTFA and the University put themselves in a compromising position. Silence speaks. UTFA and the University need to react. Silence in the face of these remarks becomes complicity, tacit consent, an authorization to continue these sorts of remarks.
Any human rights violation, unless stopped, spreads. This is particularly true of bigoted discourse, which spreads easily and quickly if not contradicted. The reaction to bigoted discourse should be swift.
Both UTFA and the University need publicly to disassociate themselves from the remarks of Ms. Zorić. UTFA should call on Ms. Zorić to resign her position.
The problem that the remarks of Ms. Zorić present go beyond the University of Toronto. What makes them even more alarming is that they appear to be a driving force behind the CAUT censure of the University of Toronto.
Ms. Zorić refers to her views as “the principles at stake at the heart of the censure” by CAUT of the University of Toronto. CAUT needs to reconsider its censure in light of the fact that a driving force behind the movement for censure was antisemitism.
We make these recommendations:
1) Ms. Zorić should resign as president of the University of Toronto Faculty Association. She holds publicly expressed views which are incompatible with that position. The Faculty Association should request her resignation.
2) The University of Toronto should disassociate themselves from the remarks of Ms. Zorić. The University should state publicly that her views do not represent the views of the University.
3) CAUT should reconsider its censure of the University of Toronto in light of the publicly expressed views of Ms. Zorić. The impact that those views may have had on the decision to censure justifies the reconsideration.
Senior Honorary Counsel
B’nai Brith Canada
602-225 Vaughan Street
Canada R3C 1T7
Tel: 1 204 944 1831
Fax: 1 204 942 1494
E-mail: [email protected]
Cc: Terezia Zorić
University of Toronto Faculty Association
Canadian Association of University Teachers