A speech by Irwin Cotler to the University of Toronto’s Temerty Faculty of Medicine on Holocaust Remembrance Day has spurred angry recriminations and two open letters to the acting dean of the medical school.
Cotler, Canada’s Special Envoy on Preserving Holocaust Remembrance and Combatting Antisemitism, was invited by the medical school’s Office of Diversity and Inclusion to discuss “Contemporary Anti-semitism” on Jan. 26.
A letter to Acting Dean Patricia Houston, signed by 45 faculty members, charged that the event “reinforced anti-Palestinian racism in a way that is consistent with a broader pattern of silencing and erasure of Palestinian voices.”
The event also undermined the university’s Anti-Semitism Working Group, which recently released a report recommending, among other things, that UofT not adopt the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s working definition of antisemitism, the letter stated. All of the report’s recommendations were accepted by the university.
Students and faculty who speak up in support of “Palestinian life and liberation” face harassment and “calls into the office” to discuss their personal social media presence, the letter writers state and they ask the medical school to confront the rise of anti-Palestinian racism on campus.
In response to that letter over 300 other U of T faculty members signed a letter condemning the criticism leveled at Cotler. Following is that letter:
Dear Acting Dean Houston,
We write to submit an open letter signed by over 300 Jewish University of Toronto faculty members. This is in response to a letter given to the Temerty Faculty of Medicine (TFOM) by 45 other faculty members who accuse Jewish community leader and internationally renowned human rights scholar Professor Irwin Cotler of contributing to anti-Palestinian racism.
On this past January 26th Mr. Cotler gave a talk sponsored by the TFOM as part of marking Holocaust Remembrance Day. The signatories of the other faculty members’ letter relied on antisemitic stereotypes and false statements to attack Professor Cotler and his presentation. Their attack was not only on Professor Cotler. It was an attack on Jewish faculty members and the Jewish community.
The open letter we submit has nothing to do with Middle East politics. Indeed, the signatories to the open letter have diverse views on the conflict between Israelis and Palestinians. The signatories are united in their condemnation of the antisemitism which characterizes the letter sent to you from the 45 faculty members.
The preponderance of signatories in the open letter from Jewish faculty members is naturally from the TFOM because the TFOM sponsored the event. It reveals the apprehension TFOM Jewish faculty members hold due to the escalating antisemitism, now overtly expressed by TFOM members and experienced by Jewish students and faculty.
Thank you for receiving and considering our open letter.
OPEN LETTER ON ANTISEMITISM TO THE DEAN OF THE TEMERTY FACULTY OF MEDICINE
Each of us who has signed this document is a Jewish Faculty member at the University of Toronto. We wish to draw attention to the falsehoods, twisted logic and antisemitic rhetoric that are contained in the letter sent by other Faculty members to the Temerty Faculty of Medicine in which they condemn Irwin Cotler’s presentation on “Contemporary Antisemitism” that was held this past January 26.
Most prominent among the falsehoods are that the event “undermined the important work of the University’s own Anti-Semitism Working Group (ASWG),” whose recommendations prohibited the adoption of any definition of antisemitism. The other Faculty members are being untruthful. The University which accepted the ASWG report has not banned or prohibited the use, teaching, or discussion of the IHRA working definition.
The other Faculty members’ letter is also full of warped polemics. The most obvious are:
• They denounce Mr. Cotler for using in his analysis the IHRA working definition (which has been adopted by Canada and dozens of countries and which we support as individuals). Mr. Cotler’s talk fell exactly within university policy. Their denunciation is based on a fabrication.
• They portray Mr. Cotler’s defence of Jews as anti-Palestinian racism, thereby perpetuating an antisemitic tradition of accusing Jews who defend themselves as erasing the voices and suppressing the lives of others.
• They represent this Holocaust Remembrance event as “reinforc(ing) anti-Palestinian racism”, thereby trivializing and demeaning the torment and industrialized murder of Jews in the Holocaust.
These Faculty members do not end there. They rely on noteworthy antisemitic imagery and employ well-worn anti-Jewish contrivances. The most prominent are:
• Their reference to “special interest groups” perpetuates the classic depiction of Jews as dominating and controlling.
• The non-Jewish signatories to the letter utilize the moral cover of a number of Jewish signatories to tell Jews what is antisemitic and what is not, thereby stripping Jews of their last line of existential defence.
• They dismiss the grotesque antisemitism at a UN and NGO conference on racism where delegates witnessed the distribution of the “Protocols of the Elders of Zion” and placards proclaiming, “If only Hitler had won”.
Taken in its entirety, their letter is an example of the very antisemitism that Mr. Cotler dismantled in his presentation. Naturally the other Faculty members don’t like being exposed. That is why they have attacked Mr. Cotler. Sadly, Jews have had to live with this kind of hostility for centuries.
Signed by 316 faculty members of the University of Toronto