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December 23, 2022 2:37 pm

University of Toronto Refuses to Adopt Leading Definition of Antisemitism


avatar by Dion J. Pierre

University College, University of Toronto. Photo Credit: Nat/Wikimedia Commons

The University of Toronto (UofT) said on Wednesday that it will not adopt the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) definition of antisemitism, used by hundreds of institutions all over the world to fight and identify anti-Jewish discrimination.

UT president Meric Gertler announced the university’s decision in an op-ed published in The Globe and Mail, explaining that a university working group on antisemitism formed in 2020, comprising nine professors and administrations, “concluded that the IHRA’s definition is both insufficiently responsive to many of the most troubling instances of antisemitism in the university context and in tension with the university as a place where difficult and controversial questions are addressed.”

“Protecting these freedoms is essential to our university’s mandate and mission of discovery, research and education, which can only thrive in an environment of free expression and critical inquiry,” Gertler continued.

“The remedy for dealing with controversial speech is more speech, not less.”

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Hasbara Canada Fellowships, a group that sponsors student trips to Israel, said on Wednesday that the university’s decision is “incredibly disappointing” and noted that organizations outside the university, including the editorial board of The Globe and Mail, supported the definition’s potential adoption.

“We are deeply concerned by the position the president has taken and will be conveying — in the strongest possible terms — our profound outrage over the position he has taken, and our deep concern for the welfare of Jews on campus at UofT,” the group said, encouraging the public to voice its displeasure by emailing Gertler.

Hasbara Canada Fellowships also criticized the UofT’s efforts to fight antisemitism on campus for being insufficient and argued that eradicating it will only happen when the university enters a “good faith” partnership with the Jewish community.

“The Jewish campus community wants to be the university’s partner in finding solutions that work and honour the special place that university hold in debate, innovation, and learning, it continued. “This requires centering Jewish voices and Jewish experiences in the conversation.”

Several episodes on University of Toronto campuses have created the perception that the university system is a hotbed of antisemitism.

In November 2021, University of Toronto’s Scarborough Campus Student Union (SCSU) passed a resolution calling for a ban on kosher foods produced by pro-Israel companies. The measure’s language prompted a broad outcry from Jewish students on campus and Canadian Jewish groups, as well University of Toronto administrators, who said at the time that they were “deeply troubled” by it.

Earlier that year, the University of Toronto Students’ Union (UTSU) voted to sign an open letter accusing Israel of “genocide” and demanding the cancellation of trips to Israel, and in Feb. 2022, it endorsed a motion linked to the Palestinian-led boycott, divestment, and sanctions (BDS) campaign against Israel.

Responding to the various episodes, Jaime Kirzner-Roberts, director of policy at the Friends of Simon Wiesenthal Center, said in Feb. that “antisemitism is alive and well at UofT.”

Follow reporter Dion J. Pierre at @DionJPierre.

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