We write as Jewish faculty members at the University of Toronto to express our support for the Canadian Association of University Teachers’ (CAUT) unprecedented censure of our institution. We oppose the suppression of scholarship on Palestinian rights implied in the current crisis at the Faculty of Law, and the ways that the interests of the “Jewish community” have been invoked to achieve the breach of academic freedom at the heart of the current scandal.
Not in our name.
U of T prides itself as a leading institution dedicated to principles of academic freedom and integrity. But as of April 22, it is under censure from CAUT – the elected body that represents 72,000 academic staff in Canada – for serious violation of these principles. Censure is a rare procedure – this is only its third use in CAUT’s seventy-year history, and the first time it has been applied to this University. CAUT’s decision to censure was authorized by a unanimous vote of 79-0.
This scandal is part of a broader pattern of intervention throughout the academic world, both in Canada and abroad, from organizations falsely claiming to speak for the whole of the Jewish community, and aiming to silence scholars who write and speak in defense of Palestine. Palestinian scholars are particularly targeted. They are subject to racist stereotypes including claims of terrorism, antisemitism, or a lack of civility. Next in line are scholars like Dr. Valentina Azarova who insist that Palestinian rights are human rights. Note the irony: the University of Toronto is looking for a new director of a Human Rights program, while prohibiting a scholar with experience writing about the human rights of those suffering under occupation, including Palestinians.
Lobbyists from these groups command privileged audiences with university administrations and mainstream media, precisely by claiming to represent “the Jewish community.” They want to silence criticism of the State of Israel and assert a false equation between the actions and policies of this state and Jewish identity. They aim to normalize the idea that defense of Palestine and Palestinians is itself antisemitic.
The events leading up to the cancelled offer, and the University’s subsequent actions, are rife with these logics. On December 7, 2020, U of T appointed the Honourable Thomas Cromwell to produce a third party report. Cromwell concedes that it was the “Preferred Candidate’s published work on Israel” that attracted concern (Cromwell: 33) regarding the offer of employment. The report documents interference from an alumnus, widely known to be David Spiro – a sitting judge in the Tax Court of Canada and a donor to U of T. Cromwell reports that this alumnus learned of the offer to Azarova from staff at an organization known to be the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs (CIJA) (Cromwell: 31). This is an organization formed in the early 2000s, absorbing the Canadian Jewish Congress and the Canada-Israel Committee, with a goal of more tightly linking Jewish life with pro-Israel policies. Now as then, CIJA’s claim to represent the Jewish community is highly contested. Spiro is the former co-chair of CIJA Toronto. He communicated to senior university administrators, “that the Jewish community would not be pleased by the Preferred Candidate’s appointment” (Cromwell: 33).
While the Cromwell Report documents this troubling interference, it strangely refuses to connect it to the outcome of the hiring process. This disconnect between the report’s content and its conclusions led a New Yorker reporter to suggest it resembles “independent counsel Robert Mueller’s 2019 report on Russian interference in the US Presidential election: exonerating top line, damning body text.”
The Jewish community at the University of Toronto is proudly diverse; we have wide-ranging views on Jewish history, diaspora and thought, and so too on the State of Israel. Accountable processes that protect academic freedom and integrity are crucial to supporting such diversity. As faculty at U of T, we are appalled that outside political interests were allowed to determine hiring processes within the University. And as Jewish faculty, we are all the more appalled that this was done in the name of the “Jewish community.”
We respect the integrity of the process that led to the offer to hire Dr. Valentina Azarova to serve as Director of the International Human Rights Program (IHRP) in the Faculty of Law. We stand in support of CAUT’s censure of U of T for the failure of the university administration to redress the wrongful process that led to the cancellation of her employment. The process that led to the decision to appoint Valentina Azarova to serve as Director of the IHRP in the Faculty of Law must be respected, and the scholarship that it would bring to the U of T campus should be warmly welcomed.
Susan Antebi, Spanish & Portuguese, University of Toronto
Abigail B. Bakan, OISE, University of Toronto
Joseph Berkovitz, Institute for the History and Philosophy of Science and Technology, University of Toronto
Anne-Emanuelle Birn, Critical Development Studies (UTSC) & Dalla Lana School of Public Health
Gary Bloch, Medicine, University of Toronto
Elise K. Burton, Institute for the History & Philosophy of Science & Technology, University of Toronto
Eric Cazdyn, East Asian Studies and Comparative Literature, University of Toronto
Rebecca Comay, Philosophy, University of Toronto
Deborah Cowen, Geography & Planning, University of Toronto
Harriet Friedmann, Sociology, University of Toronto Mississauga, retired
Rick Halpern, University of Toronto
Ivan Kalmar, Professor, Anthropology, University of Toronto
Ariel Katz, Faculty of Law, University of Toronto
Martin Klein, Professor Emeritus, Department of History, University of Toronto
Jeffrey Kugler, Executive Director, Centre for Urban Schooling, OISE/UT, retired
Richard Borshay Lee, University Professor Emeritus, Anthropology, University of Toronto
Neda Maghbouleh, Sociology, University of Toronto
Sheryl Nestel, (former) Sociology and Equity Studies Dept. OISE/UT, retired
Alejandro Paz, Anthropology, University of Toronto
E. Natalie Rothman, History, University of Toronto
David Schneiderman, Faculty of Law, University of Toronto
Gail Super, Sociology, University of Toronto
Judith Taylor, Sociology and WGSI, University of Toronto
Zoë H Wool, Anthropology, University of Toronto
Natalie Zemon Davis, History, University of Toronto, retired