Victoria, British Columbia
Victoria, British ColumbiaiStock

B’nai Brith Canada is calling attention to an upcoming course on historic anti-Semitism taught at the University of Victoria that it worries has the potential to become a forum for anti-Semitic views.

“Towards an Understanding of Antisemitism” was originally to be taught in the fall semester by Shamma Boyarin, with an odd course description that stated: “Even the most fundamental aspects of anti-Semitism are controversial.” It also promised that “students will develop the ability to examine both current and historical instances of anti-Semitism with a critical eye,” according to B’nai Brith.

Upon learning of the course, B’nai Brith pointed out that it did not appear that Boyarin had “any academic background in anti-Semitism, having never taught a course about it before or published any articles on the subject. However, in recent months, he has issued a series of extremely incendiary tweets on the subject, including one calling Abe Foxman, the immediate past president of the Anti-Defamation League and one of the world’s most prominent opponents of anti-Semitism, a ‘Zionist pig.’”

B'nai Brith also stated: “In one particularly disturbing outburst, Boyarin alleged that ‘North American Jews’ have ‘actively contributed’ to ‘ethnic cleansing and genocide’ and ‘raised our kids to take part in it.’ In another tweet from June discussing his syllabus, Boyarin mocked the experience of Eve Barlow, a Jewish woman who endured a massive wave of online anti-Semitism during fighting between Israel and the Hamas terror group in May of this year.”

B’na Brith raised the issue of the “obvious impropriety” of the instructor scheduled to teach the course with administrators at the University of Victoria, and in early August the course was overhauled.

The description was changed to a course about “a historical survey of key texts and moments from Augustine to Luther” that “will focus on the particular role Christianity has played in developing and sustaining antisemitism in Europe.”

However, the course is still being taught by Boyarin, who has a background in religious and Medieval studies.

“Moving this course away from modern anti-Semitism is an important first step,” said B’nai Brith Canada CEO Michael Mostyn. “However, we are still concerned that instead of educating students on the scourge of Jew-hatred, there is a risk, albeit a reduced one, that hostility toward Jews will instead be promoted.”

B’nai Brith called on the University of Victoria to “provide assurances to the Jewish community that academic freedom will not be used as cover to falsely accuse Jews, as a whole, of contributing to genocide, among other anti-Semitic canards.”