Toronto Law school cleared in decision not to hire anti-Israel academic

Report into whether judge influenced decision by law school not to hire rabidly anti-Israel academic finds no evidence of interference.

Tags: Toronto
Dan Verbin ,


A report into allegations that a Jewish judge inappropriately influenced the decision by the University of Toronto’s law school not to hire a rabidly anti-Israel academic has found no impropriety took place. The report concluded the academic in question was not hired for entirely unrelated reasons.

Valentina Azarova, an “international human rights scholar who has written about the Israeli occupation of Palestinian Territories,” was being considered to head the International Human Rights Program (IHRP) at the University of Toronto law school.

“The real danger to academic freedom and integrity would be permitting the misuse of a university program for the advancement of a radical political agenda on campus,” B’nai Brith Canada stated at the time. “The fact is, Azarova’s body of work is overwhelmingly devoted — arguably obsessively committed — to ‘Palestine work.’ She is affiliated with the University of Manchester, which lists her publications. Nearly nine in 10 deal with Israel and Palestinian issues. There appear to be no publicly available references to her claimed work on ‘immigration and supply-side accountability.’”

B’nai Brith Canada noted that Azanova has also been a participant in “extreme anti-Israel platforms” such as the Electronic Intifada, Al Majdal Quarterly (Badil), and the Ireland Palestine Solidarity Campaign.

The judge, David Spiro, is a former director of the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs (CIJA), a Canadian Jewish advocacy group. He is also a University of Toronto alumnus. In September, he received a concerned email from a staffer at CIJA. The email stated, "The hope is that through quiet discussions, top university officials will realize that this appointment is academically unworthy, and that a public protest campaign will do major damage to the university, including in fundraising."

The staffer asked if he would contact the law school’s dean, Edward Iacobucci, about concern’s over the pending appointment. Spiro did not do so. However he did speak about the matter at the end of a call with the school’s assistant vice-president, who speaking in a second phone call with a colleague, mentioned the “importance of due diligence on the IHRP file.” That colleague later spoke about the matter with Iacobucci, who stated he was unfamiliar with the controversy.

A number of later phone calls made by Iacobucci expressed his concern with the legality of hiring Azarova as a non-Canadian contractor to run the center.

The Canadian Association of University Teachers accused the university of violating the rules of academic freedom, and asked for an investigation by the Canadian Judicial Council.

The university hired former Supreme Court justice Thomas Cromwell to look into the matter and establish whether the committee played by the rules in deciding not to hire Azarova.

The Globe and Mail reported that Cromwell found that no inappropriate actions had led to the decision not to hire Azarova. He stated that there were clear hiring obstacles in the appointment of Azanova. She is not a Canadian citizen and it was not clear how she could have obtained immigration clearances to work in the country, reported the Globe and Mail.