University of Toronto
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More than 300 Jewish faculty members from the University of Toronto have signed an open letter denouncing a letter by 45 faculty members that “relied on antisemitic stereotypes and false statements” to attack Canada’s antisemitism envoy Irwin Cotler.

The letter addressed to the acting dean of the Temerty Faculty of Medicine (TFOM), which was signed by 316 Jewish professors, was written in response to a letter signed by the 45 faculty members who accused Cotler of “contributing to anti-Palestinian racism.”

“Their attack was not only on Professor Cotler. It was an attack on Jewish faculty members and the Jewish community,” the Jewish academics wrote. “The signatories are united in their condemnation of the antisemitism which characterizes the letter sent to you from the 45 faculty members.”

They added that the claims levelled against Cotler reveal “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.”

The original letter attacked Cotler for speaking at a recent event on contemporary antisemitism hosted by TFOM and sponsored by the Friends of Simon Wiesenthal Center (FSWC).

According to FSWC, the “original letter bizarrely claims that the event ‘reinforced anti-Palestinian racism’ and was ‘focused centrally on lobbying for the IHRA working definition of antisemitism and repeatedly labeled legitimate criticism of Israel as examples of antisemitism’ and makes libelous accusations against FSWC.”

The IHRA definition of antisemitism was adopted by the provincial Ontario government and the government of Canada. Cotler’s mandate as antisemitism envoy is to head Canada’s delegation to the IHRA and to promote the use of the definition.

The TFOM event was organized in response to concerns by Jewish students in the faculty of medicine that they were “ subjected to antisemitic harassment and intimidation,” according to FSWC.

“It is extremely bizarre and disturbing that some U of T faculty members have chosen to wrongfully attack a distinguished leader in the Jewish community who has dedicated his life to combatting antisemitism and other forms of hatred and standing up for human rights in Canada and around the world,” FSWC CEO Michael Levitt said. “Time and time again, it appears Jews are being told what is and isn’t antisemitism and what actions can and cannot be taken to combat this pervasive hatred. Clearly, the IHRA definition of antisemitism needs to be endorsed by U of T now more than ever, as Jew-hatred continues to fester on campus.”

“We commend the hundreds of U of T faculty members who have chosen to raise their voices in the face of such ugliness,” Levitt added.