We Must Eradicate the Cancer of Antisemitism in Canada’s Public Sector Unions and at Universities

A troubling combination of ignorance and poor leadership has allowed antisemitism to fester in some of Canada’s most influential institutions, including teachers’ unions, university unions, and public sector unions. This deeply entrenched prejudice undermines the core values of diversity, inclusion, and respect that these organisations are meant to uphold, putting the safety and well-being of Jewish Canadians at risk.

The alarming spread of antisemitic sentiments within these unions is driven by several factors. Political polarisation, particularly around international conflicts, has led to biases spilling over into domestic spheres, unfairly targeting individuals based on their ethnicity and faith. A lack of awareness and education about antisemitism makes union members susceptible to harmful stereotypes and misinformation. Social media exacerbates the issue by rapidly spreading propaganda and creating echo chambers that reinforce prejudiced views without critical examination. Additionally, gaps in union leadership have resulted in a failure to adequately address or condemn antisemitic rhetoric, allowing harmful narratives to take root and spread unchecked. The cancer of antisemitism in the public sector, universities and teachers’ unions is rampant.

In British Columbia, despite the mandate for Holocaust education in high schools and an alarming rise in antisemitism in the province, the BC Teachers’ Federation (BCTF) denied recognition and funding to the Holocaust and Antisemitism Educators Association (HAEA). They falsely claimed that existing groups could handle this work, while simultaneously funding groups promoting a false Palestinian narrative that further contributes to a hostile environment for Jewish students and educators.

In Ontario, the Elementary Teachers’ Federation of Ontario (ETFO) has adopted positions and policies that disproportionately blame Israel for the conflict in the Middle East. Statements and educational materials distributed by ETFO have been one-sided and have failed to address antisemitic incidents. Teachers’ unions within the TDSB have allowed the distribution of materials and resources that many parents flagged as antisemitic. TDSB holds workshops and professional development sessions that focus exclusively on Palestinian perspectives without presenting a balanced view. These have been criticised for contributing to antisemitic sentiments and overlooking the legitimate concerns of the Jewish community.

The Ontario Secondary School Teachers’ Federation (OSSTF) is a union widely respected for its work in representing its members’ interests. However, they have oddly passed resolutions perceived as endorsing the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) movement against Israel.

The resolutions single out Israel and contribute to an environment that fosters antisemitism, as they often fail to acknowledge the complexities of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and lead to the marginalisation of Jewish students and staff (and OSSTF members who support Israel).

It is a very legitimate question to ask why members of the OSSTF, ETFO, and TDSB and their union leaders devote so much time, money, and resources to promulgating policies against Israel and Jewish people yet are silent on other conflicts. Their disproportionate focus on Israel is the very definition of antisemitism.

You will find no resolutions from the OSSTF, ETFO or TDSB on the genocide in Syria, where the Syrian government has killed 600,000 of its own citizens and devastated the country; or the ongoing conflict in Yemen, with a death toll of 375,000; or the Rohingya crisis in Myanmar, resulting in 1 million refugees and tens of thousands killed; or the civil war in South Sudan, which has caused  400,000 civilian deaths; or the conflict in the Democratic Republic of Congo, which has left six million dead in the past 30 years.

This disparity raises serious concerns about biases and hidden agendas within public sector, university, and teachers’ unions. It prompts the question of whether the absence of Jewish involvement in other conflicts allows Marxist-influenced leaders in these unions to selectively focus on and blame Israel and Jewish people, even as genuine genocides occur elsewhere. This selective approach is a glaring double standard that undermines the credibility and objectivity of academic discourse.

Similarly, unions representing students, staff, and professors in some of the country’s most prestigious universities must also address the vulgar prejudices that have allowed antisemitism to become a cancer within their ranks.

In 2021, the McGill University Student Union faced backlash for endorsing the Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions (BDS) movement against Israel. Jewish students reported feeling targeted and unsafe, leading to heated debates on campus and in the media about the line between legitimate political discourse and antisemitism. The incident was raised in Parliament at the time, emphasising the need to protect Jewish students from discrimination.

Ongoing student protests at McGill, the University of Toronto, the University of Ottawa, Waterloo, and other institutions concerning the war in Gaza are driven by misguided fervour. They are orchestrated by a well-organised and well-funded group of agitators who have mobilised a generation of ignorant and entitled students with little understanding of the complexities of the Middle East’s history. These protests have spiralled into hotbeds of hate, biassed rhetoric, threats, and misinformation. This undermines the fundamental principles of academic inquiry and intellectual rigour that universities should prioritise.

Even more disheartening than the protests themselves is the deafening silence from university administrators and their unions. In their ideological pursuit of being perceived as progressive and inclusive, ‘leaders’ at these institutions have failed to take a stand based on academic principles and objective truth. Instead, they have surrendered to the pressures of a vocal minority, allowing baseless accusations, threatening behaviour and antisemitic sentiments to proliferate unchecked. This abdication of responsibility has undermined the credibility of these universities and jeopardised the safety and well-being of Jewish students and faculty.

At the University of Ottawa, President Jacques Frémont and the Board of Governors have stood by in silence while a group of hateful protestors have spent weeks camped on the front lawn of Tabaret Hall spewing hateful anti-Semitic slogans. Out of sheer exasperation with the administration’s inaction, a letter and petition, signed by over 1,100 Jewish post-secondary students, as well as faculty and community members, was delivered to Frémont with demands he recognize the hatred, threatening language, and the harm the illegal encampment poses to Jewish students and called on him to enforce the university’s bylaws.

Similarly, McGill president Deep Saini’s failure to immediately shut down a controversial summer camp hosted by the anti-Israel protest group Solidarity for Palestinian Human Rights (SPHR) highlights a severe abdication of responsibility and incompetence by university officials. The camp, promoted with ads featuring armed men, focuses on Palestinian resistance and includes sessions on the “ongoing Nakba,” “Different fronts of the movement,” and “Media after October 7.”

Instead of taking decisive action against the fanatics at the McGill campus who set up a camp on university grounds to teach people be violent and to kill Jews, Saini issued a waffling, meaningless and uncomprehending letter listing measures to distance the university from SPHR and called for the Students’ Society of McGill University (SSMU) to cut ties with the group. His responsibility as president should have been to call the police and have the camp shut down immediately.

The camp has faced condemnation from Opposition Leader Pierre Poilievre, B’nai Brith Canada, and even Immigration Minister Marc Miller, who cited the promotion of hate speech and antisemitism. Authorities have been urged to intervene, labelling the camp’s content as extremist propaganda.

The situation at McGill underscores the ongoing challenges in addressing antisemitism and maintaining respectful discourse on university campuses. It highlights a fundamental issue: the leadership at McGill and at many of Canada’s public service and teachers’ unions fail to recognize antisemitism. To understand the problem, the President, the Board of Directors at McGill, and the leadership of these unions need only look in the mirror.

To combat the rise of antisemitism in Canadian unions, academic leaders must reclaim their role as guardians of truth and reason and foster an environment where all forms of bigotry are unequivocally condemned. There are several practical steps they can take to address the issue:

1. Education Programs: Implement mandatory training on antisemitism for all union members.
2. Clear Policies: Enforce strict anti-discrimination policies with specific consequences for violations.
3. Empower Jewish Voices: Create platforms for Jewish members to share their experiences.
4. Partner with Jewish Organisations: Collaborate with Jewish advocacy groups for resources and support.
5. Leadership Accountability: Train leaders to recognize and respond to antisemitism.
6. Reporting Systems: Establish confidential mechanisms for reporting antisemitic incidents.
7. Inclusive Dialogue: Encourage respectful discussions on difficult topics, like the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
8. Public Anti-Racism Commitment: Make a visible, public commitment to fighting all forms of racism, including antisemitism.

The unions who are promoting antisemitic policies, whether through ignorance or lack of understanding, damage both their members and the broader education community. Their actions completely contradict the very notion of fairness and equality.

By taking action they can repair and restore their damaged reputation and can work towards creating a more inclusive and respectful society, free from the scourge of antisemitism.

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