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Letter to University of Toronto

November 29, 2021

To: President Gertler and Principal Tettey

The Reform Jewish Community of Canada (RJCC) commends the quick and unequivocal response of University of Toronto’s administration to Scarborough Campus Students’ Union’s (SCSU) passing of a discriminatory motion that declared it would refuse to engage with groups and services, including kosher food suppliers, that support Israel and do not expressly support Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) against Israel. Our community was alarmed to hear of such an overtly antisemitic resolution.

Fighting antisemitism and advocating for Palestinian rights can actually go hand in hand. As Reform Jews, we support a peaceful resolution of the conflict between Israel and Palestine. We recognize that criticism of Israel may be motivated by legitimate concern for justice and human rights.

That said, the SCSU motion is fundamentally destructive and designed to divide and denigrate rather than to promote real justice. At its core, “antisemitism is discrimination, prejudice, hostility or violence against Jews as Jews (or Jewish institutions as Jewish)” (see The Jerusalem Declaration on Antisemitism | JDA and What is antisemitism? | IHRA ( Holding Jews collectively responsible for Israel’s conduct or treating all Jews as agents of Israel is antisemitic. As well, requiring people, because they are Jewish, publicly to condemn Israel or Zionism, is antisemitic. Full stop.

Jews, like many others who have dietary religious obligations, must be free to follow religious dietary obligations without fear, intimidation, or barriers to access food. Attempts to limit or cut off access to such a basic necessity violates fundamental rights to freedom of religion, of association, and to the safety and security of the person.

We celebrate the fact that Canadian Jewry is linguistically, ethnically and racially diverse. However, we also note how members of our communities have experienced and continue to experience antisemitism. Antisemitism is intimately linked to other forms of racism and must be addressed while tackling all forms of racism in Canada. There must be zero tolerance for antisemitism, whether overt or concealed as an act of freedom of speech.

As we celebrate the Jewish holiday of Chanukah, the festival of lights, two messages of the Chanukah story are most relevant. First, we must stand up against forces that seek to deny our identities and practices as Jews. Political stances should never determine the ability of any person of faith to practice freely and openly in a multicultural and just society. Second, the miracle of candles, of lights, is that when we support one another and thereby light the candles of others, our own light is not diminished. We can advocate for greater justice and peace in Israel and Palestine, and here in Canada, without denigration and delegitimization.

We call on the University of Toronto to put their policies into action and ensure that the SCSU motions are rescinded. Otherwise, those policies remain merely as academic window dressing. Inertia will only fuel further and more egregious antisemitic acts as demonstrated last week by SCSU.

Lori Miler Pike Len Bates

Canadian Director President

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