FSWC Calls for Action by U of T Administration as Jewish Medical Students Report Antisemitism, Intimidation, Harassment

May 21, 2021

Media Release

Toronto (May 21, 2021) - Friends of Simon Wiesenthal Center (FSWC) is calling on University of Toronto President Meric Gertler to take urgent action, as Jewish students in the Faculty of Medicine report that they are being subjected to antisemitic harassment and intimidation.

In a letter sent to President Gertler today, FSWC urged the university administration to launch a thorough, third-party investigation into the students’ allegations of antisemitism and extreme anti-Israel rhetoric and propaganda, which these students say have created a toxic climate inside the medical school. FSWC has also asked President Gertler to designate an appropriate faculty member at the school to hear student complaints and concerns regarding antisemitism on behalf of the administration while the broader investigation is underway.

On Monday, Jewish students at U of T’s Faculty of Medicine published an open letter and petition outlining serious allegations regarding a climate of antisemitism at the school, and noting a number of antisemitic incidents having taken place, as well as referencing extreme anti-Israel rhetoric engaged in by faculty and fellow students, which has led to the targeting of Jewish students. The students also allege in their letter that one faculty member responsible for “supporting cultural safety, anti-racist, anti-oppressive, and advocacy teaching”, Dr. Ritika Goel, who serves as the Faculty Social Justice, Anti-Oppression and Advocacy Theme Lead, is herself involved in that same anti-Israel rhetoric. Students who have experienced acts of antisemitism were directed by faculty and administrators to come to her for support.

As it appears from her public Twitter account, Dr. Goel has in the past referred to unequivocal support for Israel as a “barbaric cultural practice" and has stated her support for the antisemitic Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement against Israel. In their open letter, the students ask the administration to remove Dr. Goel from her role as Faculty Social Justice, Anti-Oppression and Advocacy Theme Lead and appoint another faculty member to handle racism and antisemitism complaints at the school. The open letter has received more than 300 signatures from students and community members.

On Tuesday, an open letter was published in response, signed by more than 800 members of the medical community, including many faculty of U of T’s medical school, which claims that the Jewish students’ allegations of antisemitism at the school are “defamatory and libellous” and also may constitute a breach of the university’s Code of Student Conduct. This letter also falsely claims that Israel is guilty of “war crimes”, “violent settler-colonialism”, and “forced displacement.”

The letter chastises the Jewish students for voicing their concerns about an antisemitic climate in the faculty and for calling for the replacement of Dr. Goel in her role as Faculty Social Justice, Anti-Oppression and Advocacy Theme Lead. The letter suggests that instead of going public about their concerns about the toxic and antisemitic environment they say they are being subjected to, those Jewish students should have simply taken the “opportunity to dialogue with their peers.”

The letter published Tuesday has attracted a wave of interest on social media, with huge numbers of anti-Israel voices weighing in to viciously rebuke the Jewish students for expressing their concerns about antisemitism at the medical school. Jewish students in the medical faculty have reported to FSWC that they are now enduring intimidation and harassment both in-person and online, including being subjected to antisemitic slurs. “We are terrified,” one senior medical student reported to FSWC.

Yesterday, a number of Jewish students and community members submitted a formal complaint to University of Toronto Vice Dean for Medical Education, Patricia Houston, again raising their concerns about the toxic environment of antisemitism that they feel is present within the faculty. The students also reiterated in their complaint their desire to see a faculty member take on the position of Faculty Social Justice, Anti-Oppression and Advocacy Theme Lead who they believe will support and treat fairly those students who have been victimized by incidents of antisemitism.

In its letter to U of T’s President Gertler, FSWC wrote, “Students should never have to fear harassment or intimidation as a consequence of filing a complaint about antisemitism or any kind of discrimination, and they are entitled to have their concerns heard in a fair and even-handed manner. No student should be subjected to a hateful, intolerant or poisoned environment, and as such we urge the University of Toronto to take quick action to investigate and address the concerns of antisemitism at the medical faculty raised by students earlier this week."

"We are saddened to hear of these reports of antisemitism, harassment and intimidation targeting Jewish medical students," said Dr. Mark Korman and Dr. Philip Solomon, Co-Chairs of Doctors4Wiesenthal. "These allegations must be appropriately investigated and handled by the administration so that all Jewish students can feel safe on campus and rest assured their concerns over antisemitism will never be ignored."

We urge community members to reach out to University of Toronto President Meric Gertler at president@utoronto.ca to let him know that antisemitism is unacceptable at the medical school or any other faculty at the university.

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