Letter Regarding Controversial Speaker Norman Finkelstein

March 4, 2019


President Meric Gertler
University of Toronto

March 4, 2019

Dear President Gertler,

In all likelihood, this email will hardly resonate with the University of Toronto.  Yet, I am compelled to write to you once again and to distribute a copy of this letter to some of the university’s stakeholders. Over the last few days, you have received hundreds of petition letters from our organization relating to the campaign against us (Israel and by extension, the Jewish community) at your university.

Israeli Apartheid Week was founded by students on your campus and allowed to procreate and spread like a cancer throughout the world. I vividly recall attending the precursor event to IAW in 2002 and hearing the lies and propaganda spread about my people – the Jewish people. Despite our calls for action over 16 years, the war against us and the State of Israel persists.

As a result, each year a new generation of Canadians is taught to hate us on university campuses across the nation. Is it any wonder that rates of antisemitism continue to multiply each year? Statistics Canada recently reported a 63% increase in antisemitism in 2017 – the latest available figure. Ordinary Jewish Canadians are being impacted.

In one recent circumstance, a businessman was discriminated against by his landlord – who called him out for being Jewish. In another incident, a Jewish artist who is involved in Toronto’s art community advised of the inherent bias against Israel in art galleries. While in another occurrence, non-Jewish students in a private school made fun of Jewish peers. In the case of University of Toronto, we recently received a complaint from a Jewish teacher attending a conference at OISE who felt marginalized when the speaker wrongfully accused Jews of being colonizers.

I am sharing these mini examples with you President Gertler because it still shocks me that under these circumstances, the University of Toronto is permitting controversial speaker Norman Finkelstein to lecture to its students on its own property in Mississauga.

Growing up in Canada under the auspices of multiculturalism, pluralism and diversity, I have always been taught to respect my classmates. I have carried this view forward in my daily work and created platforms for our foundation to teach respect, tolerance and good citizenship. And even as I write this, today my organization will be teaching 250 students about the importance of standing up to hate and intolerance for all.

But Finkelstein’s sold-out performance at the University of Toronto on March 5th will not further friendship and peace among your students. This is a bad example of what it means to be Canadian and does very little to solve the Middle East Conflict – other than sow more division and hate.

Given the recent violent attack in Pittsburgh where eleven Jewish people were murdered in cold blood at the hands of an antisemite, one would think the university community might become more sensitive. Universities have been accused of fomenting antisemitism and criticized for promoting hateful campaigns against the Jewish people like the boycott, divestment and sanctions campaign (BDS) and IAW. By continuing to allow speakers like Finkelstein, coupled with anti-Israel resolutions like the one recently passed by the U of T Graduate Students’ Union, your university and administration is allowing the cancer of antisemitism to spread.

Of course, we all subscribe to free speech. However, in Canadian law and sensibilities there are legal limits. This became evident just recently in the case of “Your Ward News” where an Ontario judge convicted the editor and publisher of hate speech. For vulnerable groups like ours, these are important tools to prevent a pile-up of antisemitism, as has occurred in recent history.

Just a few days ago, I wrote that inaction by universities to antisemitism should compel board members and funders to reconsider their affiliation. It may also compel faculty and staff to take individualized labour action. It is an individual choice one has to make. Today we venerate those who stood up to hate during the Holocaust and other instances like the civil rights movement. To me personally, the choice in history would be clear.


Avi Benlolo
President & CEO
Friends of Simon Wiesenthal Center for Holocaust Studies

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