Ayelet Kuper is not only an internist at the Temerty Faculty of Medicine (TFOM) at the University of Toronto, but also was senior adviser on antisemitism. She had that job for only a year, but that was enough. An article she just wrote for the Canadian Medical Educational Journal (click below to read, pdf here, reference below) recounts the pervasive anti-Semitism she experienced and encountered in the job. It’s worse than I imagined, especially in Canada, which I think of as a tolerant land.
But no—Kuper (who many didn’t know was Jewish) found the usual stuff: tropes about Jews being all-powerful, about being “white” and therefore not oppressed, and, especially, equated to Zionists, which to those who are thickheaded think means “approving the Israeli government’s policies”. In reality, it means, accepting Israel as a Jewish state an favoring its preservation. When you say you’re anti-Zionist, you are saying that you’re anti-Semitic.
Further, there is the false assumption that all Jews favor killing or oppressing Palestinians, favor everything the Israeli government does, and we see a total ignorance of things Jewish. This ignorance includes the widespread but false claim that James Temerty, after whom the school was named) was also Jewish. (That’s used to promote the “Jewish power” trope.)
Much of Kuper’s narrative is anecdotal, but the anecdotes, providing you believe the author, add up to a ton of Jew hatred. Further, as you see below, other people have since weighed in verifying Kuper’s claims of pervasive and growing anti-Semitism at TFOM—and other Canadian universities.
The re-framing of anti-Semitism:
However, growing support for antisemitism at TFOM has been carefully re-framed since the spring of 2021 as political activism against Israel and as scholarly positions held under the protection of academic freedom. The resultant physician advocacy has, however, been rife with dog-whistles, traditional antisemitic tropes, and disingenuous claims of oppression. I personally experienced many instances of antisemitism, including being told that all Jews are liars; that Jews lie to control the university or the faculty or the world, to oppress or hurt others, and/or for other forms of gain; and that antisemitism can’t exist because everything Jews say are lies, including any claims to have experienced discrimination. More specifically, I experienced the now common strategy among those at TFOM who have made what I believe to be antisemitic statements to say that any Jew who calls them out is just racist and is lying in order to oppress Palestinians; this strategy was reportedly also explicitly taught to TFOM learners by faculty members during an off-campus event.
The myth of “Jews control everything”:
Although this allusion to the longstanding myth of “Jewish power” was only one of many antisemitic aspects of the leaked complaint letter, it is a reference to the traditional antisemitic trope that is, in my experience, invoked at TFOM more often than any other. In larger political contexts, Jews are routinely accused of controlling the media, the economy, and the actions of major nation states. At the local level within HPE, I have heard it said (in person and on social media) within TFOM that Jews control CaRMS (the Canadian Residency Matching Service, which manages the residency selection process), Jews control faculty hiring, and Jews control TFOM’s promotion decisions. To share a specific example, when a lecture on religious discrimination was instituted within the medical school in the spring of 2021, I was asked by non-Jewish learners why content about Jews was “being forced on the students by the Jew who bought the Faculty.” Those learners explained that they meant James Temerty, who with his wife had made a sizeable donation to the Faculty (which was subsequently renamed in their honour), and who is not Jewish; I was specifically told that a substantial number of students had assumed that the Temerty family was Jewish because of their obvious wealth. I have also heard repeated many times a pervasive belief in certain circles of faculty members and learners that anyone at TFOM who angers “the Jews” will have their career destroyed by “the Jews”–and I have had it explained to me on multiple occasions that this fear of Jews, instead of being a bias to be combatted, is actually the reverse: that those who fear Jews based on this egregious stereotype are actually the ones being discriminated against, since they have to cope with their fear of “the powerful Jews”!
Why Jews aren’t oppressed “people of color”
Several years ago, when I taught and debriefed antioppression training for medical students, I learned that white-passing Jewish TFOM students were being told by their peers that their pale skin means that they aren’t allowed to claim to have any experience of oppression. This transpired even in settings where white students with intersectional identities such as being 2SLGBTQIA+ or being female were simultaneously encouraged to talk about discrimination they had experienced due to those identities. I’ve been told by colleagues that being born in Israel and refusing to denounce the existence of my place of birth as a Jewish state means that I am inherently racist and that any discrimination I encounter as a Jew in Canada is therefore deserved. I was told by yet another TFOM faculty member that Jews mustn’t be allowed to speak on their own behalf about antisemitism and shouldn’t even be subject to the protection from discrimination as outlined in the Ontario Human Rights Code (which focuses on the impact of discriminatory acts rather than on their intent) on the grounds that what Jews call antisemitism isn’t real (so it wouldn’t make sense for us to be allowed to speak to the impact of something that did not exist). In another form of personal silencing leading to epistemic injustice, as a child and grandchild of Holocaust survivors I have been berated over the past several years (by non-Indigenous colleagues who claim to be acting as allies to Indigenous people) for using the concept of intergenerational trauma and told that Jews are “appropriating” the term.
She also mentions this, which I think is funny (but sad):
(For more on this issue, see David Baddiel’s book “Jews Don’t Count” and his brilliant explanation of Jews as “Schrodinger’s whites, white or nonwhite depending on the politics of the observer.”)
Finally, an update from the Globe and Mail:
This is devastating stuff. And it’s happening at a medical school – that in the postwar period had a quota system restricting the number of Jewish students.
If the current and future doctors of Canada think this way, what do less educated members of our society think of “the Jews” (a recently trending topic on Twitter)?
This is not just a problem at TFOM. Dr. Kuper says there were instances where Jewish students in other University of Toronto departments were forced to express their beliefs about Israel before being allowed to participate in school activities.
And this is not just happening at the University of Toronto. Dr. Kuper points out that antisemitism has been reported at other higher education institutions in Canada.
Since the article was published, Dr. Kuper says she has heard not only from “many dozens” of Jewish people at TFOM who said her paper resonated with their experiences, but also from Jewish academics elsewhere at U of T and other Canadian universities and medical schools. They have thanked her, she says, for encapsulating their experiences. She has also heard from Jewish Torontonians in other fields who have experienced antisemitism at work.
Maybe this isn’t “systemic” anti-Semitism, but it’s surely pervasive anti-Semitism. I wouldn’t have expected this from Canada. But anti-Semitism is growing everywhere, including the U.S., where it is by far the most common religious form of “hate crime”.
Kuper A. 2022. Reflections on addressing antisemitism in a Canadian faculty of medicine. Can. Med. Ed. J [Internet]. 2022 Dec. 5 [cited 2022 Dec. 14];. Available from: https://journalhosting.ucalgary.ca/index.php/cmej/article/view/76086