Regg Cohn: Why don’t we recognize Jews as victims of racism?

More on the UofT medical school scandal:

Decades after the University of Toronto’s medical school phased out its racist “Jewish quota,” and atoned for its sins, the faculty is rife with recurring antisemitism. Again.

Next door at Queen’s Park, Ontario’s NDP — which purports to lead the charge against racism — had its own reckoning with antisemitic tropes this year. Again.

Why does the history of hatred keep repeating itself in today’s reality? If Canadians pride themselves on diversity, how does the adversity of antisemitism so often pass unremarked on campus and unnoticed in the media?

It is impossible to ignore a painstaking — and painful — analysis published this month on the pervasive antisemitism still deeply rooted in U of T, all these years after it phased out the racist quota against Jews. The author is a doctor and educational consultant who taught at the medical school, only to be schooled in a pervasive antisemitism harboured by the most erudite professors and brilliant students.

If the best and the brightest can be so thoughtless, we may be in for the worst and darkest of times.

What’s so illuminating about this academic paper, peer-reviewed in the Canadian Medical Education Journal, is that Dr. Ayelet Kuper has immersed herself in the anti-racism pedagogy and paradigm that defines so much teaching and preaching on diversity. An internist and education specialist on faculty, she is also at the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education.

After her appointment as senior adviser on antisemitism at the faculty of medicine, she describes how academic colleagues and student learners continued to manifest their antisemitism with her. Which means antagonists often don’t realize who they are talking to, and being degrading to, until, belatedly, they do.

She goes to the heart of the hatefulness paradox that sometimes prevents anti-racism advocates from showing solidarity: Jews are often (though not always) “white-passing in appearance,” as she describes herself, and therefore sometimes seen as fair game for attack and not entitled to empathy.

“Hateful attitudes about Jews have been on the rise at TFOM (Temerty Faculty of Medicine) for at least three years,” she notes. Across campus, the problem dates to “at least 2016,” when a working group was established.

The most bizarre manifestation of anti-Jewish paranoia and conspiracy theories came when people on campus demanded to know why awareness of antisemitism was “being forced on the students by the Jew who bought the faculty.” This was a reference to James Temerty, the donor after whom the school was named (turns out he’s not Jewish).

“Growing support for antisemitism at TFOM has been carefully reframed 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 (and) traditional antisemitic tropes.”

Jewish students are expected to denounce and renounce Israel and Zionism in the same breath — which is like demanding a Muslim student denounce, say, a bombing carried out (falsely) in the name of Islam somewhere across the world. New Democratic Party MPP Joel Harden belatedly apologized last month after he asked Jewish constituents to account for Israel’s human rights record.

Kuper describes the phenomenon of “Jew-washing,” when people try to inoculate themselves against allegations of antisemitism by recruiting minority Jewish voices to their cause on campus: “The presence of a very small group of self-identified Jews among those committing acts of antisemitism is used to justify inaction on the part of those who are witness to that antisemitism.”

Against that backdrop, the medical school too often seems paralyzed to the point of impotence. The administration and students too often try to make the problem go away by refusing to recognize Jews as victims of racism.

It’s easy to see why — and to be blinded into inaction. She writes about the “inability to accept Jews as victims of discrimination because of an inaccurate but pervasive belief in Jewish whiteness.”

In fact, first-year medical students are taught that race is a “social (not biological) construct,” and that “there’s nothing inherent in skin colour (or any other physical feature)” to explain racial divisions. “It was simply decided to be important by a group of powerful white Europeans (almost all of whom were also male, Christian, cisgender, and heterosexual).”

Jews were “white-passing,” but could hardly be part of the old “white supremacist” power structure, given that so many were enslaved and slaughtered by Nazis for falling short of Aryan ideals of whiteness; more recently, Jews were targeted alongside Blacks by the latest generation of white supremacists in the 2017 Charlottesville “unite the right” rallies. Yet when diversity training or equity surveys are undertaken, Jews are typically given “no options under the category usually labelled ‘race/ethnicity.’”

Antisemitism may be old news — “the world’s oldest form of hate,” she notes — but it keeps coming back. All these years after the medical school stopped the Jewish quota, which limited their enrolment count on campus, Jews are still not counted when the administration measures antisemitism and discrimination.

Such is the paradox of “white-passing” in our diversity paradigm.

Source: Why don’t we recognize Jews as victims of racism?

About Andrew
Andrew blogs and tweets public policy issues, particularly the relationship between the political and bureaucratic levels, citizenship and multiculturalism. His latest book, Policy Arrogance or Innocent Bias, recounts his experience as a senior public servant in this area.

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