Jewish social work students in Canada facing hostile environment, new study says

Jewish students face increasing hostility in Canadian social work programs, according to a new study by Canadian Antisemitism Education Foundation.

By Dion J. Pierre, The Algemeiner

Antisemitism in Canadian social work programs fosters a hostile environment for Jewish students and undermines the goals of the field, according to a preliminary qualitative study issued by the Canadian Antisemitism Education Foundation (CAEF).

“Today, some students — committed, idealistic, and Jewish — are confronted with behaviours and attitudes that contradict the spirit of this profession,” CAEF, a nonprofit that raises awareness of antisemitism and advocates interracial and interfaith harmony, said in a release shared with The Algemeiner.

“When some universities invalidate those principles upon which its teachings were established and promote untruths and values that target Jewish students — an essential profession may be on the path to losing its moral compass.”

Nine Jewish students from across Canada were interviewed during the study, with each reporting various forms of antisemitism, including anti-Zionism, social rejection based on their Jewish identity, and denial of the significance of antisemitism as a form of bigotry.

“My school’s narrative…openly pro-Palestinian, Israel is a colonizer, Jewish people have no right to their homeland, no examination of Jewish humanitarian issues…and more,” a subject called “Student A,” said. “Place is all full of hate.”

Another subject, “Student F,” said a professor answered evasively when asked why antisemitism was not featured in his course’s curriculum. Social work, he responded, avoids discussing religion “to remain neutral.”

When Student F noted that the class had discussed Islamophobia “many times,” the professor “declined to answer and returned to his desk.”

Other students reported that lessons omitted antisemitism from units on the Holocaust, mentioning only that “Nazi science was applied to racism, racial superiority, white supremacy,” and that professors regularly encouraged students to include Critical Race Theory in their analysis of clients’ problems, which would place “the colonists and Europeans who came to North America” at the center of any dilemma they faced.

The study’s authors explained that while qualitative data alone is insufficient to show a larger trend throughout Canadian academia the Jewish students’ anecdotes were consistent, indicating that many others would report similar experiences.

Work on assessing the magnitude of the problem is ongoing, and CAEF is calling for more students to participate in the study. It is also stressing the importance of including antisemitism education in social work departments, as well as the diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) trainings they provide.

“This study seems to indicate that some students currently enrolled in social work are contending with antisemitism, as well as anti-Jewish attitudes and behaviours in their schools,” CAEF continued. “Further research is required to better understand the lived experience of these students, the stressors they face, and the extent of the problems such as those identified herein. This study continues. Students are invited to share their experiences while maintaining anonymity.”

Antisemitic hate crimes in Canada overall have reached record highs for six consecutive years, according to data compiled by B’nai Brith Canada. Almost eight incidents per day occurred in 2021, a recent audit by the group revealed, including 2,460 episodes of harassment and 75 violent incidents throughout 2021.

The problem persists on campuses across the country.

At University of Toronto, which a CAEF subject cited as harboring an especially pernicious antisemitic culture, anti-Zionists have siphoned Graduate Student Union (UTGSU) funds into events featuring antisemites, prompting university administrators to withhold over $10k in student fees earmarked for the union to prevent it from happening again. Other student unions in the university system have passed resolutions endorsing BDS, and in 2021, university staff uttered comments demonizing supporters of Israel and promoting antisemitic tropes.

Canada’s national government attracted scrutiny last August for granting over $100k to a project led by a so-called “anti-racism consultant,” Laith Marouf, who had a history of antisemitic social media activity. After reviewing Marouf’s tweets, Minister of Housing and Diversity and Inclusion Ahmed Hussen cut funding for the project, which he described as “unacceptable.”

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