Medical education in Canada has become politicized and tolerant of antisemitism, Dr. Ted Rosenberg told The Jerusalem Post on Wednesday in a conversation about the rising antisemitism in his field that led to his resigning from his clinical assistant professor role at the University of British Columbia.
Rosenberg ended his 20-year position at UBC over what he said was a refusal by the administration to recognize and address the conditions on campus that left Jewish students and faculty feeling unsafe.
Following the launch of the Israel-Hamas War with the Gazan terrorist group’s pogrom in southern Israel, over 220 UBC medical students signed a petition demanding the administration to call for a ceasefire.
“We truly believe that calling for a ceasefire is the correct thing for UBC to do and will fall on the right side of history,” said the letter, and that while they did not condone Hamas’s action or antisemitism that taking a stance on the conflict would “send a strong message of support for Palestinian civilians who are being killed in collective punishment through the indiscriminate bombing of Gaza.”
Rosenberg said that the petition that portrayed Israel as a “settler colonial state” was “historically inaccurate,” and that its publication led to polarization on campus. He related how a Jewish resident in pediatrics who wouldn’t sign the petition was lambasted on social media by students and faculty.
The resident, who knew someone murdered at the Supernova festival, reportedly attempted to appeal to department heads and the medical department Office of Respectful Environments, Equity, Diversity & Inclusion (REDI) but was allegedly dismissed because the bullying occurred off campus and after hours.
The student petition’s language and accusations and the bullying in the letter worried Rosenberg about teaching hostile students. “I did a lot of teaching, personally,” he noted. He and other faculty members wanted to engage in dialogue with the students on the matter but were dissuaded by the administration due to the power imbalance.
In a November 29 letter to medical faculty dean Dr. Dermot Kelleher, UBC president Benoit-Antoine Bacon, and REDI executive director Rosalyn Goldner, Rosenberg challenged the petition’s rhetoric as delegitimizing and demonizing.
He asked the administration what steps they were taking to ensure a respectful environment, and asked them why they had not adopted the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance definition of antisemitism, which addresses antizionist antisemitism.
Kelleher responded on December 5 assuring that any form of racism and hate would be addressed and that the university would provide emotional support to those that required it.
According to Rosenberg, the tensions meanwhile boiled over into classical antisemitism. One faculty member made a post using iconography drawing parallels between the death of Jesus Christ and the death of Palestinians. Rosenberg said that accusations of Jews as “Christ-killers” led to centuries of pervasive antisemitism. Another staff member accused Israel of stealing Palestinian organs in multiple social media posts in what Rosenberg said was a “modern-day blood libel.” He also said that faculty and residents regularly made calls to “free Palestine” from “the river to the sea” as well as call for Intifada.
Over 280 staff and students, including Rosenberg, sent Kelleher and Bacon a December 14 letter expressing concern “about the politicization and polarization within the medical school largely due to events occurring in Israel and Gaza. This is resulting in hate speech, student intimidation, and the feelings of many students and teachers that they are working in a toxic environment.” The letter called for the clarification of policies on hate speech and incitement to violence, education programs to combat antisemitism, and the adoption of IHRA.
Rosenberg felt that the administration’s December 5 letter did not address any of his concerns. He resigned in protest on January 1 with another letter.
“I truly hope that the Faculty of Medicine and UBC will recognize this serious threat of antisemitism/Jew-hatred and the dangers of politicization and polarization of the faculty and student body,” Rosenberg wrote.
Rosenberg shared his resignation on social media, leading to attention from local politicians and meetings with REDI. However, he said that the administration was unable to accept or publicly agree that antisemitism was an issue on campus.