Toronto (September 7, 2022) – Friends of Simon Wiesenthal Center (FSWC) is standing in solidarity with Jewish student organizations that have expressed grave concerns over two courses being taught at the University of Toronto.
In a joint statement released yesterday, Hasbara Fellowships Canada, Hillel Ontario and StandWithUs Canada shared their objections to the content included in two courses called “Modern Palestine” and “Rethinking Palestine: Colonialism, Revolution and Transnational Solidarity.” The organizations said that “education surrounding topics such as colonialism can often be distorted when it comes to Israel” and expressed concern over “how the rhetoric in these courses will affect Jewish students on campus.”
In an online statement, FSWC stated, “The university classroom should never be used to promote extreme and biased narratives or propaganda. We stand with Jewish students and campus organizations Hasbara Fellowships Canada, StandWithUs Canada and Hillel Ontario and will be writing to the University of Toronto administration to share concerns that these courses will make the environment at the university more hostile and toxic for Jews.”
To add to the issue, the two professors teaching the courses have a history of promoting troubling views related to Israel.
In March 2018, a U of T graduate student filed a complaint against Jens Hanssen, an associate professor who is teaching the course “Modern Palestine,” alleging discrimination after Hanssen refused to meet with the student because he was a Hasbara fellow. While U of T dismissed the complaint, in its ruling the university stated Hanssen “regrets his tone and some of the language he used.”
In October 2020, FSWC discovered that Dr. Chandni Desai, an assistant professor at U of T who is teaching “Rethinking Palestine,” served as a panelist at an online event to honour the legacy of Ghassan Kanafani, a Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine terrorist who was involved in organizing the 1972 Lod Airport massacre that left 26 civilians dead. During the event, she glowingly described Kanafani’s accomplishments and referred to his work being used as an “inspiration.” Not a single mention was made by Dr. Desai or any of the participants about Kanafani’s legacy of terror or the victims of the Lod massacre.
Antisemitism has been a longstanding issue at U of T, with the actions of anti-Israel students, groups and faculty members creating an increasingly toxic environment for Jewish students and staff. FSWC has repeatedly called for the university’s administration to confront the issue and continues to engage with faculty and students on how to address the antisemitism that has become a disturbing fixture on U of T’s campuses.