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Letter to the Editor / We must address antisemitism as part of EDI in Canadian Higher Education

Letter to the Editor / We must address antisemitism as part of EDI in Canadian Higher Education

By Lilach Marom

I’m a Jewish education scholar who works on issues of equity, diversity and inclusion (EDI). October 7 and its aftermath have unleashed a torrent of antisemitism on Canadian campuses. To my colleagues I want to say: antisemitism is not an issue of the past, we must address it under the EDI umbrella.

Canadian universities fail to address antisemitism as part of their growing commitment to EDI. This omission is even more concerning given the heightened levels and acts of antisemitism on campuses, and the otherwise active approaches toward EDI issues. I suggest that this has to do with a simplistic and misguided construction of Jewish people in the EDI framework.

In the North American context, Jewish people have been “Whitened.” The Jewish heritage has been diluted into religious affiliation, rather than encompassing the distinct (yet diverse) history of Jewish people, including recurring manifestations of marginalization and exclusion. Religion-based discrimination is typically not centred in EDI, while Whiteness is addressed as a system of privilege. This intersection fails to capture the Jewish condition and feeds into old antisemitic tropes of Jews holding manipulative powers and privileges in universities.

Settler-colonialism is an important framework for addressing the marginalization of Indigenous Peoples in Canada. Applying it to Zionism and the formation of Israel in a simplistic way overlooks the long and complex history of the land and creates a false dichotomy between Jewish people as the embodiment of oppression (White colonial forces) and Palestinian as Indigenous. This binary view ignores the diverse historical, cultural and spiritual ties of Jews to the land and feeds into new forms of antisemitism. It explains the breach of ethical codes in EDI post-October 7, such as the dismissal of evidence of sexual violence against Israeli women, the celebrations of the Hamas massacre, and academic panels addressing antisemitism and anti-Zionism in which no (mainstream) Jewish voices are included.

The rising antisemitism on campuses is being used as a weapon against EDI and feeds calls to dismantle it. I believe that this is a mistake. We must have the courage to address this omission to create a more nuanced, self-critical and truly inclusive framework.

There are some immediate steps Canadian university educators can take.

In the institution:

  • Call on university leadership and EDI offices to systematically address antisemitism in EDI policies and action plans.
  • Consult with Jewish students, faculty and staff. The principle of “nothing about us without us” shouldn’t be overlooked when it comes to antisemitism.
  • Invite complexity rather than fuel divisiveness. Ask universities to provide spaces for learning and dialogue.

In the classroom: 

  • Check on Jewish students, see if they need to talk and if they feel safe on campus.
  • Remember: Like many other group memberships, Jewish (and Israeli nationality) students were born to this identity. They are not representatives of Israel or the Jewish people. They should not be put on the spot or be expected to address political issues.
  • Encourage dialogue across differences. To understand is not the same as to agree. Model and work towards understanding over agreement. We can differ in political views while acknowledging each other’s humanity.

Lilach Marom Assistant Professor, Faculty of Education, Simon Fraser University

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