A student of social work at Toronto’s Ryerson University was initially denied her choice of placement at Jewish institutions, which were deemed to be “in opposition to the values of the school.”
By: Rachel Frommer, The Algemeiner
A soon-to-be graduate of Ryerson University’s has revealed she was barred in the summer of 2015 by the Toronto institution’s School of Social Work from being placed with two local Jewish organizations because a staffer claimed both of the groups had a “strong anti-Palestinian lean.”
Rebecca Katzman — a former president of Ryerson’s Students Supporting Israel chapter — has released the email exchange she had with Heather Bain, a field program coordinator, regarding Katzman’s desire to be assigned to either the United Jewish Appeal Federation of Greater Toronto (UJA) or the Prosserman Jewish Community Center (JCC).
Bain claimed the Jewish groups’ principles “seem to be in opposition to the values of the School,” which include “the advancement of anti-oppression/anti-racism, anti-colonialism/decolonization, feminism, anti-capitalism, queer and trans liberation struggles, issues in disability and Madness, among other social justice struggles.”
“[P]lease let me know if I am wrong about this and we can talk more,” Bain concluded. “Or if your goal would be to bring a critical awareness to the setting we can talk about that as well.”
Katzman responded with a demand that Bain point to where either group had expressed offensive positions on their respective websites.
Anti-Semitism or Anti-Zionism?
“[Bain] saw an organization was Jewish and her thoughts were automatically negative,” Katzman told The Algemeiner on Monday. “I had not requested an Israeli placement, or a political or partisan one. It was a Jewish placement. How could you decline a student that?”
Bain later admitted that she “didn’t see anything that flagged me” on either site, but it was rather “in conversation with a coworker…[and] some of my Jewish colleagues who…have been part of Jews Against Israeli Apartheid” that her opinions of the organizations were formed.
After Katzman attempted to speak with the then-president of Ryerson, Sheldon Levy — she scheduled a meeting, but he didn’t show — the social work department’s field education manager wrote to Katzman to say she had been given “misinformed information.”
Bain herself also wrote to apologize and offered to meet with Katzman.
Katzman told The Algemeiner that she was too emotional at the time to meet with Bain and, similarly, felt too vulnerable to publicize her story while she was still in school.
Now, she has called on Ryerson “to finally acknowledge what took place, and set a precedent to keep it from ever happening again.”
“This incident was just piled on to all the other antisemitic incidents that I saw in my first few years at Ryerson: BDS was passed in student government, there were Israeli apartheid workshops,” Katzman said. “And I wouldn’t even say Ryerson is the worst [university] out there [for antisemitism]. This is just the reality of universities today.”
Meryle Kates — executive director of Israel education group StandWithUs Canada — told The Algemeiner that throughout the ordeal, her team had supported Katzman, who was a fellow with the organization at the time of the incident.
“We’ve been sitting on this for two years, and we are all excited to finally come clean,” Kates said.
While Kates added that she believes the current Ryerson president, Mohamed Lachemi, has turned a new page for the university as a whole, she “doesn’t know if that changes the problems identified by Rebecca at the social work school.”
Steven Shulman, UJA Federation of Greater Toronto’s campaign director and counsel, said in a statement to The Algemeiner that Bain’s accusations were “offensive and absolutely divorced from reality, as demonstrated by the university’s quick intervention which resulted in an apology from Ms. Bain to the student.”
“For a century, UJA has been an integral part of the broader Toronto community, contributing to our city in countless ways for the betterment of all,” Shulman added. “In expressing our steadfast support and love for Israel, UJA has always upheld the values of peace, human rights, and dialogue, and we forcefully reject any suggestion to the contrary.”
University Reverses Decision
Michael Forbes, Ryerson’s group director of communications, wrote in a statement that both UJA and Prosserman JCC “are appropriate agencies to be considered for placement opportunities for Ryerson School of Social Work students,” and that students have previously been placed with the JCC.
Forbes also maintained that both the university generally and the School of Social Work specifically “took quick, thorough, and responsive action on this matter.”
Bain was not available for comment.
This past academic year, Ryerson’s student government came under scrutiny for its handling of a proposal to create a campus Holocaust education week, while the administration was forced to fire a teaching assistant who had advocated murdering Jews.