A Christian scholar has been honoured by a Jewish foundation for his defense of Israel’s right to exist.
Toronto lawyer Jacques Gauthier was given the Canadian Antisemitism Education Foundation’s inaugural Advocate Award of Excellence in an online event last week. The prize honoured Gauthier’s doctoral thesis – a 1,100-page behemoth that took more than 25 years to complete – which supported and proved Jewish sovereignty over all of Jerusalem.
The award was presented to mark the centennial of the San Remo Conference, the 1920 gathering where the victors of the First World War drew a new global map that created the Jewish homeland promised three years earlier in the famous Balfour Declaration.
At San Remo, a town in northwest Italy’s Mediterranean coast, the world powers of the day – Britain, France, Italy and Japan, with the United States as neutral observer – divided the former Ottoman Empire into three parts. One became the British Mandate of Palestine, and another the Emirate of Transjordan, where a British ally was installed as king. The third portion became a French mandate that controlled parts of today’s Syria and Lebanon.
The San Remo resolution confirmed putting Palestine under a British Mandate and affirmed the 1917 Balfour promise of support for the establishment of a “national home for the Jewish people” in Palestine.
That action, Gauthier concluded, created a binding international agreement that gave Israel a legal claim to its land.
“This is a truth that has been hidden by the machinations of the nations,” Gauthier said in accepting the honour. “The identity of Israel is intimately linked to this legal fact. Jews are not in Israel as usurpers, they are there by legal right. The San Remo conference was the moment when the Balfour Declaration was crowned.
“When I started my work I didn’t understand the extent to which it was holy work,” he added. “I wanted to bring this truth into a light that is bigger than Jacques Gauthier.”
“Weizmann called San Remo the biggest political event in the history of the Zionist movement, maybe in the history of the Jewish people since the exile,” said Israel’s consul general in Toronto and western Canada, Galit Baram.
Others who spoke at the event lauded Gauthier’s work and the San Remo resolution as tools to crush arguments that Jews have no claim to the land of Israel.
“By focusing on the legal facts of the matter Jacques has brought San Remo to life,” said long-time friend Michael Diamond. “He has taught Israelis that they have a solid basis in international law for their claims.”
Israeli lawyer Yifa Segal, another participant, said Gauthier’s work in bringing the San Remo resolution back into public view is an important step in refuting arguments Israel has no right to exist.
“His analysis of Israel’s right to exist lays the groundwork for one of the most important battles of our age,” Segal said. “He shows that international law fully supports our claim to the land.
“There is a fundamentally wrong premise that the land of Israel does not belong to the Jewish people,” she added. “This is a false legal narrative that forces us to fight a new war for our very existence.”
Canada’s new Conservative Party leader is pitching for Jewish support with promises to move Canada’s Israel embassy to Jerusalem and to act against antisemitism.
Erin O’Toole, elected leader of the party in August, told a recent online meeting with the Canadian Antisemitism Education Foundation there is “total unanimity” in his party for continued strong support of Jewish issues.
In addition to the embassy move and action to combat antisemitism, O’Toole told 300 registered participants he would stand up to the United Nations and defund the UN’s Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) for its long-standing unfairness to Israel; list the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps as a terrorist organization in Canada; denounce the BDS movement, and act against hate speech in the Armed Forces.
“There is total unanimity in the party for support for Israel,” he said. “We will stand up to the UN and its annual rite of passage to pass an anti-Israel resolution.
“These will be the centerpieces of a natural evolution for our party,” he added. “There is only one party in Canada that walks the walk on antisemitism.”
For O’Toole, one part of walking the walk is his refusal to take part in LGBTQ+ Pride parades that admit floats from BDS supporters.
O’Toole told his CAEF audience he finds the recent rise in antisemitism “deeply troubling” and believes all levels of government need to take strong action against it for the sake of Canada’s future.
“If we are not staying ahead of this by calling it out then we’re not doing a service to peace order and good government,” he said.
Jewish groups are urging the University of Toronto’s law school to stand firm and not employ a scholar with a long history of criticizing Israel.
At least two Jewish U of T faculty, B’nai Brith Canada, the Canadian Antisemitism Education Foundation, and Canadians for Israel’s Legal Rights are calling on U of T to refuse to hire Valentina Azarova to lead the law school’s International Human Rights Program (IHRP).
U of T professors Stuart Kamenetsky and Howard Tenenbaum have started a petition arguing Azarova’s long history of targeting Israel in her writings make her unfit for the appointment.
“Frankly, we believe that she should not even have been considered as a candidate to lead the IHRP,” the professors say in their preamble.
In a news release, B’nai Brith CEO Michael Mostyn called Azarova’s past associations “worrying,” adding her body of writing is “overwhelmingly devoted, arguably obsessively committed” to Palestinian causes.
“Far from being an impartial academic, as she is often portrayed, Azarova is actively devoted to using a wide variety of platforms to promulgate anti-Israel advocacy,” Mostyn said.
Azarova and her supporters claim she was offered a position as director of the IHRP but that the offer was withdrawn after a Jewish mega-donor objected.
The controversy grew so intense that the university agreed to an “impartial review” of how the law school has handled the affair.
And the Canadian Association of University Teachers (CAUT) is threatening the school with censure.
At the same time, the Tax Court of Canada judge whose alleged interference in the hiring process ignited the affair is being investigated by the Canadian Judicial Council.
Law school dean Edward Iacobucci has denied that a formal employment offer was ever made to Azarova because of immigration difficulties.
Azarova’s supporters allege the university reneged on the deal because Justice David Spiro of the Tax Court objected to her history of legal writing that has accused Israel of widespread violations of Palestinian human rights. Spiro and his extended family are major donors to the university.
CAUT says if the allegation of donor interference in the appointment is true, it violates the principle of academic freedom.
On Oct. 15, CAUT’s executive council passed a motion approving a process of censuring U of T if “satisfactory steps” are not taken.
The imposition of censure still requires the approval of CAUT’s governing body. That meeting is set for Nov. 27.
Censure by the association would ask its more than 70,000 members at 125 universities and colleges across the country to refuse appointments, speaking engagements or honours at the University of Toronto.
In addition, CAUT will also “widely publicize” the dispute and ask associations of academic staff in other countries to respect the censure.
“The facts that have emerged strongly suggest the decision to cancel Azarova’s appointment was politically motivated, and as such would constitute a serious breach of widely recognized principles of academic freedom,” CAUT executive director David Robinson said in an Oct. 15 statement.
In an earlier letter to U of T president Meric Gertler, Robinson said that “an institution of higher learning fails to fulfill its purpose and mission if it accedes to outside pressure or asserts the power to proscribe ideas, no matter how controversial.”
CAUT’s voice is only part of the chorus condemning the situation around Azarova’s hiring. The entire advisory board to the International Human Rights Program, and a member of the search committee, resigned in protest. Lawyers and academics from around the world have expressed anger.
Last week, for example, a letter signed by nine U of T law school faculty accused Iacobucci of “high handed” management that threatens to destroy the institution’s reputation.
Another letter to Gertler from 200 international law and human rights practitioners and law school faculty and staff said the signers were “deeply concerned” the dean allowed external pressure to influence an appointment.
They called for an investigation of the affair, reinstatement of the offer to Azarova, sanctions against those responsible at the university, and apologies to Azarova and affected faculty and staff.
Iacobucci has never denied that a donor contacted the school about the potential appointment. In a letter to law school faculty released by the university, he called claims of outside interference “untrue and objectionable.”
He added: “Other considerations, including political views for and against any candidate, or their scholarship, were and are irrelevant.”
University leaders have backed that position since September, but on Oct. 14, they announced an independent review of the controversy to be led by Bonnie Patterson, former president of Trent University and the Council of Ontario Universities.
In a statement on the university’s website, Kelly Hannah-Moffat, U of T’s vice-president of human resources and equity, said Patterson is to “review all relevant documents and conduct interviews in order to provide (a) a comprehensive factual narrative of events pertaining to the search committee process and (b) the basis for the decision to discontinue the candidacy of the search committee’s preferred candidate.”
Participation in the review is voluntary and Patterson’s recommendations will be made public. Her report is due in January.
The terms of reference for the review have drawn derision from commentators, however.
James Turk, director of Ryerson University’s Centre for Free Expression, told the CJR that “there’s not much investigation left to do” because the facts of the case are already well known.
Both Turk and Robinson criticized the review’s terms of reference, noting they do not include the central question of whether Azarova was offered a job or whether improper pressure scuttled an offer.
And a review of the affair by Hannah-Moffat, Iacobucci, and U of T provost Cheryl Regehr is also troubling because all three have been involved in the scandal, Turk said.
“Any first year law student would know this is just crazy,” he said.
In a news release, Robinson of the CAUT said the proposed study’s flaws undermine its credibility.
“Given the seriousness of the case, what is needed is an independent review,” he said in a news release. “Instead we have a deeply flawed review where the investigator is appointed by and reports to the Vice-President for Human Resources who has already publicly defended the Dean’s decision to terminate the hiring of Dr. Azarova.”