Retired Supreme Court Judge to Head U of T Hiring Controversy

Dec. 21, 2020

By STEVE ARNOLD

A former justice of the Supreme Court of Canada will head an inquiry into how the University of Toronto handled the hiring of a scholar with a history of anti-Israel activism to head a law school program.

Honourable Thomas A. Cromwell C.C
Retired Justice Thomas Cromwell

Retired Justice Thomas Cromwell, who left the high court in 2016, will review how U of T’s law school handled the controversial hiring of Valentina Azarova to head its International Human Rights Program.

The probe was supposed to be led by former Trent University president Bonnie Patterson. She stepped down, however, over public concerns about the impartiality and credibility of an investigation commissioned by university administrators who might be among its subjects.

As the public face of the review changes, B’nai Brith Canada released a 17-page submission it intends to make, and questioned the focus of media coverage of the affair.

In a news release, B’nai Brith CEO Michael Mostyn said too much media attention has been focused on allegations of donor interference in the appointment and not on the fact the job was offered to a scholar whose extensive record of anti-Israel work would ultimately harm the human rights program and the academic freedom of Jewish students in it.

Valentina Azarova

“Azarova’s longstanding commitments amount not to impartial academic work but rather to an obsession with delegitimizing Israel, and to working with a variety of extreme anti-Zionist organizations,” he wrote.

“We believe it’s vital to draw attention to a side of this story that has somehow escaped the attention it deserves,” Mostyn added. “How someone like Azarova, with a background of extreme hostility to Israel, was not only seriously considered by U of T Law’s Search Committee to lead the IHRP, but was reportedly the unanimously chosen candidate to do so, cries out for a thorough airing.”

Azarova and her supporters say she was offered the position as head of the human rights program, but the offer was then withdrawn after objections from a university donor.

The law school dean has never denied being approached by a donor, but rejected suggestions that coloured his decision. He has said an employment offer to Azarova was never made because of unspecified immigration problems.

Tax Court Judge David Spiro has been identified as the donor who objected to Azarova’s hiring. His conduct is currently being investigated by the Canadian Judicial Council, the disciplinary body for judges.

In its brief to the Cromwell review, B’nai Brith argues the hiring committee should have taken a harder look at Azarova’s “extreme one-sided history of seeking to delegitimize and demonize Israel, and her active and visible association with a multitude of virulently anti-Zionist organizations.”

B’nai Brith also urged the review to find that the university should have stopped Azarova’s candidacy once it was determined the hiring committee hadn’t addressed those issues; and that the university adopt the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance working definition of antisemitism as a guide to the application of its policies on freedom of expression, freedom of speech and academic freedom.

The Cromwell report is scheduled to be submitted in mid-January directly to university president Meric Gertler, who has promised to make its conclusions public.

U of T Launches Working Group to Combat Antisemitism on Campus

Dec. 10, 2020

By RAHUL KALVAPALLE

The University of Toronto has launched an Anti-Semitism Working Group to examine and address anti-Semitism on campus, and to ensure the university is an inclusive and welcoming place for Jewish members of its community.

The working group, whose contributions will form an integral part of the university’s commitment to addressing systemic forms of racism across its three campuses, including Islamophobia and anti-Black racism, will make recommendations to U of T President Meric Gertler, Vice-President and Provost Cheryl Regehr and Vice-President, Human Resources and Equity Kelly Hannah-Moffat.

Led by Arthur Ripstein, a University Professor in the Faculty of Law and in the department of philosophy, the working group will review the processes and practices in place to address antisemitism on U of T’s three campuses and develop a framework to support the university’s response to the issue.

It will recommend ways to improve education about antisemitism and responses to antisemitic incidents, as well as propose new programs and initiatives to eliminate antisemitism on-campus.

It will also examine best practices at other large, research-intensive universities and consult with students, faculty, librarians and staff about how to create an inclusive environment that welcomes and supports community members who are Jewish.

“Our aim is to see to it that the university not only responds when there are incidents or allegations of antisemitism, but is also proactive in creating a culture of inclusion within which various forms of discrimination, including antisemitism, are better understood and tackled through education,” Ripstein said.

“Antisemitism is like other forms of discrimination in some ways, and different from them in other ways. The point of having working groups that examine multiple types of injustice and discrimination in our university is to come up with strategies for dealing with not just the general problem, but also its particular manifestation.”

Antisemitism “is a source of discrimination, harassment and hatred that undermines our values,” Hannah-Moffat said. “U of T recognizes that we need to be more proactive and responsive to address it on our campuses.

“No form of discrimination is tolerated at the University of Toronto.”

Ripstein said consultations with the U of T community will be key to the working group’s efforts and that information provided by the community will help shape its recommendations.

“Our main work will be, in the first instance, listening to and seeking input from members of the university community. We want to hear about their concerns and instances of antisemitism of which they think we should be made aware,” he said.

“As a university, the way we deal with problems is to study them. And so, our first task is going to be to study the problem and think about ways to manage it within the context of the university’s broader commitment to being a place where difficult questions can be addressed and considered in a respectful and inclusive manner.”

Ripstein invited members of the U of T community to share their feedback by emailing the Anti-Semitism Working Group at anti.semitism.working.group@utoronto.ca.

In addition to Ripstein, the members of the working group are:

· Miriam Borden, PhD student, Department of Germanic Languages & Literatures in the Faculty of Arts & Science

· Shauna Brail, Associate Professor, Institute for Management & Innovation, U of T Mississauga

· Ayelet Kuper, Associate Professor, Department of Medicine, Temerty Faculty of Medicine

· Faye Mishna, Professor, Factor-Inwentash Faculty of Social Work

· Anna Shternshis, Al and Malka Green Professor of Yiddish and Diaspora Studies, Department of Germanic Languages & Literatures, Faculty of Arts & Science; and Director, Anne Tanenbaum Centre for Jewish Studies

· Nouman Ashraf, Assistant Professor, Teaching Stream, Rotman School of Management

· Anita Balakrishna, Director, Office of Diversity and Inclusion, Temerty Faculty of Medicine

· Karima Hashmani, Executive Director, Equity, Diversity & Inclusion, Division of HR & Equity

· Jodie Glean, Director, Anti-Racism and Cultural Diversity Office and Project Manager, Anti-Semitism Working Group.

– Reprinted with permission from UofT News.

On The Record: Canadian Jewish Musicians of Note

Nov. 10, 2020

Morris Eisenstadt (Nov. 6, 1926 – Nov. 21, 1991) – Saxophonist, Clarinetist, Flautist, Composer, Teacher

Morris Eisenstadt

By DAVID EISENSTADT

Earlier this year, Toronto lawyer Michael Fraleigh’s generous acknowledgment of one of my columns inspired me to write about my woodwind player and composer uncle, Morris Eisenstadt.

“Your tribute to Ben Steinberg (CJR, June 15, 2020) was really appreciated,” he wrote. “As an active Temple Sinai lay leader, it was nice to see Ben get the recognition he deserves. Speaking of recognition, as a teenager, I took up clarinet in senior public and high school. At the same time, my parents thought it would be good for me to take private lessons, which were arranged through the Royal Conservatory. I was taught by Morris Eisenstadt. I remember him to be a kind, compassionate, very accomplished player. He had endless patience, which I suppose was important for someone teaching teenagers. I look back on those years fondly and while I stopped pursuing the instrument after I entered university, his passion for music was something that I have carried with me throughout my life.”

Morris Eisenstadt taught saxophone at the Royal Conservatory of Music in Toronto for three decades, starting in 1959. From 1966 to 1968, he also taught at the University of Toronto’s Faculty of Music. Uncle Moe called these his “pin money gigs.”

The youngest of my grandparents’ Harry and Toba (Frankel) Eisenstadt’s four sons, Morris (Moe) studied the saxophone and in 1941, at age 15, joined the Calgary Musicians Local 547.

In 1950, he moved to Toronto. His career took off as a tenor and alto saxophonist, playing both for well-known band leaders. He continued studying and working on his clarinet skills with Herb Pye, on composition, and orchestration with Sam Dolin, John Weinzweig and others.

On Oct. 15, 1953, a string quartet by Morris Eisenstadt was performed at the Composers Festival at the Juilliard School of Music in New York. More of his works were performed on CBC Radio.

He played tenor and alto sax under the iconic Moxie Whitney, leader of Canada’s then-gold standard dance band, based at Toronto’s Royal York Hotel during the 1950s and 60s. They played all the CN and CP railway hotels’ ballrooms, including the Chateau Laurier in Ottawa, the Palliser Hotel in Calgary, Banff Springs Hotel, and the Chateau Lake Louise.

Morris Eisenstadt, on right, seated (Canadian Science And Technology Museum Archives; X-44112)

During this time, he came to a career crossroads. His friend, the renowned flautist Moe Koffman, urged my Uncle Moe to consider playing on jingles and commercials, at a time when work for studio musicians was growing. 

But he declined, choosing instead to pursue orchestral composition. He composed the Suite of Three Canadian Dances in 1952, “which includes one movement of Indigenous and one of Inuit-based music,” according to the Canadian Encyclopedia.

I’ll never forget how proud our family was when he sent us sets of his three vinyl LPs. We listened for hours to his orchestral music on my grandparents’ RCA Victor record player.

From 1950 to 1960, he joined the Royal Canadian Army Service Corps Band under Lieut. J. Alan Wood in Toronto. During that decade, he also played theatre and artistic performer engagements at the Royal Alexandra Theatre, Ice Capades at Maple Leaf Gardens, and the Canadian National Exhibition.

That led to landing a permanent woodwind chair in 1961 under O’Keefe Centre Musical Director Dr. William McCauley. For 26 years, he was one of the longest tenured members of that orchestra. He faced some challenges and explained that when McCauley retired, buget cuts meant the new conductor was tasked with downsizing a number of musicians.

“I was told that if I wanted to keep my chair, I’d have to learn to play the flute,” he recalled. So like the pro he was, he did, at age 62, and kept his chair until health issues forced his retirement just before he died.

Before enrolling at grad school in Ottawa, I spent a week in Toronto in September 1966 with Uncle Moe. I watched him perform in the O’Keefe Centre’s orchestra pit, met the fellow who made his saxophone and clarinet reeds, and got to see Moe Koffman at George’s Spaghetti House. He also took me to Honest Ed’s and to two musicians’ haunts for lunch and dinner: Mars on College St. and Bassels on Yonge St.

My dad, Max Eisenstadt, unable to attend his brother’s funeral because of his own health battles, wrote a eulogy. “I remember how Morris’ lifelong dream was to play with a big band and how one of his first gigs was with a four-piece group about a block and a half from where he lived in Calgary. I recall the pride he had after coming home with a $5 pay cheque for three hours work.” 

A passionate and respected woodwind musician, somewhat under the radar, he is remembered as a “nice guy” who never fussed over that sometimes elusive big payday. In our family, Uncle Moe will never be forgotten.


David Eisenstadt
David Eisenstadt

David Eisenstadt is Founding Partner of tcgpr.com and Canadian Partner of IPREX Global Communications. He’s a graduate of Carleton University’s School of Journalism and the University of Calgary.

Another Complaint Against Judge in U of T Hiring Dispute

By STEVE ARNOLD

A second complaint has been filed against a Jewish judge accused of interfering in the hiring by the University of Toronto law school of a scholar who has been highly critical of Israel.

Justice David Spiro

The new complaint was filed with the Canadian Judicial Council (CJC) on Oct. 10 by the British Columbia Civil Liberties Association, Arab Canadian Lawyers Association, and Independent Jewish Voices of Canada (which supports the BDS campaign against Israel).

It alleges that Justice David Spiro, a judge on the Tax Court of Canada, used his influence to oppose the hiring of Valentina Azarova, a scholar with a record of supporting Palestinian human rights.

“If the allegations against him are true, Justice Spiro’s conduct fails to meet the standard of integrity and impartiality required of a judge,” the association said.

Backers of the new complaint have asked for their issues to be joined with an earlier complaint filed by two law school professors.

Valentina Azarova

The complaints allege that U of T offered to hire Azarova as director of the law school’s International Human Rights Program. The offer was allegedly withdrawn after a university donor complained of Azarova’s history of anti-Israel work.

Law school dean Edward Iacobucci has never denied being approached about the hiring, but has said that while there were initial talks with an applicant, an employment offer was never extended because of immigration difficulties.

Edward Iacobucci

Spiro, who, along with his extended family, has helped U of T raise millions of dollars, was identified as the source of the alleged interference by reports in the Toronto Star and Globe and Mail. 

For Azarova’s supporters, the affair challenges academic freedom.

“The BCCLA is deeply invested in the resolution of this complaint for two main reasons: to uphold judicial independence and to protect freedom of expression, both of which are crucial to the democratic process,” said Meghan McDermott, Interim Policy Director of the BCCLA.

“As a civil liberties organization, we always fear the chilling effect that public decisions can have on the expressive rights of individuals and the general quality of public discourse. What happened to Dr. Azarova appears to us to fit into an escalating pattern of people being censored or otherwise penalized for expressing their views about the human rights of Palestinians.”     

CJC communications director Johanna Laporte said in an email that the Spiro complaint is “under active review.”

Meantime, the university has appointed Bonnie Patterson, former president of Trent University and the Ontario Council of Universities, to review how the search was handled and whether any university policies were breached.

Patterson’s report is to be submitted by mid-January. U of T president Meric Gertler has ordered that the final report be submitted directly to him and not to administrators involved in the decision. He promised to make it public “subject only to respecting the privacy of individual candidates involved in the search process.”

He said he has followed the controversy with “deep concern.”

“Any suggestion that academic freedom has been violated must be treated with the utmost gravity. It is also critically important that the integrity of our search processes be upheld,” Gertler wrote.

James Turk, director of Ryerson University’s Centre for Free Expression, said the moves taken by Gertler are “a good step” but don’t fix the real problem.

“Clearly, the U of T felt a lot of public pressure because of its mishandling of this,” Turk said in an email. “The only proper solution is to restore Prof. Azarova’s job offer.”

An Undelivered Submission on Bill 168

Nov. 2, 2020

On Oct. 26, Ontario’s cabinet surprised many when it decided to bypass committee hearings and adopt the International Holocaust Remembrance (IHRA) working definition of antisemitism, contained in Bill 168, the “Combating Antisemitism Act.” Ontario thus became Canada’s first province to adopt the definition.

Bill 168 passed second reading earlier this year and according to one source, more than 100 Ontarians had requested a chance to appear before the Standing Committee on Justice Policy to have their say – both for and against adopting the IHRA definition, or to suggest amendments.

Among the undelivered deputations was the following from Randi Skurka, appearing as an individual.


Good morning/afternoon, 

Firstly, I’d like to thank the committee for the opportunity to participate in today’s hearing.

As the most widely accepted definition of antisemitism in the world today, endorsed by a growing number of countries, academic bodies, even making inroads in the Middle East, it is crucial that Ontario adopt the IHRA definition.

I am forever grateful to my grandparents, who bravely left Poland a century ago to make their home here in Toronto. Fleeing pogroms and deeply ingrained prejudices, they came in search of a better life where they could live as Jews in freedom and safety. My 92-year-old father remembers the antisemitism he experienced as a young person, even here. I grew up believing that those days were over. But I was wrong.

According to Statistics Canada, Jews are the most targeted group for police-reported hate crimes in the country. Jewish students on campuses across Canada have been singled out, ostracized or attacked for years simply for expressing their Jewish identity. For example, over the past year alone, they were denied kosher food at the University of Toronto, kicked off the student union at McGill University for planning a visit to Israel, and at York University, were threatened with violence for attending a talk featuring Israeli speakers. Antisemitism masquerading behind the veneer of anti-Zionism is a growing problem in Canada and internationally.

It all starts with words. When Israel Apartheid Week was launched at U of T in 2005, it used hateful rhetoric singling out Israel alone as a human rights abuser. Together with the BDS movement, which has been condemned by our own prime minister, Justin Trudeau, as blatantly antisemitic, these campaigns have proliferated around the world, creating a toxic atmosphere in which harassment and targeting of Jewish students have become mainstream.

These movements represent themselves as peaceful, nonviolent forms of protest. But the last two decades have proven otherwise. Conceived by known anti-Israel activists, whose clearly stated goals are the complete elimination of the State of Israel, the manifestation of these movements has been nothing less than the total isolation and social death of any student or faculty member that dares to defend Israel’s right to exist. 

A recent survey has shown that the Canadian Jewish community, small but mighty, defines itself with things like Holocaust remembrance, tradition, and working for social justice. Though widely diverse religiously and politically, one feature among all others unites them – for a full 86 percent of Canadian Jews, their connection to Israel is an important and essential part of their identity. 

The IHRA definition clearly states that criticism of Israel in the form of civil discourse is not considered antisemitic. Yet, all too often, this criticism is presented in a historical vacuum without any sense of context, intended to mislead its audience. This is exactly what the Soviet Union did starting in the late 1940’s – take those old canards and hateful caricatures, and harness them to persecute and demonize Jews now behind a façade of anti-Zionism. How soon we have forgotten the decades of oppression and incarceration of Soviet Jewish dissidents simply because of their identity.

These are the same dangerous myths that are rearing their ugly heads today.

Just this past July, two anti-Israel rallies, one in Toronto, one in Mississauga, graphically demonstrated how anti-Zionism is used as a cover for plain old antisemitism. They were organized by known hate groups with a strong presence on Ontario campuses. Far from peaceful, they quickly devolved into hatemongering and incitement to violence, with the chanting of slogans such as “intifada, intifada”, “from the river to the sea,” and most frightening of all, “The Jews are our dogs.” Is this any way to rally for human rights, here, in Ontario?

The Arab-Israeli conflict is longstanding and very complex. The only way to resolve the issues is for the two parties to sit down together at the negotiating table and have direct dialogue. Just recently, Canada applauded as Sudan followed UAE and Bahrain in establishing a peace agreement with Israel. The Middle East is rapidly changing and finally acknowledging Israel as a partner and a neighbour. This is the way of true progress and liberalism.

It’s time to leave the ancient myths and medieval tropes in the past, where they belong. To embrace each other and give each other space. To listen to one other. To rely on data and facts on the ground. To promote freedom. To build bridges, instead of threatening destruction. The IHRA definition of antisemitism will help to confront the escalating revival of an ancient hatred, and stop it once and for all, so that all of us may feel welcome and safe.

Thank you.


Randi Skurka

Randi Skurka is a writer and lay leader in the Jewish community, with a focus on education and antisemitism. She sits on the boards of Beth Sholom Synagogue and StandWithUs Canada, and holds a Master of Arts degree in Jewish Studies.

U of T Hiring Controversy Continues to Swirl

Oct. 20, 2020

By STEVE ARNOLD

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.

Valentina Azarova

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.”

To see Prof. Azarova’s curriculum vitae, click here: https://cdn.ku.edu.tr/resume/vazarova.pdf

For Zack Babins’ view on the Azarova controversy, click here.

What Do We Mean When We Talk About Free Speech?

Oct. 9, 2020

By ZACK BABINS

Picture a large Canadian university with a law school. The school is set to offer a directorship to an academic with a long history of pro-Israel scholarship and activism in Zionist causes.

At the last moment, a Canadian Muslim – a federal judge who, along with his family, have been massive donors to this school, likely in the millions – calls the school’s fundraising team. From that point on, negotiations with the Zionist academic are cancelled and the position is somehow “no longer available.”

What would we as a community do? 

Certainly, this school would be labeled antisemitic. It would make the Top 10 list of every “antisemitic school where Jewish students aren’t safe.” We would lament the decline of academia and people would warn their children to stay away from that “Jew-hating school.”

The influencers and organizations that make a living defending Israel would see a spike in donations.

Eventually, the right-wing pundits, Jewish and Gentile, would cry that free speech is about listening to arguments and ideas that you don’t like, and would wonder whether today’s students are so soft (and antisemitic) that they could not tolerate a Zionist Jewish teacher.

This isn’t a hypothetical. We just changed some parts of speech.

Explosive recent media reports alleged that Justice David Spiro, a Tax Court of Canada judge, megadonor to the University of Toronto, and former board member of the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs, had improperly interfered in the hiring of Prof. Valentina Azarova.

Azarova, who is not Palestinian but sympathetic to Palestinians, and more than occasionally focuses her academic work on the Palestinian cause, was reportedly quite close to landing a position as director of U of T’s International Human Rights Program. According to the school, the program isn’t hiring a director at all.

Law professor Audrey Macklin, who chaired the faculty advisory committee, and was part of the selection panel that unanimously found Azarova the best candidate for the job, resigned from the board in protest.

The Canadian Judicial Council is now considering multiple complaints about Spiro’s conduct. And over 1,000 lawyers, academics, and activists have signed a petition asking U of T’s law school to apologize and reinstate the job.

And in an open letter to University of Toronto President Meric Gertler, a slew of international law and human rights practitioners and law school faculty and staff said they are “deeply concerned” that U of T’s law school dean responded to “external pressure, following the objection of a law school donor to Dr. Azarova’s work on international law and human rights in the Israel-Palestine context.”

One would think that the champions of free speech would be all over this one. But the brave “marketplace of ideas” folks, who have no qualms defending transphobes, homophobes, racists and white nationalists under the banner of free speech, are nowhere to be found. Similarly, those who argue that “sunlight is the best disinfectant” just can’t be bothered to defend an academic who, by their standards, has had her right to free speech violated.

One op-ed submitted by a Jewish organization claimed that “a long history of one-sided critiques of Israel” justified these events. What if the shoe was on the other foot? If a long history of “one-sided activism” surrounding Israel can disqualify you from a job, well, I’ve got some bad news for a lot of my friends who went to Jewish day school, summer camp or synagogue. 

I haven’t even mentioned yet how damaging this move – which any PR consultant could tell you would not remain private for longer than a week – may be to Jewish students who are actually on campus, who will now face slurs and tropes about Jewish power and influence.

Frankly, I’ve never been a free speech evangelist. Freedom of speech is a wonderful thing but it must be restrained by reasonable limits to protect marginalized communities from hatred and violence. History bears out that hate speech almost never remains “just words.” 

We either care about free speech or we don’t. We either care about academic freedom or we don’t. We either care about outside political interference in our universities – including the “outside agitators” that Hasbara organizations love to remind you are sent to campuses to scuttle BDS motions and anti-Israel campaigns – or we don’t.

To paraphrase the great “Rabbi” Jon Stewart, if you don’t stick to your values when they’re used by your opponents, you don’t have values. You have hobbies.

We have to make a decision – a microcosm of the same decision Israel has to make when it attempts to administer a democratic state that prioritizes one religion that’s necessary to the idea of a Jewish democracy.

Does Zionism – specifically, right-wing, tribal, expansionist, Revisionist Zionism that leaves no room for the humanity of Palestinians – supersede liberal democratic values like free speech? Are you prepared to defend Israel, no matter the cost? 

In other words, we must decide whether we are prepared to sacrifice our souls. I’m not prepared to do that, and I’m not alone.


Zack Babins

Zack Babins is a professional Jew and Recovering Jewish Professional™, a political communicator and activist, and amateur challah baker. All opinions are his own. You can find him on Twitter @zackbabins.

99-Year-Old Will Walk One Million Steps for Senior Care

September 16, 2020 – By SUSAN MINUK

Marvin Gord will not only celebrate his 100th birthday on Dec. 31, but plans to gift $1 million to Baycrest Health Sciences Centre – one step at a time.

“Marvin’s Million” was born on July 1, and Gord is determined to walk one million steps by his milestone birthday, raising a dollar for each stride.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Ontario Premier Doug Ford have all joined in cheering Gord on.

With his trusted walker, Gord has, to date, walked nearly 600,000 steps, raising $67,000. He estimates he will complete between 500 and 750 kilometers by his birthday.

Marvin Gord

He was inspired by English war veteran Tom Moore, who raised money this summer by walking around his garden with the aid of a walker for his 100th birthday.

“If he could do that,” said Gord, “I could raise $1 million for Baycrest.”

Gord has a long history with the health care facility. His grandmother, Yenta Maldover, sat on the Ezras Noshem Society committee that founded Baycrest’s predecessor, the Toronto Jewish Old Folks Home on Cecil Street in downtown Toronto.

His mother, Eva Brownstone, volunteered for many years and was later a resident in Baycrest’s Apotex Centre. His wife, Nancy Gord, entered Baycrest’s palliative care and died in 2015. Gord himself volunteered for Baycrest’s Brain Project memory clinic research.

He’s walked for years, averaging 3.5 miles a day since surviving a heart attack in 1980.

“No matter what, I walk 20 miles a week,” he said. “If it’s not a nice day, I’ll go to one of the malls. It doesn’t matter whether I want to or not, I do it.”

It wasn’t until age 97 that he started to use a walker. Gord challenges the community to walk with him. “But you have to keep up,” he said with a laugh.

Many young people have answered the call.

This summer, counselors-in-training at Camp Manitou in Parry Sound, Ont. became “Marvin buddies,” walking virtually with Gord, said Rafi Yablonsky, manager of major gifts and donor development at the Baycrest Foundation.

Students at Upper Canada College have also created a “Marvin page” to help raise awareness and money, Yablonsky noted.

Gord’s life is rich. He has three daughters, nine grandchildren and seven-great-grandchildren, with an eighth on the way in Israel. He’s an avid reader who combs newspapers’ financial pages, and instructed the CJR to “sign me up” if the website ever goes to print.

Marvin Gord
Marvin Gord

Born in Toronto, Gord was a radar specialist during the Second World War, serving with the Royal Canadian Air Force and the Royal Air Force in England, Africa, and Italy.

After the war, he studied at the University of Toronto and became a pharmacist. A dozen or so years later, he returned to U of T for a psychology degree, and then, at age 60, earned a law degree.

On top of that, he became a finance and human resource professor, and at 83, completed the Canadian Securities Course.

Asked the secret to his longevity Gord said, with a straight face, “one shot of Johnnie Walker Black once a day.” He added: “I have no sugar and no salt in my diet and lots of fiber. It’s the way I live.”

About turning 100, Gord asked, “What’s the big deal? When I turn 110, that will be a big deal.”

“Marvin is an incredible man,” said Josh Cooper, president and CEO of the Baycrest Foundation “At 99, he is what we call at Baycrest a super senior.”

Gord’s donation will benefit Baycrest’s Safeguarding Our Seniors campaign, designed to fund protective measures and medical equipment needed for residents, patients and staff, as well as older adults visiting the facility’s doctors.

Donations can be made at marvinsmillion.com.