Deirdre Butler and Cary Kogan
Canadian campuses have become a battleground for Jewish students, faculty, and staff. With anti-Jewish attitudes and actions on the rise around the world, Canadian faculty and students are seeing a growing number of troubling incidents that undermine the safety of Jews on campus. Faculty need support to address the realities of anti-Jewish activism that occurs at every level of university life: at the governance level where Jews simply aren’t considered in questions of equity, diversity, and inclusion; in the classroom, where professors provide biased accounts of the Israel/Palestinian conflict; in everyday campus life, where Jewish students and faculty increasingly do not feel safe to express their Jewish identity, and at the union level with resolutions that shut down the Jewish community’s right to define their own lived experience of antisemitism. Faculty are joining forces to support each other by forming the Network of Engaged Canadian Academics (NECA) to confront these new realities.
NECA recognizes that many faculty members from diverse disciplines may not possess the needed knowledge and skills to confront antisemitism, particularly in its more insidious anti-Israel forms. All faculty, regardless of their political views, confront these issues, because of the ways in which all Jews are collectively held responsible for the actions of Israel while being denied their historic connection to the only Jewish state. As faculty face increasingly professional and well-organized campaigns that target Jewish identity, we need to respond strategically and effectively.
The role of professors in university administration
Faculty members often find themselves without the knowledge necessary to contend with Jew hatred. This is particularly perverse when such normalizations are justified under the cover of academic freedom at the same time that Jewish perspectives about their identities are delegitimized. When faculty members are excluded from expressing their own experiences of antisemitism, it undermines the principles of academic freedom. They need each other’s support.
University faculty and administrators are not equipped to understand the unique challenges faced by Jewish Canadians on campus. They must be prepared to speak out against antisemitism in its various forms, including subtle expressions and coded language that draw on historic stereotypes and tropes. These more subversive forms of antisemitism too often go unnoticed by non-Jewish campus members but are felt acutely by Jewish faculty and students who feel unwelcome and unsafe. University leaders need to use all of the tools at their disposal to publicly repudiate antisemitic statements and incidents. They need unbiased information from fellow academics that is grounded in the best scholarship. They need education, training, and resources.
Why a faculty network?
The Canadian Jewish community is fortunate to have strong organizations addressing antisemitism in our communities and providing support for Jewish students in public schools, campuses, and public service sectors. However, Canadian faculty are not well represented. Spearheaded by Ottawa faculty members Cary Kogan (University of Ottawa) and Deidre Butler (Carleton University), NECA is dedicated to “promoting free expression and academic freedom on campus, countering all forms of antisemitism, supporting research and education on Judaism and Israel, opposing the denigration of Jewish identity, and ensuring a welcoming campus environment for Jews and others, including those for whom Zionism is an integral part of their identity.”
NECA serves as a symbol of solidarity and support for faculty members combating antisemitism on campus as well as a trusted organization that will develop unbiased resources by academics for academics. NECA is a non-partisan and fully independent association that takes no specific political position other than its commitment to educate and combat anti-Jewish racism. Just as Canadian campuses embrace diverse thoughts and opinions, NECA is an inclusive initiative that welcomes faculty members from diverse backgrounds while standing united against all forms of antisemitism.