Content warning: This article mentions antisemitism and anti-Palestinian racism.

On November 22, Doctors Against Racism and Anti-Semitism (DARA) — a group of healthcare professionals opposing academic boycotts and “racial or geopolitical bias” — publicized a letter, signed by 555 physicians, standing for their right to work openly as Zionists.

Following the letter’s release, Combat Online Harassment (CoHa) — an online organization that aims to provide a space for people who have faced online harassment or hate — posted screenshots of the online activity of a number of doctors who allegedly signed the letter, claiming that they had posted or engaged with anti-Palestinian content on their personal social media accounts. 

DARA’s letter

555 Jewish physicians employed at research hospitals affiliated with the university’s Temerty Faculty of Medicine (TFOM) signed the open letter, which focused on the physicians’ right to openly identify as Zionists “free of censure.” 

The letter mentioned alleged instances of “antizionism and other forms of antisemitism” from colleagues following October 7, claiming that some of those anti-Zionist statements invoked antisemitism. It argues that the doctors’ colleagues have applied a double standard to Israel since the attacks, “all because Israel is a Jewish state.” 

The letter also states that leaders in academia have issued statements that “collide with equity, diversity and inclusion for Jews, or which make Jews feel unsafe and unwelcome.” The letter does not specify which statements it refers to. The signatories called for Jewish faculty to “[receive] the same consideration and protection that the TFOM provides to other minority groups.”

In an interview with the Toronto Star, Philip Berger, one of the doctors who wrote the statement, referred to Temerty Medicine as “the epicentre of antisemitism at the University of Toronto.” Berger said that he holds the highest level of U of T’s administration, including the president’s office, accountable for what he sees as an insufficient response to reports of antisemitism.

In 2020, U of T formed the Antisemitism Working Group (ASWG) to address racism and discrimination experienced by Jewish people at U of T. In December 2021, the ASWG released a report outlining a number of recommendations for U of T to implement to become a “more inclusive and equitable place.”

Some of the ASWG’s recommendations include appointing an Anti-Racism and Cultural Diversity Office Advisor to focus on countering antisemitism; offering kosher food options across all campuses; and frequently reiterating the university’s commitment to academic freedom. According to the university’s institutional equity commitment dashboard, U of T has fully instituted six of the eight recommendations — including those listed above — and is in the process of implementing the remaining two.

CoHa’s response

Since November 10, CoHa began posting screenshots of U of T faculty members posting or interacting with allegedly anti-Palestinian content on their social media pages. CoHa’s posts feature personal posts from doctors that they allege are justifying violence against Palestinians in Gaza and perpetuating anti-Palestinian, anti-Arab, and anti-Muslim stereotypes. 

In an email to The Varsity, a CoHa spokesperson explained that the organization was investigating the 555 doctors who signed the DARA letter, as they allege a portion of them have posted or liked content “[inciting] hatred.” DARA did not share the names of the doctors who signed the letter. CoHa posted a spreadsheet of the names of the doctors who signed the letter on social media, although it says that this spreadsheet has since been taken down.

Its spokesperson recognized that those who signed the letter are entitled to their own beliefs but wrote that “the issue is when these expressions of belief in the university and healthcare setting lead to harmful behaviour, discrimination, and bias.” 

The Varsity reached out to the faculty members who appeared in the screenshots and some of the public signatories of the letter, although none of them provided a response.

The CoHa spokesperson claimed in an email to The Varsity that many workplaces have a double standard where they immediately suspend people accused of antisemitism or anti-Zionism, but do not apply the same standard to people expressing anti-Palestinian racism. 

The spokesperson listed a number of Ontario doctors who have been disciplined for pro-Palestinian social media posts. The list included Temerty Medicine doctor Christian Zaarour, an anesthesiologist at SickKids, who had shared a social media post criticizing Israel. Honest Reporting Canada, an Israel advocacy group, flagged the post on November 17. Soon after Zaarour’s post, SickKids released a statement on November 19 saying it was investigating “complaints about a social media post involving one of our physicians,” and that the physician in question was under voluntary paid administrative leave. It didn’t release the name of the physician under investigation, and did not mention anything about a suspension.

The CoHa spokesperson called on institutions to “end the double standard of instantly disciplining alleged/perceived antisemitic voices while turning a blind eye to demonstrable Anti-Palestinian, Anti-Arab, and Islamophobic rhetoric.” They added that “institutions should have publicly available policies that are robust and fairly implemented to all cases of discrimination, harassment, and bias.” 

U of T’s response

U of T’s 2021 Annual Freedom of Speech Report reiterates the university’s commitment to free expression. The report recognizes that “free speech can be uncomfortable” and members of the university should be “prepared to confront opinions they find erroneous, unreasonable, or even deeply offensive,” but threats or acts of violence are not tolerated. 

The report reads, “Every member of the University community should be able to work, live, teach and learn in a University free from discrimination and harassment.”

In a statement to The Varsity, Patricia Houston, interim dean of Temerty Medicine, wrote, “The Faculty acknowledges the immense grief, anger and distress that many members of the community are experiencing and condemns all forms of discrimination.”

“All our faculty members are expected to adhere to relevant university policies and professional standards of behaviour,” the statement reads. “We work closely with affiliated hospital partners to uphold these standards in our learning and clinical environments, and to address concerns about faculty behaviour in breach of these standards.”

Editor’s note (January 8): An earlier version of this article mischaracterized CoHa’s claim that workplaces often treat claims of anti-Palestinian racism with a double standard, and instead implied that this claim was directed specifically toward U of T or other universities. The wording of the article has been updated. It also, due to editorial error, did not make it clear that SickKids had not suspended the doctor who it announced it was investigating.