Imagine being afraid to see a doctor. Not because of a deep-seated irrational fear or bad previous experience or because you are worried about a diagnosis … but because of what you’ve heard some doctors at the local medical school say about people like you.
In 2021, Ayelet Kuper, an Israeli-born Canadian physician and scientist, was appointed senior adviser on antisemitism by the Temerty Faculty of Medicine (TFOM) at the University of Toronto. The position was created in response to reports of increasing antisemitism affecting Jewish students, staff and faculty.
Last week, Dr. Kuper’s report was published in the Canadian Medical Education Journal. And it is shattering.
“I personally experienced many instances of antisemitism, including being told that all Jews are liars; that Jews lie to control the university or the faculty or the world, to oppress or hurt others, and/or for other forms of gain; and that antisemitism can’t exist because everything Jews say are lies, including any claims to have experienced discrimination,” wrote Dr. Kuper, who told The Globe and Mail that it is the most difficult paper she has ever written.
The report recounts incidents she was told about, witnessed or encountered herself. The culprits included faculty and as, she calls them, learners.
In what Dr. Kuper calls classic discriminatory victim-blaming, she writes that antisemitism at TFOM has been “carefully reframed” as political activism against Israel, relating to its treatment of Palestinians. She was repeatedly told that the current environment of growing antisemitism at the faculty was triggered by the spring 2021 war in Gaza. That does not jibe with the rise in antisemitism at TFOM, which goes back at least three years, she writes.
She notes that in the years before the war in Gaza, she overheard faculty colleagues complaining about “those Jews who think their Holocaust means they know something about oppression.”
Dr. Kuper, a descendant of Holocaust survivors, writes that she was “berated” for speaking about intergenerational trauma and told that Jews were appropriating the term from Indigenous people. (These complaints came from non-Indigenous colleagues.)
Other Jewish faculty and learners have been silenced when trying to speak about their personal or family histories of discrimination. White Jewish students, she writes, were told by peers that their skin colour means they aren’t allowed to claim to have any experience of oppression.
The myth of Jewish power is very much at play: Dr. Kuper has witnessed people at TFOM say or post that Jews control faculty hiring and promotions, as well as Canada’s residency matching service.
When a lecture on religious discrimination was instituted at the medical school in 2021, Dr. Kuper was asked by non-Jewish students why the Jewish content was “being forced on the students by the Jew who bought the faculty.” They were referring to James Temerty, the philanthropist who, with his wife, Louise, made a large donation to the faculty, which was subsequently named for them. The Temerty family is not Jewish.
“I was frequently at a loss as to how to escape from the circular reasoning that dismissed my experience of discrimination while dehumanizing me, calling me out as racist for defending myself against racism, and ascribing to me sinister, hidden power,” Dr. Kuper writes.
This is devastating stuff. And it’s happening at a medical school – that in the postwar period had a quota system restricting the number of Jewish students.
If the current and future doctors of Canada think this way, what do less educated members of our society think of “the Jews” (a recently trending topic on Twitter)?
This is not just a problem at TFOM. Dr. Kuper says there were instances where Jewish students in other University of Toronto departments were forced to express their beliefs about Israel before being allowed to participate in school activities.
And this is not just happening at the University of Toronto. Dr. Kuper points out that antisemitism has been reported at other higher education institutions in Canada.
Since the article was published, Dr. Kuper says she has heard not only from “many dozens” of Jewish people at TFOM who said her paper resonated with their experiences, but also from Jewish academics elsewhere at U of T and other Canadian universities and medical schools. They have thanked her, she says, for encapsulating their experiences. She has also heard from Jewish Torontonians in other fields who have experienced antisemitism at work.
This as hate crimes against Canadian Jews have risen, and as antisemitism has been spouted by some big-name, influential celebrities in the United States.
Jews aren’t always thought of as a marginalized group, but the discrimination is real. And discrimination opens the door to marginalization – and worse.
In her report, Dr. Kuper points out that a large proportion of Jewish Torontonians are Holocaust survivors or their descendants.
In Ottawa, the National Holocaust Monument “recognizes the immense contributions these survivors have made to Canada and serves as a reminder that we must be vigilant in standing guard against antisemitism, hatred and intolerance.”
I read that plaque at the monument last weekend, a few hours after reading Dr. Kuper’s paper. I pictured some poor old Holocaust survivor in her 90s – perhaps someone who had been the victim of medical experiments at a concentration camp – going to the doctor in good, safe Canada, and possibly being subjected to this antisemitism, either blatantly, as a microaggression, or worse, as silent dismissal.