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Introducing JFN-UBC


Introducing the Jewish Faculty Network - University of British Columbia chapter

January 9th, 2024

Dear UBC President Bacon and Provost Averill,

We are writing to inform you of the existence of the Jewish Faculty Network chapter that has been recently established at the University of British Columbia (JFN-UBC) and to request a meeting at your earliest convenience.

We are a collective of Jewish faculty members at UBC who endorse the principles established by the national Jewish Faculty Network in Canada: Judaism has always thrived on healthy debate and critical questioning; as such, it is essential that the diversity of Jewish opinion be acknowledged. Judaism and Jewish culture are practiced by global, multi-ethnic, and diverse groups of peoples. We challenge claims that equate Judaism and Jewishness with loyalty to the State of Israel – an equation that erases hundreds of years of debate within Jewish communities and Jewish scholarship, as well as within the much more recent Zionist movement itself, concerning differences in religious and spiritual interpretation, political philosophies, and national identities.

What unites the JFN-UBC is our belief that antisemitism – the discrimination against Jews as Jews – is a form of discrimination that needs to be combated in the context of anti-racism in all its forms. The rising wave of exclusionary ethno-nationalism in recent years is a painful reminder that religious discrimination and racism continue to flourish around the world. It is necessary to distinguish antisemitism from critique of the State of Israel, and to protect freedom of speech on our campus regardless of our specific individual views.

The misrepresentation of criticism of Israeli policies and actions as antisemitism is destructive to our campus community on multiple fronts: it silences Jewish faculty who do not agree; it makes true antisemitism more difficult to identify; and it elides the legitimate concerns of Palestinian, Arab, Muslim, and a large body of other students, staff and faculty. It is essential that UBC disavow any attempt to equate anti-Zionism, or criticism of Israel, with antisemitism, and ensure that academic freedom prevails, respecting the diversity of Jewish voices as well as the views of Palestinian, Arab, Muslim and all faculty and students.

As members of a people that has experienced discrimination and persecution over many centuries based on essentialized misrepresentations of us as a homogeneous religious group and racialized entity, we implore you to oppose spurious charges of antisemitism from organizations claiming to represent a singular “Jewish community.” And we also encourage UBC to promote learning about the complex histories of Palestinian and Israeli, Jewish, Muslim, and Christian movements, cultures, and diasporas. Our mission as educators is to model complex and nuanced socially accountable analysis for our students, which is very difficult to do in an environment where certain words, phrases, and geographical descriptors cannot be uttered without fear of intimidation.

We echo the words of the national JFN in sharing the horror of the Hamas attacks on Israeli and other civilians on October 7, and of Israel’s ongoing mass displacement, starvation and indiscriminate bombing of Palestinians in Gaza.

Many of us have friends and family in Israel among those directly affected. We are also deeply alarmed about how these traumatic events are being used to justify repression and surveillance by universities, governments and other institutions couched in false allegations of antisemitism or of supporting terrorism. We reject the faulty logic that violence and repression can make Jews safer, in Israel or globally.

We are aware of both a lawsuit to which UBC, along with other universities, have been asked to respond, and a call from a Canadian MP requesting response, both in regard to antisemitism. The JFN-UBC would like to send a delegation to meet with you to help ensure that UBC’s responses reflect the concerns we have outlined above.

Signed by Jewish Faculty Network-UBC.