One year ago, IAM reported on Canada’s anti-Israel activities. IAM also discussed the struggle over the directorship of the International Human Rights Program of the Law Faculty at the University of Toronto. Pro-Palestinian activists supported the nomination of Dr. Valentina Azarova, aka Azarov, a pro-Palestinian legal activist, to head the prestigious program.
Azarova’s legal career includes the Israeli NGO HaMoked, the Center for the Defense of the Individual, where she defended Palestinians in East Jerusalem. Azarova had also taught Law at Birzeit University, Palestine.
Azarova has focused on pro-Palestinian themes such as: “The Pathology of a Legal System: Israel’s Military Justice System and International Law”; “Why the ICC Needs A ‘Palestine Situation’ (More Than Palestine Needs the ICC): On the Court’s Potential Role(s) in the Israeli-Palestinian Context”; “From Discretion to Necessity: Third State Responsibility for Israel’s Control of Stay and Entry into Palestinian Territory”; “Trickle-Down Legality: The Role of International Courts in Achieving Palestine’s Independence”; “An International Legal Demarche for Human Rights? Perils and Prospects of the Palestinian UN Bid”; “Is There A Court For Gaza? A Test Bench for International Justice”; “UNESCO, Palestine and Archaeology in Conflict”; “Israel’s Unwillingness: Follow-Up Investigations to the UN Gaza Conflict Fact-Finding Mission Report”; “The 2014 Gaza War: Reflections on Jus ad Bellum, Jus in Bello and Accountability”; “Tell It To the Judge: Palestine’s UN Bid and the International Criminal Court,” among others.
Recently, Jewish groups objected to her candidacy. B’nai Brith of Canada has written a letter to Canada’s Minister of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship and Canada’s Minister of Employment, Workforce Development and Disability Inclusion, requesting them to deny a work permit to Azarova. B’nai Brith argues that the position should be offered first and foremost to a Canadian citizen.
Responding to accusations of interference by a university donor, the University of Toronto recently launched an investigation. The University published a press release, “Hiring Process for the Director of the International Human Rights Program in the Faculty of Law,” discussing the independent review into the hiring process. The review, published in March 2021, was conducted by the Hon. Thomas Cromwell, C.C., former Supreme Court of Canada Justice, concluded that the process was done lawfully and that Azarova was not hired due to immigration and timing issues.
The review stated that attempts by anyone to block, prevent or disqualify an applicant “must be firmly rejected… unless the matter raised can be demonstrated to be evidence of unfitness for the duties of the position.”
Some politically motivated faculty supported a campaign to censure their own University.
Samer Muscati, former director of the International Human Rights Program at the Faculty of Law, University of Toronto, who has been a researcher with Human Rights Watch (HRW), is one of those who call to censure. He has posted a letter by Amnesty International (AI) notifying the University that it was pausing its relationship with the University of Toronto, for not hiring Azarova. “Having read Cromwell’s report, @amnesty is ‘unable to take at face value the claim that the hire was frozen solely due to immigration issues, rather than external influence from a major university donor critical of Dr Azarova’s academic work on Israel & Palestine.’ #UofTscandal,” Muscati wrote.
In other words, Amnesty International does not trust Justice Cromwell’s report.
Also, the University of Toronto has been censured by the Canadian Association of University Teachers (CAUT) for its actions surrounding the dis-hiring of Azarova. As Muscati wrote: “Pressure continues to mount over #UofTScandal. @amnesty has just suspended its relationship with @UofT, @UTlaw & @IHRP_UofT “until such time as the #CAUT censure has been lifted and a sustainable roadmap for the future of the #IHRP has been put in place”.”
Muscati took a step further and stated, “Amazing energy at yesterday’s @APS_UTM student rally in support of #AcademicFreedom & #Palestinian rights. @UofT ‘s admin keeps ignoring #UofTScandal but every day more students, faculty lend their voice in demanding accountability. This movement is now unstoppable.”
A group of lawyers named Just Peace Advocates, a Canadian-based independent human rights organization promoting the Palestinian cause, detailed the Azarova affair as an act against the Palestinians. One of their arguments against the review of Justice Cromwell is that the University of York hired him last year to review anti-Semitic violent incidents on campus on November 20, 2019. The violent incidents occurred after a student group Herut Canada hosted an event, “Reservists on Duty: Hear from Former Israeli Defense Forces Soldiers”, as hundreds of students joined the group Students Against Israeli Apartheid to denounce IDF personnel presence on campus. It led to verbal and physical altercations, as the media reported.
Justice Cromwell concluded that York University should adopt the IHRA definition of anti-Semitism, which caused the pro-Palestinian legal group to mistrust him.
Interestingly, however, the faculty of Law has another political agenda. They are eager to prove that Muslim organizations in Canada suffer from “Islamophobia” by the Canadian tax authorities, as several radical Muslim organizations lost their tax-deduction status, a decision based on their invitation of speakers related to terrorism. According to the Law faculty members, this is a testament of Islamophobia because Christian organizations who are not tolerant of LGBTQ have not lost their tax-deductible status, thereby making the tax authority “Islamophobic.”
The University of Toronto is also under attack by Palestinian students. Articles that appeared in the Varsity, a University of Toronto student paper, “Opinion: We need to be able to talk about Palestine” and “U of T hasn’t been welcoming to Palestinian community members — a new initiative hopes to change that,” among others, provide a gloomy view of the University. The point is, the University of Toronto doesn’t submit to their demands.
The fight over Azarova’s appointment to direct the International Human Rights Program at the University of Toronto is emblematic of the larger effort by pro-Palestinian activists to turn Western universities into an extension of their political agenda. As IAM has reported, the take-over included the Middle East Studies Association (MESA), the American Anthropological Association (AAA), American Political Science Association (APSA), among others.
University-based human rights programs similar to the University of Toronto are the new frontier in this battle. This is a potentially serious development because of the close ties between human rights organizations and academic pro-Palestinian activists. As noted before, Muscati, the previous head of the Human Rights Program at the University of Toronto and an Azarova booster is a researcher for Human Rights Watch, a group that is biassed against Israel.
Human rights groups need to serve as objective and reliable chronicles of human rights abuses around the world. However, as the HRW and AI demonstrate, the temptation to serve political goals is never too far away from the surface.
Feds Must Prevent U of T from Causing a ‘Substantial Harm’ to Canada August 12, 2021
TORONTO — B’nai Brith has written a letter to the Minister of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship of Canada and the Minister of Employment, Workforce Development and Disability Inclusion, to request that their ministries deny a work permit to Valentina Azarova, should she apply for one to serve as director of the International Human Rights Program (IHRP) at the University of Toronto.
Ms. Azarova was recommended a year ago by a search committee for the position but not hired, because there were qualified Canadians who applied for the position, making her ineligible for a permit, and because she did not meet the advertised requirements. An antisemitic fantasy developed around this refusal to hire which led to a detailed investigation dismissing the fantasy.
Ms. Azarova’s longstanding commitments amount not to impartial academic work but rather to delegitimization of Israel, and to working with a variety of extreme anti-Zionist organizations including Al-Haq, which has ties to the Popular Front for the Liberation for Palestine (PFLP), listed as a terrorist entity in Canada.
Despite the clear conclusion of the Cromwell Report that Ms. Azarova was rejected from the position for a valid reason – because qualified Canadians had applied for the job – many opponents continue to fantasize about reality and charge that the real reason for refusal of the recommendation of the search committee was an antisemitic conspiracy – Jewish power, influence and money.
In his letter to the government, our Senior Legal Counsel David Matas explained to Ministers Mendocino and Qualtrough that the University of Toronto has re-advertised for the director of the IHRP, but by quietly altering the job description it has launched a tainted and distorted search process that is weighted against qualified Canadian candidates.
“The recent Law Faculty announcement states ‘The position remains the same as last year’. Yet, it does not remain the same. Last year a license to practice in Ontario or another jurisdiction was required. This year it is not”, said Matas.
“It has been reported that the U of T Faculty of Law Dean has reached out to Azarova to let her know the application is open, but there is no public indication that the U of T has similarly reached out to Canadians who have previously applied for the position” Matas added.
Making matters worse, the accusers went to the Canadian Association of University Teachers (CAUT), and successfully asked them to censure the U of T over the Azarova affair, based on this very same fantasy that the Hon. Thomas Cromwell had conclusively and meticulously rejected. The CAUT censure has artificially restricted the position from Canadian candidates.
“Should Ms. Azarova request a work permit for the position of director of the International Human Rights Program at U of T, the government of Canada should deny that request”, said B’nai Brith Canada CEO Michael Mostyn. “Our federal government simply cannot aid and abet the University of Toronto in a distorted and unfair hiring process that unfairly discriminates against Canadian applicants.”
Speaking at a June 15 panel discussion at York University’s Osgoode Hall, Terezia Zoric, UTFA’s president, similarly claimed that an “entitled powerful Zionist minority” was engaged in “psychological warfare” against critics of the recent Cromwell Report. In her remarks, Zoric simultaneously invoked centuries-old anti-Jewish conspiracy myths while also denying the legitimacy of Jewish people’s concerns of antisemitism.
Mr. Matas concluded his letter by stating, “in our view, hiring Ms. Azarova for the position of director of the International Human Rights Program of the Faculty of Law of the University of Toronto would cause a substantial harm to Canada by causing a substantial harm to the University of Toronto, for the reasons set out in our submission the Cromwell Review cited earlier. In any case, the search process this time round is as tainted as the first, albeit in a different way. If the present search process leads to a request for a work permit for Ms. Azarova, that request should be denied.”
To read the letter in full, CLICK HERE.
Hon. Marco Mendicino July 22, 2021
Minister of Immigration, Refugees
and Citizenship of Canada
Hon. Carla Qualtrough
Minister of Employment, Workforce
Development and Disability Inclusion
Government of Canada
Re: A work permit for Valentina Azarova
The purpose of this letter is to request that your Ministries deny a work permit to Valentina Azarova, should she apply for one to serve as director of the International Human Rights Program at the University of Toronto. Ms. Azarova was recommended a year ago by a search committee for the position but not hired, because there were qualified Canadians who applied for the position, making her ineligible for a permit, and because she did not meet the advertised requirements. An antisemitic fantasy developed around this refusal to hire which led to a detailed investigation dismissing the fantasy. The University has recommenced the search but with a thumb on the scales in favour of Ms. Azarova. In what follows, we elaborate and explain.
The existence of Israel since its inception has been attacked in a variety of ways. The initial attacks were armed invasion. Those invasions, having failed in 1948, 1967 and 1973, led to a change in tactics. The attempts to extinguish the Jewish state proceeded to take the form of terrorism and delegitimization through demonization and double standards.
Valentina Azarova is a writer, activist and advocate whose primary focus throughout her career has been this delegitimization effort. This history includes opposition to academic freedom for those opposed to her views. You can find the details of this anti-Israel history in the submission we made to the Independent Review of the Search Process for the Directorship of the International Human Rights Program at the University of Toronto, Faculty of Law by the Honourable Thomas A. Cromwell.
Ms. Azarova was nonetheless recommended by a search committee for the position of director of the International Human Rights Program at the University of Toronto. This recommendation was made, according to Ms. Azarova herself and one member of the search committee, without any reference at all at her interview to her single focus Israel bashing history. The search committee gave no consideration to how this history could possibly have been consistent with the position for which she was recommended.
This recommendation was further made despite the fact that there were qualified Canadians who applied for the position. Also overlooked by the search committee was that Ms. Azarova did not meet one of advertised requirements for the position, that the successful candidate be a member of a Canadian or foreign bar.
The recommendation of the search committee was rejected by the University administration on the basis that there were qualified Canadian who applied for the position and that the University in good conscience could not say otherwise. She was ineligible for the position because she could not get a work permit to take up the position.
The University was also concerned that Ms. Azarova did not have the advertised necessary qualification for the position as licensed to practice law in a Canadian or foreign jurisdiction. The problem was not just that she was not then licensed to practice law in a Canadian or foreign jurisdiction. She did not have the necessary law degree to allow her to obtain such a license. And that, it would seem, should have been that.
However, those determined to see her take the position as Director persisted. They fantasised and charged that the real reason for refusal of the recommendation of the search committee was an antisemitic trope – Jewish power, influence and money. This fantasy, needless to say, had no connection with reality. But it held and holds sway based on the flimsiest of pretexts.
The University administration outside the Faculty of Law had made a telephone call to an alumnus about alumni matters. In the course of this call, the alumnus, who had heard of the shambolic manner in which the search committee had gone about the task of making its recommendation and noted her obvous disqualifications for the position, commented that the University should exercise due diligence in the hire. This comment was passed on to the Faculty of Law, which had no other reaction than dismay at the leak in the search process.
The accusers claim that the real reason for the non-hire was not the fact that there were qualified Canadians who applied for the position nor the fact that Ms. Azarova did not have an advertised required qualification for the position as a member of a local or foreign bar. The real reason, they say, was this incidental remark in a call the alumnus did not make in a conversation about other matters with someone not from the Law Faculty.
The accusers refer to the alumnus as Jewish, as associated with the Jewish organization CIJA, as a judge, as not just any type of judge but a Tax Court judge – emphasising the relationship to money, as a donor, as related to other donors. They refer to the call without reference to the fact that he did not make it, implying that he did. They make no reference to the fact that the call to the alumnus was made by someone outside the Law Faculty, implying that the alumnus called the Law Faculty. They make no reference to the fact that the call was about other matters, implying that the call was specifically about the hire of Azarova.
The accusers created so much noise with this antisemitic fantasy that the University felt compelled to appoint a former Supreme Court of Canada judge, Hon. Thomas Cromwell, to review the search committee process. His report came out with the obvious, that there was nothing to those fantasy accusations and that the real reason for the rejection of the search committee recommendation was the reason given – that there were qualified Canadians who applied for the job.
Not to be deterred, the accusers then went to the Canadian Association of University Teachers (CAUT), asking CAUT to censure the University of Toronto based on the very fantasy that the Hon. Thomas Cromwell had conclusively and meticulously rejected. CAUT then did so, pretending that the Judge had overlooked plausibility matters that he had, in fact, addressed in great detail. The fact that CAUT censure was driven by an antisemitic fantasy is illustrated by the remarks of the University of Toronto Faculty Association president, who publicly characterized, in her position as President of UTFA, the opposition to the hiring of Ms. Azarova as the work of “an entitled powerful Zionist minority”, a standard antisemitic trope.
The University then re-advertised the position of director of the International Human Rights Program. As set out below, the advertisement and search process is weighted against qualified Canadian candidates. It is a procedure with its thumb on the scale in favour of Ms. Azarova.
The CBC reported, in a story dated June 7, 2021, under the heading “Following controversy, U of T resumes search for International Human Rights Program director” that Faculty of Law Dean Brunnée “has reached out to Azarova to let her know the application is open”. There is no public indication that the Faculty of Law reached out to all Canadians who had applied previously for the position to let them know that the application for the position had been reopened.
A media release from the University on the resumption of the hiring process for the position stated:
“A new search committee – chaired by Dean Brunnée – will assess qualifications of Canadian candidates, should any emerge.”
Because of the censure of CAUT, there a question whether any Canadian candidates would emerge. The CAUT Procedures Relating to Censure state that
“Censure means asking CAUT members:
not to accept appointments at a censured institution; …
It also means that CAUT will:
refuse to accept advertisements for positions vacant at an institution under censure in the CAUT Bulletin or on the CAUT website …”
Because of the CAUT censure, the Canadian candidacy for the position is artificially restricted. Any CAUT member, a whole swath of potentially eligible Canadian candidate, would be violating CAUT policy by applying for the position. As well, many qualified candidates may not see the advertisement because of the CAUT restriction on advertising.
These problems presumably would not bother CAUT. CAUT decries a claimed outside interference in the University of Toronto hiring process for director of the international human rights program, an interference which a former Canadian Supreme Court of Canada judge found conclusively did not occur. Yet, CAUT hypocritically engages in its own interference, indicating that, to lift the censure, Azarova would have to be offered the position of director (which they misleadingly characterise as a re-offer).
The Canadian Immigration requirement that Canadians should be given preference cannot reasonably be met as long as the CAUT censure persists. The attempt to fill the position should wait until CAUT withdraws its censure.
The advertisement for the Program Director referred to the assessment of qualifications of only Canadian candidates, not the assessment of qualifications of all candidates. The reason for that distinction appears to be the reference in news release to Azarova as the preferred candidate of the previous search committee. The news release appears to be saying that she remains the preferred candidate absent any suitable Canadian candidate. In other words, no other non-Canadians need apply.
As well, the job qualifications have changed. The position when previously advertised had as a requirement
“Licensed to practice in Ontario; applicants licensed to practice in other jurisdictions with strong Human Rights experience will be considered.”
This was, as noted, a requirement Ms. Azarova did not meet and was a concern of the Law Faculty in addition to the fact that there were Canadian applicants qualified for the position.
The more recent advertisement drops this as a requirement. The ad has the phrase “Admitted to the Bar or also licensed to practice in some jurisdiction.” under a heading “Experience” with a cluster of other forms of experience described as assets. The ad has been taken down from the internet and is attached to this letter.
The recent Law Faculty announcement states “The position remains the same as last year”. Yet, it does not remain the same. Last year a license to practise in Ontario or another jurisdiction was required. This year it is not.
University President Meric Gertler, in a meeting to the Governing Council of the University, stated that “The position remains the same as last year and has been reposted”. Yet, the position as previously advertised was not reposted. The new posting removes the requirement in the previous posting that a license to practise in Ontario or another jurisdiction was required.
The job qualifications appear to have been tailored after the fact to conform to the qualifications of Ms. Azarova. A requirement in the first version of the ad which she did not meet disappears as a requirement in the second version of the ad.
For Ms. Azarova to obtain a work permit, she would either have to obtain a Labour Market Impact Assessment from Employment and Social Development Canada that there is no Canadian or Permanent Resident suitable for the position who had applied for it or demonstrate that her hiring would bring a substantial benefit to Canada. The deadline for applications under the current search process, July 7th, has passed, but no decision resulting from that search process has yet been made public.
We wish to request now, in advance of any decision, that should Ms. Azarova be chosen for the position, she be denied a work permit. The search process was weighted in her favour and against qualified Canadians. Law Faculty Professor David Dyzenhaus stated about the current search: “I think the message is pretty clear that Dr. Azarova, should she apply, will be hired.” We would agree. The distortion in the present search process should prevent the grant of a Labour Market Impact Assessment in her favour as well as a finding that her hiring would bring a substantial benefit to Canada.
In our view, hiring Ms. Azarova for the position of director of the International Human Rights Program of the Faculty of Law of the University of Toronto would cause a substantial harm to Canada by causing a substantial harm to the University of Toronto, for the reasons set out in our submission the Cromwell Review cited earlier. In any case, the search process this time round is as tainted as the first, albeit in a different way. If the present search process leads to a request for a work permit for Ms. Azarova, that request should be denied.
Senior Honorary Counsel
B’nai Brith Canada
602-225 Vaughan Street
Canada R3C 1T7
Tel: 1 204 944 1831
Fax: 1 204 942 1494
University of Toronto
HIRING PROCESS FOR THE DIRECTOR OF THE INTERNATIONAL HUMAN RIGHTS PROGRAM IN THE FACULTY OF LAW
An independent review into the hiring for the position of director of the International Human Rights Program (IHRP) at the U of T’s Faculty of Law found that external influence did not play a role in the decision to discontinue the search. Such an inference was the basis of an allegation made by some that academic freedom had been breached. But the review concluded this was unjustified.
The review, by the Hon. Thomas Cromwell, C.C., former Supreme Court of Canada Justice, concluded the candidate was not hired for this professional manager (PM4) (non-academic) role because of immigration and timing issues, and not as a result of external influence. While negotiations were at an advanced stage, no formal job offer had been made or rescinded. The University has adopted all of the recommendations in the Cromwell report.
Canadian Association of University Teachers (CAUT) Censure Against University of Toronto
Subsequent action by the Canadian Association of University Teachers to censure the University has been disappointing and is not supported by Mr. Cromwell’s findings.
The University is strongly committed to upholding the principles and practice of academic freedom and merit-based hiring, free of external interference.
PM Protections Advisory Committee
The Vice-President & Provost and Vice-President, People Strategy, Equity, and Culture are composing an advisory group to examine protections for Professional/Managerial staff with professional credentials who lead clinical or experiential learning opportunities and whose duties require them to tackle topics likely to arouse controversy.
The Advisory Group will conduct consultations with members of the University on the issues under consideration and are seeking input from all members of our U of T community.
The Acting Vice-President and Provost and the Vice-President, People Strategy and Culture are therefore inviting responses to the Call for Submissions.Learn more about the Advisory Group and how you can help
- Faculty of Law resumes the hiring process for the Director of the International Human Rights Program (June 7, 2021)
- Memo from the Provost and the Vice-President, Human Resources & Equity re. the CAUT Censure (May 27, 2021)
- President’s letter to the community regarding the CAUT vote (April 23, 2021)
- President’s letter to faculty and librarians regarding the IHRP program (April 20, 2021)
- President’s letter to CAUT (April 20, 2021)
- President’s response to the Cromwell Report (March 29, 2021)
- President’s letter to CAUT regarding the Cromwell Report (March 29, 2021)
Faculty of Law resumes the hiring process for the Director of the International Human Rights Program (IHRP)
Monday, June 7, 2021
The new Dean of the Faculty of Law, Professor Jutta Brunnée, is resuming the process to fill the position of Director of the International Human Rights Program (IHRP).
The position remains the same as last year. The search last year identified a preferred candidate.
By law, the University is required to follow a rigorous process; specifically, the Faculty will be posting advertisements for four consecutive weeks to solicit candidates. A new search committee – chaired by Dean Brunnée – will assess qualifications of Canadian candidates, should any emerge.
“In the interests of the Faculty and our broader community, we will be moving forward expeditiously, including complying with any required immigration or Canadian work authorization process,” said Dean Brunnée.
“We look forward to filling this role. The IHRP is a key part of our international and experiential offerings and students greatly value the opportunities it provides.”
Under the previous dean, the hiring process was discontinued because, at the time, there was an urgency to fill the role by September 2020; that was not possible with the identified preferred candidate due to immigration and timing issues.
Now that Professor Emerita Rebecca Cook has agreed to serve as Interim Director until a permanent director has been named, the Faculty of Law can take the time needed to resolve the issue of work authorization and any immigration issues, in accordance with due process and law.
The resumption of the search is timely and consistent with the commitments the University has made, following the release of the Cromwell Report, and a review of the IHRP by Professor Cook, the founder of the program.
Dean Brunnée has also conducted an extensive consultation with Faculty on rebuilding collegiality.
In light of the controversy that followed the discontinuation of the search, the Honourable Thomas Cromwell was commissioned to conduct an independent review to provide a factual narrative of events; determine whether existing policies and procedures were followed, including those relating to academic freedom and confidentiality; and offer advice to the President. Justice Cromwell’s report, submitted March 15, 2021, found no evidence to support the inference that academic freedom had been breached in the hiring process. The President announced that the University had accepted and would implement all the report’s recommendations.
The IHRP works to enhance the legal protection of existing and emerging international human rights obligations through advocacy, knowledge-exchange and capacity-building initiatives. It provides experiential learning opportunities for students, and legal expertise to civil society.
Further reading on this issue:
- Memorandum from the Vice-President, Human Resources & Equity, and from the Vice-President & Provost in relation to the CAUT Censure
- FAQs on the IHRP search (last updated June 7, 2021)
- President’s letter to the community regarding the CAUT vote (April 23, 2021)
- The Cromwell Report (March 15, 2021)
Please send any enquiries to firstname.lastname@example.org.
=============================================Samer Muscati@SamerMuscatiAmazing energy at yesterday’s @APS_UTM student rally in support of #AcademicFreedom & #Palestinian rights. @UofT‘s admin keeps ignoring #UofTScandal but every day more students, faculty lend their voice in demanding accountability. This movement is now unstoppable.
Samer Muscati@SamerMuscatiPressure continues to mount over #UofTScandal. @amnesty has just suspended its relationship with @UofT, @UTlaw & @IHRP_UofT “until such time as the #CAUT censure has been lifted and a sustainable roadmap for the future of the #IHRP has been put in place.” https://amnesty.org/download/Documents/AMR2021442021ENGLISH.PDF…
Samer Muscati@SamerMuscatiHaving read Cromwell’s report, @amnesty is “unable to take at face value the claim that the hire was frozen solely due to immigration issues, rather than external influence from a major university donor critical of Dr Azarova’s academic work on Israel & Palestine.” #UofTscandal
May 18, 2021
AMR 20/4144/2021Official Correspondence Reference Number:TO AMR 20/2021.173118 May 2021President Gertler and Dean BrunnéeUniversity of TorontoToronto, OntarioCanadaDear President Gertler and Dean Brunnée:We write to you on behalf of both Amnesty International Canada and Amnesty International’s CrisisResponse Programme to regretfully inform you that we are, with immediate effect, pausing our relationshipwith the University of Toronto Faculty of Law and its International Human Rights Law Program (IHRP). Weare taking this step in support of the Canadian Association of University Teachers (CAUT) Council’sdecision to censure the University of Toronto.Amnesty International has, through its Digital Verification Corps (DVC), a now more than four-yearpartnership with the IHRP. The DVC is an award-winning, flagship programme within the Crisis ResponseProgramme at Amnesty International’s International Secretariat. It trains students from seven universitiesacross the globe, including the University of Toronto, on the process and practice of open source researchfor human rights advocacy and accountability. The IHRP became a DVC partner in 2017 and hassuccessfully contributed to a wide range of Amnesty research.Like the CAUT, we are greatly concerned about the sequence of events that led to the Faculty of Law’sdecision not to appoint Dr Valentina Azarova as IHRP Director. Having read the report by retired SupremeCourt of Canada Thomas Cromwell, we are unable to take at face value the claim that the hire was frozensolely due to immigration issues, rather than external influence from a major university donor critical of DrAzarova’s academic work on Israel and Palestine.We regret that we have been placed in a position to suspend our relationship with the University of Toronto,the Faculty of Law, and the IHRP until such time as the CAUT censure has been lifted and a sustainableroadmap for the future of the IHRP has been put in place.Yours sincerely,Joanne MarinerKetty NivyabandiSam DubberleyDirector, Crisis ResponseSecretary GeneralHead, Evidence LabAmnesty InternationalAmnesty InternationalAmnesty InternationalInternational SecretariatCanadaInternational SecretariatAMNESTY INTERNATIONALINTERNATIONAL SECRETARIATPeter Benenson House, 1 Easton StreetLondon WC1X 0DW, United KingdomT:+44 (0)20 7413 5500F:+44 (0)20 7956 1157www.amnesty.org
September 12, 2020Professor Edward Iacobucci, DeanUniversity of Toronto Faculty of Law78 Queens ParkToronto, OntarioCanadaVia emailDear Dean Iacobucci:We write as former Directors of the International Human Rights Program at the Faculty of Law. OnFriday, we learned that Professor Audrey Macklin had resigned her position as chair of the IHRP’s FacultyAdvisory Committee and of the circumstances giving rise to her resignation.As the human rights community in Canada and elsewhere have been acutely aware, the IHRP has beenwithout a permanent director for over a year. During that time, the Faculty of Law has initiated twosearches for a Director with the international human rights background and expertise necessary to steer theprogram. As a result of the most recent search, the hiring committee, chaired by Professor Macklin,identified two viable candidates for the position. The hiring committee advised the Faculty that shouldneither of these candidates accept the position, there were no further options from the current pool and itwould be a failed search.Happily, Dr. Valentina Azarova – the hiring committee’s top candidate – accepted the Faculty’s offer inmid-August. Dr. Azarova’s human rights practice in domestic and international settings over the past 15years has been wide-ranging and impressive. She has carried out strategic litigation, legal advocacy, andlegislative reform. She has worked to establish human rights enforcement mechanisms in Europe andbeyond, and has regularly advised and consulted for United Nations fact-finding missions and mandate-holders, governments, and civil society. She has taught international law and international human rights lawsince 2009, and established and taught clinical offerings since 2012. She holds a doctoral degree from theIrish Centre for Human Rights at NUI Galway, and has lived and worked in the Middle East and Africa.The IHRP’s most recent Director, Samer Muscati, immediately began working to help Dr. Azarovaunderstand the duties of the Director and the foci areas of the IHRP to date. In the meantime, the Faculty ofLaw put Dr. Azarova in touch with immigration counsel to advise her on her options for securing a permitto work in Canada, and Dr. Azarova began planning to move with her partner from Germany to Toronto,where her stepchildren reside. In early September, however, Professor Macklin was advised that the Facultyhad been contacted by a judge of the Tax Court of Canada, who had expressed concern about Dr. Azarova’sscholarship on the operation of international law in the context of Israel’s occupation of the PalestinianTerritories. Shortly thereafter, Dr. Azarova’s offer was rescinded by the Faculty. It is now ourunderstanding that starting this week, you will be interviewing candidates already deemed by the hiringcommittee as unsuitable for the position of IHRP Director.We recognize that it is the Dean’s prerogative to make the ultimate decision with respect to hiring at theFaculty of Law. We expect, however, that such decisions be made in good faith. We are therefore alarmedby the sequence of events, which strongly suggests improper external interference by a member of the
judiciary in the hiring of the IHRP Director as well as a serious breach of confidentiality in the hiringprocess. Given that the essential nature of international human rights practice is to hold the powerful toaccount, any IHRP Director and their work will unavoidably be the subject of criticism from some quarters.As a staff appointment, the position of IHRP Director does not confer academic freedom. The IHRPDirector’s security of tenure is particularly vulnerable, and the Faculty of Law should stand as a bulwarkagainst external pressures to the IHRP’s work. Instead, the facts suggest that your office has caved topolitical pressure.If the Faculty of Law chooses to install a new IHRP Director from a pool of candidates that the hiringcommittee has already rejected as unsuitable and unqualified for the position, it will send the message thatthe University of Toronto’s law school has little interest in providing a serious experiential learningprogram in international human rights practice, at a time when the need for lawyers committed topreserving and advancing fundamental freedoms at home and abroad is greater than ever. Such a step woulddiminish the reputation of the Faculty of Law and irrevocably damage the reputation of the IHRP and allthose associated with it.Instead, we urge you to renew the Faculty’s offer to Dr. Azarova, whose breadth of practice and depth ofexpertise would be a tremendous contribution to the student experience, and whose reputation andnetworks in the global human rights community would bring credibility to the IHRP and the University ofToronto. We understand that her immigration status may result in some delay before she can formally startat the IHRP. However, we believe that after a 12-month search and the interests at stake, she is worth a fewmonths’ wait.Sincerely yours,Carmen Cheung and Samer Muscati
U of T hasn’t been welcoming to Palestinian community members — a new initiative hopes to change that
The perpsectives of Palestinian alumni show that U of T has a long history of silence
September 12, 2021By Yasmeen Atassi, Racha Ghanem and Salwa Iqbal
Content warning: This article discusses instances of anti-Palestinian harassment.
There is no shortage of Palestinian existence at the University of Toronto. Whether through student or club advocacy, conversations about Palestine have persevered for years in student communities. But Palestinians and those interested in Palestine have felt a blatant lack of institutional support at the university.
We are writing this open letter in response to an editorial by The Varsitythat called upon U of T to affirm a commitment to free speech for Palestinian community members. We also echo a call by a fellow student, who argued that “We need to be able to talk about Palestine” without fear or apprehension and under the protection of the educational institution at which we study.
We, student researchers for the Institute of Islamic Studies (IIS), believe discourse about Palestine is essential to a true survey of colonial and anti-colonial history. “Hearing Palestine,” a student and faculty initiative founded in fall of 2020 under the auspices of the IIS, aims to make space for that kind of discourse on campus.
Hearing Palestine is a talk series that invites U of T alumni of Palestinian backgrounds to speak about their experiences on campus and in their careers. Two of the speakers who’ve spoken so far have been Diana Buttu, who was a legal advisor for the Palestine Liberation Organization from 2000–2005, and Dr. Abdel Razzaq Takriti, the University of Houston’s inaugural Arab American educational foundation chair in modern Arab history.
Their reflections, which we’ve included in our letter, underscore that U of T has a long history of anti-Palestinian racism. While this atmosphere has pushed students to work together toward liberation, in Takriti’s words, their time at U of T remained a time of hostile “structural constraints and pressures.”
“There were only a handful of classrooms where we could talk and feel safe,” Takriti said. As Buttu put it, students “effectively came out very bruised.”
Diana Buttu’s story, as told on “Hearing Palestine”
In the late 1980s, Diana Buttu began her undergraduate studies in the Department of Middle East and Islamic Studies and the Department of Economics at the University of Toronto. At that time, Palestinians were rising up against Israeli occupation of the West Bank and Gaza, in what would be called the first intifada (1987-1993).
With the help of the late Professor James Graff (1937-2005), Buttu was introduced to a cohort of students of Palestinian backgrounds. The group was not large, consisting of around six or seven students. Still, they decided to speak against the institutional erasure of Palestinians on campus. They also advocated for Palestinians living under Israeli occupation.
As they did this advocacy work, they faced harassment and intimidation by active Israeli Zionist groups on campus. During a student club fair, their group put out tables in Sidney Smith Hall. Buttu recalls that Zionist students verbally attacked them, even calling the university police on them.
But the group stood their ground and, against all odds, they succeeded in establishing the Middle East Forum and worked on a student publication called al-Mizan, which is Arabic for “balance.” They also ran events, including two where they hosted renowned American-Jewish anti-Zionist scholar Norman Finkelstein, and one with Hanan Ashrawi.
In 1995, Diana Buttu returned to U of T as a graduate student in the Faculty of Law. By then, the Oslo Accords of 1993 and 1995 had been signed, and Israeli settlements in the West Bank began expanding exponentially. The accords were meant to be part of a peace process, but freedom of expression on the subject of Palestine became even more restricted.
During that time, Buttu felt that Zionism was becoming normalized on campus. She recounted that Israeli judges who supported the expansion of illegal settlements in the occupied territories and other anti-Palestinian policies were invited to speak on campus.
Buttu recalled that some faculty members expended much effort to include Israel in course offerings and syllabi. She does not remember Palestine being treated the same way.
After graduating from U of T Law, Buttu became a Palestinian-Canadian intellectual and lawyer who specializes in international law and international human rights law. She has advocated for Palestinian human rights in a multitude of forms, from writing op-eds for major newspapers to hosting a podcast.
During her time at U of T, she endured non-supportive faculty, daily aggressions, and systemic impediments. However, given her accomplishments, her story is also one of defiance and a commitment to social justice and change.
Listening to Diana Buttu tell her story in 2021 showed us how — both then and now — simple student tasks like juggling coursework and studying for exams are made so much more difficult when you are also taking up the mantle of defending and humanizing yourself.
Abdel Razzaq Takriti’s story
By the time Abdel Razzaq Takriti began his undergraduate studies at U of T in 1999, the conversations that were initiated about Palestine during the first intifada had succumbed to silence once more. His time at U of T was riddled with daily experiences of harassment. During his “Hearing Palestine” talk on March 4, 2021, he described in great detail what life was like for him as a Palestinian U of T student.
He told one story about how he joined The Varsity, only to be assigned coverage of a Hebrew University and U of T “friendship event” at a hotel. An Israeli minister was in attendance. In his reporting, he mentioned that there was no Palestinian presence at the event, but he recalled the final articlehaving a “celebratory” tone. It had been rewritten and published under his name without his consent. His attempts at shedding light on valid flaws were discredited as if to maintain a certain narrative.
“Of course, afterwards, I resigned from The Varsity,” Takriti said. That was just one instance that made him feel unwelcome at U of T— harassment followed him in his dormitories, at extracurricular activities, and in classrooms.
When people asked where he was from and he said that he was Palestinian, that was seen as a political statement. Because of that politicization, many other Palestinian students would publicly identify with where they grew up — Jordan, Lebanon, or Dubai, for example — instead of saying that they were Palestinian.
Still, Takriti and other engaged students searched for university groups through which they could advocate. But the Arab Student Association (ASA) and the Muslim Student Association (MSA) were only involved in cultural, social, and religious activities.
While recounting that, Takriti emphasized that the apolitical nature of these associations should not be easily condemned, because it was a consequence of the pressures that the groups’ student leaders experienced. For example, the ASA faced attacks similar to the harassment that Buttu experienced during the annual Arab Week when they included mentions of Palestine during tabling at Sidney Smith Hall.
But in the context of the second intifada in 2000–2005, 9/11, and the US invasion of Iraq, Takriti recalled that he joined a group of U of T students that came together to push back against an upsurge of Islamophobia. Those students — mostly undergraduates — included Palestinians, Arabs, Muslims, and students from Africa and Asia, as well as allies from Jewish communities.
This group sought to form a vibrant alternative intellectual and social space and embarked on wide-ranging social justice campaigns. They participated in hosting the al-Awda conference, a huge international event on Palestinians’ right to return to Palestine, and many of them became active in the Arab Students Collective (ASC).
The ASC sponsored the first Israel Apartheid Week (IAW), which spread across the globe, becoming one of the largest worldwide solidarity events with Palestine.
CAUT censure is a continuation of U of T’s history
In September 2020, U of T allegedly rescinded an offer of employment to Dr. Valentina Azarova at the Law Faculty’s International Human Rights Program. Against all protocols, her name had been leaked, and ended up at a Zionist advocacy organisation, the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs (CIJA). A financial donor, Justice David E. Spiro of the Tax Court of Canada, allegedly put pressure on the university’s administration to block her hiring.
The university administration commissioned Supreme Court Justice Thomas Cromwell to investigate this case. Following that investigation, Cromwell published a report — however, Canadian Association of University Teachers (CAUT) Executive Director David Robinson stated to The Varsity that CAUT council members felt that the report’s mandate was too confined. Although the report found conflicting reports of what happened, Cromwell did not have the authority to assess the “credibility or plausibility” of those reports.
The donor, Spiro, was also a former member of the CIJA board of directors, and Justice Thomas Cromwell was a keynote speaker for their annual legal conference while he was conducting the investigation. The connection between the donor, the investigator, and the organization involved went largely unnoticed.
Reflecting on U of T’s past, it’s clear that none of these decisions emerged in a vacuum. The oral histories of Diana Buttu and Dr. Takriti give substance to the feelings of anti-Palestinian hostility that we believe many individuals, students, and scholars have experienced for decades.
The Canadian Association of University Teachers (CAUT) Council, the main body which protects the rights of academic staff in Canada, has ruled against the Cromwell report. Following this series of events, CAUT has decided to censure the universityuntil the right course of action is taken, causing events and educational opportunities at the university to come to a standstill.
Nevertheless, the university has decided to resume its search for a new director of the IHRP, despite the way educational opportunities are dwindling for its own students. It opposes the CAUT censure, and does not believe the Azarova case falls under the council’s jurisdiction because the position was administrative, not academic.
The CAUT censure has gained widespread support. Despite this, we believe that the way speech about Palestine has been treated as an exception to free speech worldwide has been insufficiently integrated into the conversation. Advocating for academic freedom remains tokenistic if the reality of extensive policing of Palestine on the ground is not challenged.
It’s true that students like Diana Buttu and Abdel Razzaq Takriti have, at times, succeeded in establishing student clubs and publications that created a space for Palestine. It’s also true that student organisations, such as the University of Toronto Graduate Students’ Union (UTGSU) BDS Movement, have stood in solidarity with the Palestinian people.
However, even our attempts at opening a space for discussion have been publicly undermined and defamed by Zionist organisations. In an attempt to highlight aspects of Palestinian culture, we included Ghassan Kanafani, an influential Palestinian advocate and writer, on our “Hearing Palestine” posters. For that, we were met with polarizing labels of terrorism and antisemitism.
The pervasive erasure of Palestinians, the systemic silencing of student-led organisations, and the quotidian and explicit anti-Palestinian discrimination have subjected individual students to such pressure that the permanence of any project has been impossible. Coupled with the university’s lack of institutional and faculty support, U of T has time and time again reverted to the unsupportive empty space described by our Palestinian-Canadian alumni and the hostile atmosphere we all know.
The importance of listening and free speech
U of T should be a safe space for Palestinian students to be unapologetically Palestinian. Students, staff, and faculty — especially untenured faculty — should be able to openly speak against countries that benefit from settler colonialism without fear of retribution. We should be able to struggle against an occupying state, and we should be able to hold our administration accountable for what we feel amounts to anti-Palestinian bias.
To begin with, the administration should balance the resources it allocates to the study of Palestine, which are few compared to the study of Israel. Out of the 700 programs that U of T’s three campuses offer to undergraduate students, there is only one class being taught on Palestinian history: HIS370 — Modern Palestine. In our experience, course syllabi have remained largely Eurocentric despite the diversity of the student body.
The administration should also break up its normalised relations with Israel by limiting the extensive fellowships and exchange programs it currently has with Israeli universities. This would help sever the intimate relationship between settler colonialism and the production of knowledge rooted in silencing the past and present.
Finally, we call on the administration to stop donor pressure on the hiring of faculty and its influence on the unequal distribution of donor funds for different programs and syllabi.
Above all, we need to listen to Palestinian community members’ stories. Only then can we pinpoint what is to be rectified. For example, from the narratives of Diana Buttu and Dr. Abdel Razzaq Takriti, we have come to understand how faculty support can affect and enable student-led activism.
So “Hearing Palestine” responds to longstanding calls to improve the university experience for Palestinians and those interested in the history of Palestine. Following the Azarova case, the bombardments of Gaza, and the ongoing ethnic cleansing of Palestinians from entire neighborhoods in Jerusalem and elsewhere, we hope, as students, to transform this project into a centre for the critical study of Palestine.
Given the lack of institutional support for Palestinians and Palestine throughout U of T’s history, the IIS’s involvement with “Hearing Palestine” is a promising guarantor for the permanence and evolution of this project. We hope that, over time, “Hearing Palestine” will augment the existence of Palestine in academic and scholarly discourse at U of T.
We call on the university to recognize the reality we present to them by meeting us in the middle and investing in a more permanent commitment to Palestine on campus.
Yasmeen Atassi, Racha Ghanem, and Salwa Iqbal are affiliated with the Institute of Islamic Studies.