Campuses are on front lines of antisemitism

The Network of Engaged Canadian Academics (NECA), made up of concerned Canadian academics who see an urgent need for faculty to join together in the face of an ever-shifting terrain of antisemitism on campuses, explains in this column about the rise of antisemitism and how their network is responding.

Campuses are the front lines. Recent years have witnessed an increase in anti-Jewish attitudes and actions on post-secondary campuses. We have all been chilled by recent incidents: the display of a swastika at a residence on Queen’s University’s campus, attempts to ban kosher food on the University of Toronto (U of T)’s campuses, and the desecration of a prayer scroll in one of the doorpost mezuzahs at a UBC residence. University campuses are unique communities; in order to thrive, campuses must ensure open and free inquiry and diversity of thought. This is the bedrock of academic freedom. This freedom, however, must include safeguards to ensure no group faces discrimination, attack, or hatred.

Faculty occupy critical roles in the governance of the academy and often feel ill-equipped in the face of this assault on their academic freedom and the normalization of Jew hatred on Canadian campuses. Faculty need support when we are condemned and excluded from defining and naming our own lived experience of antisemitism. Silencing these voices is an egregious perversion of academic freedom. Faculty need tools when confronted with anti-IHRA motions in our faculty unions, to advocate for the inclusion of antisemitism within campus anti-racism policies and procedures, and to resist the chilling ways all Jews are collectively held responsible for the actions of Israel and denied their historic connection to the Jewish state. The Network of Engaged Canadian Academic (NECA) is a faculty-led non-partisan response to these evolving challenges. NECA was recently launched to support and educate faculty from across disciplines to empower them to stand against all forms of antisemitism.

It is essential that university faculty and administrators are equipped to understand properly the particular challenges faced by Jewish Canadians on campus—it is not sufficient to assist those who have encountered antisemitism; rather, it is imperative that faculty and administrators are prepared to identify antisemitism not only in its most egregious and obvious forms, but in the tropes and dog-whistles employed by those wanting plausible deniability. These more subversive forms of antisemitism, which include anti-Israel antisemitism, may not be easily identified by non-Jewish campus members but, when experienced, will leave Jewish faculty and students unwelcome and unsafe.

While various key organizations exist for addressing antisemitism in our communities, providing support and resources for Jewish students in public school and campus environments, as well as for public service employees, these same resources do not currently exist for Canadian faculty. Having identified this gap and being concerned by the rise in antisemitism on campuses across Canada, faculty from across Canada convened in November 2022, joined by representatives from the Academic Engagement Network (academicengagement.org) a not-for-profit faculty organization that combats antisemitism on campuses across the United States.

From that meeting, NECA was born. Spearheaded by local Ottawa faculty, Cary Kogan (U of Ottawa) and Deidre Butler (Carleton University), NECA is an organization that seeks to promote campus free expression and academic freedom, counter all forms of antisemitism when it occurs, support research, education, and robust dialogue about Judaism and Israel in the academy, and oppose the denigration of Jewish identity and ensure an inclusive, welcoming campus for Jews and others including those for whom Zionism is part of their identity.

NECA represents both a means for developing and distributing resources as well as a show of solidarity and support for faculty members faced with combatting antisemitism on campus. It is a non-partisan and fully independent association with no particular position beyond the desire to educate and combat anti-Jewish actions. Just as Canadian campuses represent a diversity of thought and opinion, NECA is a big-tent initiative welcoming and consisting of a similar diversity of faculty while standing united in stemming the tide of all forms of antisemitism.

NECA’s call to action currently has one hundred faculty signatories. For more information on NECA’s mandate, please visit our statement here.