Instead of ‘Civil Discourse’ We Have Civil Terror

Last week, the CBC ran an interview on its flagship program, The Current, with Randy Boyagoda, a professor at the University of Toronto (U of T). Dr Boyagoda is neither Jewish nor Palestinian. He is an English scholar with several novels and critical essays under his belt. Recently, the University of Toronto appointed him to the position of Provostial Advisor on Civil Discourse. He was appointed to help promote and safeguard “civil discourse” on the U of T campus regarding the Palestine-Israel conflict. On radio, Boyagoda mentioned Palestine and Israel only to admonish “people with intensely held views” on both sides to find some common ground for “civil discourse.”

Civil discourse is shorthand for – at best – ignoring, and at worst, banning, free speech about Palestine. Inevitably, free speech on Palestine challenges the Jewish establishment’s need to silence and gate-keep people who criticize Israel.

Several incidents at U of T over the last three years illustrate the university imposing limits on free speech and ‘civil discourse’. The university ignored civil discourse in order to allow bullying behind closed doors. Decisions that affected people’s careers, their futures, their opportunities, were made by high-ranking university officials, judges, and others, without a shred of openness or honesty. These decisions have affected academics and doctors who dared to stand up for Palestinians’ human rights.

We found out about these issues only after they were all over, and that was part of the ‘civil discourse’ too.

There was no fuss, no muss, no fights, no verbal assaults, no incivility. Yet U of T insists that incivility is rife on campus – because some students and faculty dare to fight back and support civilians in Gaza.

Well, Dr Boyagoda, the following incidents took place at your own university while you were a professor. So where were you during these events at U of T? The record shows you did little to nothing to expose the attacks on academics and medical doctors who needed your help to fight against the racism and the anti-Palestinian prejudice.

But now that you have been appointed to ensure “civil discourse,” I am sure all will be well.


At U of T, Civil Discourse Really Means Silencing Voices Critical of Israel

Let’s talk about the U of T’s record when it comes to “civil discourse” and finding “common ground.” Despite all the belly aching from Jewish groups on campus (and Jewish professors) that they have been scared off or silenced by anti-Israel activists, the facts say otherwise:

1. In summer 2020, Dr Valentina Azarova was first hired, then denied the position of chair of the International Human Rights Program (IHRP) in the Faculty of Law at the U of T. An international human rights legal scholar, Azarova had earlier in her career done some research on Palestinian refugees, international law, and Israeli violence in the Occupied Territories, and the role of international courts in the Palestine situation. For this sin, the appointment of Azarova (who is Jewish, by the way) was effectively blocked by Justice David Spiro, a strong Israel supporter and a former board member of the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs (CIJA). Spiro is also a federal tax judge. A major donor to the U of T Law School, Spiro threatened that he and his friends would stop their donations if Azarova were appointed. Top executives at CIJA had asked Spiro to inform the university that the hiring of Azarova as IHRP director was offensive to the Jewish community, and threatened protests and loss of donations. This is kind of like a Mafia protection racket saying, “Nice law school you have here. It would be a shame if anything happened to it.” The backroom deal meant Dr Azarova, who had been effectively hired, had the job offer rescinded.

Luckily, law professors at U of T and other academics fought back. The Canadian Association of University Teachers (CAUT) brought a motion of censure against the U of T. The university had to walk back their decision and offer Azarova the job. Given the chilly climate, and the horrendous treatment she received, Azarova refused the offer.

2. The case of Dr Ritika Goel. A U of T doctor and faculty member was accused of “antisemitic behaviour.” Goel, the social justice, anti-oppression, and advocacy theme lead for the doctor of medicine and postgraduate training programs at the Temerty Faculty of Medicine at U of T, was the target of an anonymous open letter that circulated in May 2021.

With no proof, the letter described a “prevailing culture of antisemitism and xenophobia” within the faculty, and ultimately, demanded the “prompt dismissal” of Goel from her position in the university’s Department of Family and Community Medicine (DFCM).

Goel was one of 3,000 healthcare professionals who had signed an open letter that asked Canadian healthcare workers to express solidarity with Palestinians in Gaza – where Israel had killed Palestinian doctors and bombed clinics. Friends and colleagues of Goel argued that the allegations against her were baseless and harmful to larger efforts to stamp out racism and prejudice. Eventually, the petition against her foundered – no thanks to the lack of support from the higher-ups at the Temerty Faculty of Medicine.

3. More than 550 Jewish medical doctors, primarily in the Toronto area and allied to the Temerty Faculty of Medicine (TFOM at U of T), signed an open letter. The opening statement is:

“We affirm the right of TFOM faculty to be openly Zionist and to support the right of Israel to exist and defend itself as a Jewish state and for those faculty to be free of public ostracism, recrimination, exclusion, and discrimination in the TFOM.”

From Yves Engler’s post “What sort of ‘caring’ do Zionist medical faculty at U of T teach?”

The Jewish doctors portrayed themselves as victims, yet their letter threatened their colleagues’ right to academic freedom. The Jewish doctors’ letter continued:

“We believe that academic freedom is not absolute. In particular, leaders in academic medicine with power over learners and faculty, who in some cases are the sole leader responsible for thousands of learners and faculty, should not be issuing statements which collide with equity, diversity, and inclusion for Jews or which make Jews feel unsafe and unwelcome in the TFOM and which are unrelated or unessential to their core academic role, research, and publishing of results.”

Private Facebook postings on “Canadian Jewish Physicians” suggest discrimination against new doctors who criticize Israel

4. The CBC received screenshots of a private Facebook group called Canadian Jewish Physicians. The screenshots show a group of members saying they have compiled a list of 271 medical students who had signed an open letter from the Health Care Alliance for Palestine calling for a ceasefire and a stop to Israel targeting hospitals and health workers in Gaza. Some members of the Canadian Jewish Physicians want to ensure that students who signed the open letter and sympathize with Palestinians are not offered preferred residencies. The CBC report notes, “The stated intention is to share this list with program directors ahead of residency interviews.” To be clear, this means, trying to frustrate the students in their preferred choices of residency. It flies in the face of the nonprofit organization Canadian Residential Matching Service’s (CaRMS) mandate, which is to match newly graduated doctors with their preferred residency programs. As the CaRMS site says, “CaRMS will conduct all of its affairs according to the following values: fairness, objectivity, reliability, and transparency.” Again, a group clearly identified as Jewish physicians claims credit for attempts to discriminate against placing pro-Palestinian medical residents.

Clearly, it is those who support Palestinian human rights who have suffered, not the Jewish students and faculty. The establishment Jewish community wielded significant power in each situation. They do not want to be confronted or challenged by those who point out the hell Israel is perpetrating in Gaza and the West Bank. In all four cases, the powerful used their power in secret to destroy people’s careers, livelihoods, or opportunities. There was no shouting, no debate, no outward nastiness, but the establishment Jews managed to revoke the hiring of an internationally acclaimed law prof because she wrote about Palestinians’ rights. The establishment Jews also tried to force out a medical professor whose “crime” was to have signed a petition for Palestinians’ human rights. The establishment Jews on a private Facebook page discussed which medical students they would bar from specialist training based on their critical views of Israel.

Dr Boyagoda said he is seeking common ground in the Palestinian-Israel debate, but the sides are far from equal, nor equally matched. Israel is waging a murderous and annihilating war on more than 2.3 million Palestinian civilians. Israel’s missiles, bombs, and troops have killed more than 30,000 people (including 12,300 children) and have maimed more than 100,000 mothers, fathers, and children in the last five months. The number of casualties constitute more than 5% of Gaza’s population.

Israel’s Diehard Supporters Wage a War of Civil Terror in Canada

And Israel’s diehard supporters are waging a war of civil terror domestically.

I think it stands to reason that students and staff eschew ‘civil discourse’ when they have family and friends who have been killed or maimed in Gaza and the West Bank. Many Canadians are frustrated and furious with Israel deliberately starving millions in Gaza. Yet at U of T, there has been not a shred of violence or vengeance perpetrated by students and staff furious with Israel.

When we talk about ‘civil discourse’, when we talk about ‘common ground’ – we are not talking in a vacuum. We are talking about 100,000 plus casualties; we are talking about forced starvation of thousands. In the last two days, 16 children died of malnutrition in hospital in Gaza. We are talking about a terrorist state – Israel, which has done this, and done it deliberately. But, worst of all, Israel’s helpers, the establishment Jews in Canada, are fighting tooth and nail to silence, demote, protest, and even incarcerate anyone who fights Israel’s terrorism. Instead of ‘civil discourse’, we have civil terror. •

Judy Haiven is a retired management professor at Saint Mary’s University in Halifax, NS. She is a member of Independent Jewish Voices Canada. You can reach her at She blogs at