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MRU prof calls out institution for lack of action against anti-Semitism on campus

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Months after a troubling encounter on the Mount Royal University campus, which ended in a criminal charge against a protester, a professor is calling out the institution for not doing more to provide a safe environment for Jewish faculty and students.

Kelly Sundberg, a tenured associate professor at MRU and a member of Calgary's Jewish community.

He says he was approached by several students in December, just a couple of months after the Hamas-led attack on Israel that occurred on Oct. 7.

"Because of social media, the fervour and the hate, and the misinformation and disinformation about the Israeli-Hamas conflict, there was a group of students who went looking for Jewish professors," Sundberg told CTV News.

"They were looking to 'educate' Jewish professors about what they called the genocides in Gaza, whether we wanted to hear it or not."

Sundberg says one of the students suggested, "Anyone who supports the State of Israel is a baby killer."

According to Sundberg, the incident was recorded by students looking to provoke a response.

Police confirm a woman was charged with causing a disturbance in the incident on Dec. 1, 2023.

CTV News has reached out to the person charged for an interview.

"University administration has done nothing. Other than telling the students not to do it again, there's been, to this date, no consequence," Sundberg said.

"There's been no follow-up with faculty, other than to say that they were going to do some security measures, but they never actually were put in place.

"The university frankly has done an abysmal job. They've been putting their head in the sand.

"I blame the university president and the senior executive of the university for allowing anti-Semitism and Jew hate to fester and grow on the campus."

MRU currently has more than a dozen Jewish faculty members and dozens of Jewish students.

Sundberg says he's incredibly frustrated by the lack of any mention of anti-Semitism in its the university faculty's mandatory equity, diversity and inclusion training.

"The efforts to address anti-Semitism have fallen on deaf ears repeatedly and now we have Jewish faculty who are scared of going to campus and we have Jewish students who are terrified of attending campus," Sundberg said.

"Instead, the university has decided that their course of action for the last several years has been to say nothing and to distance themselves because they're scared of controversy."

Sundberg says he fears no consequence for speaking against his employer.

"I will not be silent. If the university or others feel that it's inappropriate for professors to stand up to hate, I'm more than happy to stand up and have a discussion or to debate with them," he said.

"We have to get back to a humanist perspective and respect people for who they are, but also striking the balance when it comes to hate speech."

MRU investigating anti-Semitic allegations

In a statement to CTV News, MRU says it is aware of an incident that occurred on Dec. 1 and has co-operated with police.

MRU says it has had no reports of similar anti-Semitic behaviour on campus since.

"Campus security services is actively monitoring the environment in an effort to keep our campus safe and welcoming for all," the statement read.

"As outlined in our policies, MRU does not tolerate discrimination, racism, harassment, hate speech, violence or speech that constitutes a threat."

MRU Students for Palestine released a statement to CTV News regarding the incident.

"The incident on December 1st did not initially involve any reports of anti-Semitism from Jewish faculty or students. Rather, it concerned a Muslim-Yemeni student ... who objected to a professor displaying an 'I Stand With Israel' poster on their office door, which many students felt created an unwelcoming environment for Palestinian and Muslim students," the statement read.

"(The student), acting as a representative for her peers, approached the professor to explain why publicly displaying such a politically charged, partisan stance was inappropriate for a faculty member at a diverse Canadian university. Unfortunately, the situation escalated when the professor then began accusing (the student) of ripping down the poster afterwards, levelling unsubstantiated allegations of uttering threats and hate crimes against her. While the more serious accusations were dropped due to lack of evidence, (the student) is still facing charges of "disturbance" for her objection to the poster. In other words, that professor is pressing charges against a student."

The statement went on to say the incident "highlights the importance of creating an environment where all students and faculty feel safe, respected and able to engage in open and respectful dialogue, especially on sensitive topics."

"We condemn any form of discrimination, whether based on religion, ethnicity or political views, and believe that university campuses should be spaces that promote critical thinking, intellectual freedom and mutual understanding," the statement read.

"We believe this incident is an example of racial targeting and Islamophobia, highlighting the broader issue of discrimination faced by Canadian Muslims, as evidenced by recent statistics from Statistics Canada and reports on the discrimination experienced by Muslim Canadians."

Rabbi calls on universities to denounce hate

Rabbi Mark Glickman from Calgary's Temple B'nai Tikvah says many Jewish community members are experiencing a great deal of hateful rhetoric and many university campuses across the country are not doing enough to recognize the harm.

"People certainly have a right to peaceful protests, which is deeply ingrained in our culture, but if that's all there is then we don't actually communicate," he said.

"If all you're doing is repeating the same pithy phrase again and again and again, you don't do anything in terms of allowing me to encounter you as a human being and to allow me to understand your experience."

Instead, Glickman says the key is for universities to address all forms of hate head-on and to stand with both students and faculty members who are being hatefully targeted.

Glickman says his congregation is reaching out to local Muslim groups as well and that universities must take similar actions to bring groups together for peaceful dialogue and healing conversations.

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