Ignorance and power
Rebecca Katzman is graduating from the School of Social Work at Ryerson University in Toronto this spring. Now that she is leaving the institution, she has decided to go public with an incident that happened when she applied for a field education placement at a Jewish agency.
The story emerged recently and Katzman shared the experience firsthand in the Canadian Jewish News last week.
For her third-year work experience placement, she asked the school’s coordinator to investigate possible opportunities at UJA Federation or the Prosserman Jewish Community Centre. The school official responsible, Heather Bain, denied Katzman’s request, telling her that her choices were incompatible with the values of the school.
“I did not follow up with Prosserman JCC or UJA because after looking into them, some of their values seem to be in opposition to the values of the school,” Bain wrote in an email to Katzman, adding that the agencies both appear to have a “strong anti-Palestinian lean.” Later, Katzman said, Bain suggested that Katzman could work with the Jewish organizations only if she came in with an agenda to “bring a critical awareness to the setting.”
“It seemed that she implied that I could only work at these agencies if I came in with an anti-Israel agenda,” Katzman wrote in CJN.
When pressed by Katzman, Bain acknowledged that she did not do her own investigation into the organizations, but relied on the advice of colleagues who are members of Jews Against Israeli Apartheid. She added that she might change her position if she discovered that “both agencies (were) supporters of Palestinian solidarity movements.”
It turns out Bain may have underestimated who she was dealing with. Katzman was not only active in student organizations supporting Israel and opposing antisemitism on campus, she was a StandWithUs Emerson Fellow, part of what is described as a “prestigious one-year fellowship program that recruits, trains, educates and inspires pro-Israel college students to become an elite cadre of leaders on college campuses across North America.”
StandWithUs provided Katzman with pro bono legal counsel. Even so, despite legal assistance and a history of involvement in Jewish activism, Katzman did not go public until her time at Ryerson was over. How many students in Canada have had similar experiences but lacked the resources or fortitude to stand up to it?
It is clear that Bain’s extraordinary decision was based on almost complete ignorance of the reality of the organizations she besmirched, having been arrived at on the advice of individuals who come from an extreme anti-Israel position. For a person in a position of power to set policies, this is disgraceful.
It takes courage to stand up to this sort of injustice. Those who choose – or who, like Katzman – are forced to confront it deserve our encouragement, support and gratitude.