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Ryerson probing TA who made anti-Semitic statements at mosque

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After complaints from a student and B’nai Brith Canada, Ryerson University has referred the case of an employee who made anti-Semitic statements at a local mosque to several internal departments for review.

On learning of the “deplorable incident” involving Ayman Elkasrawy, a teaching assistant in Ryerson’s science and engineering department, the university’s president “immediately” referred the matter to the university’s human rights services department, its human resources department and legal counsel asking for “appropriate follow-up actions and possible resolutions,” Ryerson said in a statement to The CJN Feb. 28.

Such matters are addressed confidentially, the statement added.

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Ryerson said it is “very aware of how something of this nature can impact the climate for our Jewish students and our Jewish community. That is why we are committed to broadening education and awareness of anti-Semitism and we remain actively engaged in addressing any anti-Semitism in our community.”

The latest controversy at Ryerson concerns a supplication that Elkasrawy, an imam, delivered last Ramadan at the Masjid Toronto mosque on Dundas St. W.

According to one translation, the prayer stated: “O Allah! Destroy anyone who displaced the sons of the Muslims, O Allah! Count their number; slay them one by one and spare not one of them, O Allah! Purify Al-Aqsa Mosque from the filth of the Jews!”

On Feb. 20, Elkasrawy tweeted an apology.

“Neither I, Masjid Toronto or the congregation harbour any form of hate towards Jews. And so I wish to apologize unreservedly for misspeaking during prayer last Ramadan. I firmly believe that all human beings: Muslims, Jews, Christians and people of all and no faith deserve to live a life free of any threat to their safety. In my supplication, my intention was to refer to a very specific political situation that is the result of military occupation. I sincerely regret the offence that my words must have caused,” the tweet read.

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Ryerson Against Racism, a website set up by Ryerson student Aedan O’Connor, is calling for Elkasrawy to be fired.

The website says it rejects his “weak and much-belated” apology. “We think racists have nothing to teach Ryerson students,” it adds. “We call on Ryerson University to fire Ayman Elkasrawy immediately!”

O’Connor told The CJN about 100 posters that were put up at Ryerson Feb. 24 calling for Elkasrawy’s ouster were taken down by campus security the same day.

Elkasrawy’s presence on campus “makes me feel unsafe,” said O’Connor, a third-year science student. “He’s basically advocating genocide.”

In its complaint to Ryerson earlier this month, B’nai Brith Canada said it expected the university “to take swift action. There is no place for someone who describes Jews as ‘filth’ as a teaching assistant at a Canadian university, especially when this anti-Semitism is disguised as pious religious expression.”

In a statement to The CJN a few days later, B’nai Brith said it was “extremely disappointed” by Ryerson’s “refusal” to address the controversy.

Hillel Ontario called Elkasrawy’s comments “abhorrent and deeply troubling to Jewish students on campus, as well as the broader Jewish community.”

It said it is confident the matter “will be addressed accordingly,” Ilan Orzy, associate director of advocacy at Hillel Ontario, told The CJN.

The invocation and other statements made at Masjid Toronto formed the basis of a hate crimes complaint filed with police on Feb. 22 by Meir Weinstein, head of the Jewish Defence League of Canada.

The day before, the mosque filed a hate crimes complaint against a group of anti-Islamic protesters who gathered outside during Friday prayers on Feb. 17.

The mosque also apologized for Elkasrawy’s words, calling him “a junior employee” who added “inappropriate supplications, in Arabic, without authorization.”

The mosque said it condemns “all forms of hate and racism towards any faith group or others and is committed to offering a safe spiritual space for all congregants.”

B’nai Brith said there is a “disturbing pattern of turning a blind eye” to anti-Semitism at Ryerson, dating back to November, when some students blocked a motion to mark Holocaust Education Week. The motion later passed.

“Our community expects and demands better from publicly funded educational institutions,” said Aidan Fishman, B’nai Brith Canada’s campus advocacy co-ordinator.