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NGO looks to combat anti-Semitism through academia

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Charles Small and Pope Francis

For too long, the opponents of anti-Semitism have been virtually silent in the world of academia, where the next generation of policymakers are being exposed to relentless attacks against Israel and a pro-Palestinian narrative that has caused a troubling number of anti-Semitic incidents on campus.

It’s time to “take back the university” by supporting professors and lecturers who will offer dedicated courses in the study of anti-Semitism, to better prepare young people to understand the growing worldwide phenomenon of Jew-hatred.

That, in a nutshell, is the mission of the Institute for the Study of Global Antisemitism and Policy (ISGAP), a New York-based non-profit organization that is looking to increase its presence in Canada.

Charles Small, the executive director of ISGAP, was in Toronto recently to meet with potential supporters and boost the organization’s profile. He was the feature speaker at a number of parlour meetings at private homes in Toronto. About 150 people attended five of the informal gatherings, said Jack Ajzenberg, the Toronto-based vice president of strategic and operational initiatives at ISGAP.

Only a handful of people were expected when the first parlour meeting was planned, but “the response was overwhelming,” Ajzenberg said. “People are concerned. This is on everyone’s barometer.”

Small, a native of Montreal, said “There is a real need for intellectuals and the community to confront anti-Semitism, not only on campus, but to fight anti-Semitism on the battlefield of ideas in the classroom.”

According to the organization’s website, “ISGAP aims to house research projects, seminars, public meetings, conferences and other events and to publish periodicals, reports and scholarly articles that operate at both the conceptual and the practical levels. ISGAP’s work is geared toward education, public awareness, policy development and consulting.”

ISGAP boasts an impressive roster of academics among its international board of advisors. Professors Alan Dershowitz and Ruth Wisse serve as co-chairs of the international board, while the executive committee of its International Academic Board of Advisors includes Canadians Irwin Cotler and Irving Abella.

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One of ISGAP’s feature programs is a two-week gathering at which academics develop courses that address aspects of anti-Semitism. This year’s gathering will he held from July 7-19 at Oxford University in England.

More than 80 academics from around the world, including a handful from Canada, are scheduled to attend. That’s up from 34 last year, Small said.

The academics are expected to have already received confirmation from their universities that they can present a course that addresses an aspect of anti-Semitism. They will receive guidance and support in developing the curriculum, Small said.

Based on previous experience, 90 per cent of the participants go back to their schools and teach a course for credit, he added. This year’s program was given a boost by a US$1.3 million ($1.74 million) grant (over three years) from the government of Israel.

Approximately 80 per cent of the participants are not Jewish. It will include academics from Canada, the United States, Europe, South America, China and India. Some from Saudi Arabia, Jordan and various African nations are also expected to attend.

“It’s becoming clear to many people who are concerned about policy that the centre is being attacked by the extreme right and extreme left and by political Islam, and anti-Semitism is a core element of the ideology of those extreme groups,” Small said.

The rise of political Islam concerns the participants from India, as well as Arab scholars, who are worried about the rise of the Muslim Brotherhood, Iran’s theocratic regime and radicalization in Qatar and Turkey.

“For several decades, we in the West turned a blind eye to political Islam … and now it’s a global crisis,” with refugees streaming into Western countries, Small said.

Small believes Canadians can play a bigger role in ISGAP. Canada has been “in the forefront of human rights law and in the forefront of multiculturalism. Following in that tradition, I hope that Toronto institutions and academics are open to filling an urgent need to map and decode contemporary anti-Semitism. It’s a human rights issue,” Small said.

The hate that starts with the Jews never ends with the Jews, he added.

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