Canadian student cries antisemitism over lecture

By Jennifer Lipman, September 16, 2011

A Jewish student who misunderstood a lecturer's comment and accused him of antisemitism has refused to admit wrongdoing.

Sarah Grunfeld was one of 450 students in a social sciences class at Canada's York University when she heard a professor state: "All Jews should be sterilised".

The 22-year-old immediately left the class and contacted a campus Israel advocacy group with a complaint. The group, B'nai Brith Canada, then sent out a press statement attacking the professor and the campaign quickly went around the internet.

Had she remained in the lecture she would have discovered that Professor Cameron Johnston was not making an antisemitic point, but starting a discussion on whether all opinion should be given the same attention.

Prof Johnston, who is Jewish, said he was attempting to show that "not everyone is entitled to their opinion , by giving the example of someone having an antisemitic opinion which is clearly not acceptable".

"This was an example of the fact that opinions can be dangerous and that none of us really do believe that all opinions are acceptable."

Ms Grunfeld acknowledged her error but told the Toronto Star that she thought his "abhorrent" words were of serious concern "regardless of the context".

In a statement she said: "He failed to qualify the statement clearly as an unacceptable opinion held by others. His delivery of this statement, made in a class of 450 impressionable students, was offensive to me and to others in the room."

For his part, Prof Johnston said he was upset but added that it was a positive thing that people remained sensitive to antisemitic remarks.

Frank Dimant, the chief executive of B'nai Brith Canada, said the university should investigate the matter further so that students were not discouraged from complaining about incidents because of the possibility of "academic reprisals".

He added: "What happened does point to a lack of sensitivity over how contentious and provocative issues are currently being presented on a campus where the atmosphere is already very highly charged."

However, her campaign has led to criticism of arguably knee-jerk reactions to antisemitism.

"It's ironic that in a roundabout way, she has actually succeeded in making her professor's original point," noted one person in a letter to the Toronto Star.

Last updated: 4:31pm, September 16 2011