Cameron Johnston: Sensitivity training needed at Canada’s York University, B’nai Brit Says

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JEWISH ACADEMIC/ UNIVERSITY NEWS

Sensitivity training needed at Canada’s York U., Jewish group says

Source: JTA, 9-18-11

B’nai Brith Canada has called for “sensitivity training” for the faculty of Toronto’s York University in the wake of a complaint by a Jewish student over the remarks of a Jewish professor.

BBC called on the university “to investigate further” the incident in which a student in a class taught by Professor Johnston “felt marginalized and targeted by the way subject matter relating to odious opinions was presented.

“Clearly, a key message was miscommunicated, and sensitivity training needs to be instituted for faculty to ensure that such incidents do not happen again,” BBC said.

On Sept. 12, Johnston began an introductory lecture to a first-year course with examples of extreme opinions and whether one should be entitled to them.

“All Jews should be sterilized” is an example of such an extreme view, Johnston had said.

Sarah Grunfeld, 22, a fourth-year student, stormed out of the class and reported Johnston to the Hasbara at York, an on-campus Israel advocacy group, which sent a news release to media and other Jewish community groups calling for the professor’s firing. The story went viral on social media.

In his defense, Johnston said he pointed out “that everyone is not entitled to their opinion by giving the example of someone having an anti-Semitic 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.”

In a statement circulated by B’nai Brith Canada, Grunfeld said she stands by her initial concerns. Although the teacher “made the abhorrent statement in his class that all Jews should be sterilized, 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.”

The Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs said Johnston’s point was “without ill intentions [and] taken out of context.” It added that the episode “is an appropriate reminder that great caution must be exercised before concluding a statement or action is anti-Semitic.”

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