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Bonnie Bereskin letter to Brookfield re Antisemitism at Toronto Metropolitan University

November 9, 2023 (85th anniversary of Kristallnacht)

Brookfield Partners Foundation

Attn. Bruce Flatt

PO Box 762 Brookfield Place

Suite 300

Toronto, Ontario M5J 2T3

Dear Mr. Flatt,

Re: Antisemitism at Toronto Metropolitan University (TMU)

Your foundation has been generous in support of many educational institutions over the years. I am writing to request that you and your foundation become more involved in promoting learning that encourages diversity of thought, critical thinking and historical knowledge at TMU. In recent years the culture of the school seems to have shifted from intellectual exploration to indoctrination. You might be thinking that donors are not educators, but you have the power to be a catalyst for change and eliminating hatred and antisemitism requires an immediate change.

Across Canadian and campuses there has been a significant increase in antisemitism recently that has exploded with the Hamas initiated war in Gaza. At Toronto Metropolitan University (formerly Ryerson College) about 1/6 of the law school class signed an open letter calling on the law school’s leadership to denounce Israel after Hamas invaded Israel, claiming that Israel, the world’s only Jewish state, is not a country but the brand of a “settler colony”. The letter states, “So called Israel has been illegally occupying and ethnically cleansing Palestine since 1948, when the British illegally conceded Palestine’s territory.” Israel, established in 1948 by United Nations Resolution 181, is the only democracy in the Middle East. It has a diverse population and has offered refuge to hundreds of thousands of Jews expelled from Arab countries. It is also the ancient homeland of the Jewish people and has been sovereign under no other peoples. The land was under Roman rule from 63 BCE to 313 CE, and then under foreign domination from the year 313 - by the Byzantines, by Arabs, by Crusaders, by the Mamluks, and then the Ottoman empire from 1517-1917, followed by British rule from 1918-1948 until it became a Jewish state.

The hatred and lack of historical knowledge reflected in the law student’s letter is quite upsetting. The anti-Israel rhetoric at TMU is not confined to its law school. The school shed its original name, Ryerson University, because of Egerton Ryerson’s alleged ties to the residential school system in Canada. Despite the school’s sensitivity to its own history and respect for racial, religious and sexual orientation there seems no concern in teaching TMU students, in many faculties, to hate Zionists, ie Jews.

This lack of perspective has been harmful not only to the Jewish students but to the Muslim community of TMU. It trains future leaders to believe there is only one solution for the Palestinian Arab community – eradicating the Jewish presence in Israel. The Palestinian Arabs have been the greatest victims of their own leaders. Major donors, such as Brookfield could require that funds are bestowed on a university if it is teaching a variety of perspectives, calling out antisemitism and disciplining any student of faculty member that promotes hatred against any people. There are complex problems of co-existence between Palestinian Arabs and Israelis, (note: 22% of Israelis are Arabs) and these are not being solved by campus activists who promote Jew hatred.

In the safety of Canada, Muslim and Jewish students could question the decisions made by Gazans, who elected Hamas, which has resulted in their hatred of Israel and high levels of poverty. For example, what might Gaza have become if the manpower and cement, that allowed construction by Hamas of hundreds of miles of tunnels, been used to build housing and hotels on the oceanfront Mediterranean strip occupied by Gaza. Students could study case examples of Muslim-Jewish cooperation such as seen in the Israeli Soda Stream factory. 75 years after the birth of the Jewish state, Israel has a surplus of water, power and a prosperous economy, and has shared its technology, innovation and business acumen with countries around the world and more recently with partners in the Abraham Accords. Teaching the TMU students the history of Israel’s path could foster understanding and cooperation rather than hatred.

A recent article in the Wall Street Journal (WSJ) detailed a push back from major donors to elite US colleges. At Harvard more than 30 student groups signed a letter blaming Hamas violence on Israel’s treatment of Palestinians. Its former president, Larry Summers and other Harvard Alumni expressed shame at the behavior of the students and its faculty for not condemning Hamas. Leslie Wexner’s Foundation (L Brands) ended a program in which he and his wife have donated $42 million to Harvard. Mitt Romney published an open letter criticizing Harvard’s leadership and openly hostile environment to Jewish students. Cosmetics tycoon Ronald Lauder and Apollo Global Management CEO Marc Rowan clashed with University of Pennsylvania over a recent Palestinian literary festival that they displayed tolerance for antisemitism. Other elite universities have faced a similar backlash from major donors. One significant donor was quoted in the WSJ article as saying “I have long been dismayed at the drift away from true freedom of thought, expression and speech in the last few years. Universities should be a place of robust dialogue and diversity of views.”

Mr. Flatt, you have built an international corporation with partners around the globe, including in the Muslim business world. Your firm has shown exceptional leadership in many areas across the Brookfield community and other corporations. I would encourage you to bring your leadership skills and corporate values of cooperation to the TMU and any other universities that you support. I urge you to demand accountability from the university, as you would in your companies. The “D” of DEI, a concept you support, should include diversity of thought and “E” should stand for exploration so that students are encouraged to get facts and consider history and not act on narrow-minded ideology, and the “I” should include innovation as students need consider new ways to improve the world which takes differences and cooperation into action.

Your funds will have even greater impact if you contribute to good education and not the failure that we are seeing today at TMU.

Thank you for your consideration.

Bonnie Bereskin

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