There’s an apparent antisemitic thread running through social work education, “woke” as it purports to be.
That antisemitism is largely ignored in the Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) curriculum has been discussed in the academic literature, most recently in a report detailing Jew-hatred at the University of Toronto’s Temerity Faculty of Medicine.
Dr. Ayelet Kuper, functioning as the senior adviser on antisemitism at the school, referred to “curricular silencing,” wherein antisemitism is “largely ignored” in the school’s DEI courses, despite a mandate to include the subject as issued by that university’s antisemitism working group.
Why is antisemitism ignored in Canadian social work education?
This problem is neither new nor an isolated phenomenon. In 1996, a Canadian social work professor, Dr. Nora Gold, chronicled the absence of antisemitism as a topic in social work education in the Journal of Social Work Education. Since then several social workers have published similar reports, including Dr. Carole Cox’s article in the Journal of Religion and Spirituality in Social Work: Social Thought in 2021.
One year later, a social worker at Arizona State University explored the profession’s commitment to address antisemitism and consider the American Jewish identity, reviewing nine leading social work journals issued over a span of 10 years. Dr. David Dodge found very few articles. In the Journal of Contemporary Human Services, he wrote, “The results suggest that American Jews are largely invisible in social work discourse, which raises questions about the profession’s ability to comply with its ethical standards [which require cultural competence when providing services to Jews and other minority populations].”
Antisemitism has also been ignored by social justice task forces. When the Ontario College of Social Work and Social Service Work initiated a DEI task force, antisemitism was only put on the agenda after a petition signed by 130 college members pressed for that outcome.
One social worker, Annette Poizner, undertook pilot research exploring the lived experience of Jews undergoing social work education. The early findings are alarming.
Among other concerns, nine participants reported that the study of antisemitism was not covered in their courses or readings, at five separate Canadian social work schools. Two interviewees shared course syllabi to prove the point.
“Exclusion, Isolation, and Rejection: Emerging Anecdotal Reports of Jews Studying Social Work. Preliminary Findings” was published as an open-source article in the peer-reviewed Journal of Contemporary Antisemitism. Now, in the wake of these findings, the field is responding. The Ontario Association of Social Work quickly organized four training webinars to help their members better understand and dismantle antisemitism.
The University of Toronto’s social work school, the site of incidents exposed in the Journal for the Study of Antisemitism back in 2010, recently acknowledged that the issue of antisemitism must be “incorporated into educational policies and standards within [social work] accrediting bodies, schools and professional associations.” In her alumna profile, social worker Ellen Sue Mesbur cites rising tides of violence against Jews and affirms, “We have to be aware of all forms of hatred, include it in our curricula, and learn how to address hate in our work as practitioners, teachers, and researchers.”
With this admission from Canada’s largest university, we can be hopeful. Still, the job is far from done.
A 2021 Heritage Foundation study looked at the (then) Twitter feeds of 741 DEI personnel at 65 universities in the US, finding anti-Israel attitudes so out of proportion and imbalanced to effectively constitute antisemitism. In “The Inclusion Delusion: The Antisemitism of Diversity, Equity & Inclusion,” Greene and Paul assert, “University DEI staff are better understood as political activists with a narrow and often radical agenda, rather than promoters of welcoming and inclusive environments.”
Do we have this problem in Canada? Several years ago, a student was denied a social work internship at the United Jewish Appeal when her fieldwork supervisor labeled that setting “anti-Palestinian.” Recently, a social worker used the OASW listserve to invite therapists to list their practices on her website. Her proviso: any who support Zionism or White Nationalism, “both genocidal ideologies,” need not apply. When Poizner defined Zionism, her colleague branded her “racist” and “anti-Arab.” The Lawfare Project, using legal means to address antisemitism when such a remedy is applicable, responded to this incident.
The pilot study findings cited above describe incidents that spurred personal, social, or educational consequences for Jewish students. The research continues in an effort to determine whether the educational arm of a regulated health profession is failing its own diversity and inclusion mandate. If it is, we must hold it accountable.
The writer, an MSW, is the executive director of the Canadian Antisemitism Education Foundation, which is sponsoring a study that explores the lived experience of Jews undergoing social work education in Canada.