No sooner was she appointed to her new post at the University of Toronto than Dr. Ritika Goel found herself embroiled in accusations of anti-Israel rhetoric and calls for her dismissal.
Her appointment was announced in April but beginning May 17, Goel began a three-year inaugural term as the Social Justice, Anti-Oppression and Advocacy Theme Lead for the doctor of medicine and postgraduate medical education programs at UofT.
On the same day, an open letter from “concerned” medical students, residents and doctors and a petition began circulating outlining accusations of anti-Israel social media posts from Goel and urging her ouster from her new post.
The letter noted “the prevailing culture of anti-Semitism and xenophobia” that spiked in recent weeks, and said UofT medical school faculty and students have been “complicit” in spreading anti-Semitism by minimizing it, encouraging use of the term “ethnic cleansing,” and employing canards such as Jewish control of the media.
It accused Goel of using “hateful language” in several social media posts. In a tweet from 2015, she said: “Claiming to support human rights while unequivocally supporting the state of Israel despite valid critiques. #BarbaricCulturalPractices.”
It said she failed to challenge a reply to one of her tweets. The reply said: “It’s not anti-Semitism but the #Zionists overlords will not allow it.”
“There appears to be zero tolerance for racism and discrimination in the faculty, except when the concerns raised are about anti-Semitism,” the letter stated.
It called for Goel’s “prompt dismissal” from the post she recently assumed, which encompasses “designing, developing, implementing, and evaluating educational elements across all four years of the MD program that reflect principles of social justice, anti-oppression and advocacy,” explains a UofT document.
(According to UofT’s website, Goel is also a lecturer and faculty lead in social accountability in UofT’s Department of Family and Community Medicine. She is also a family physician with the St. Michael’s Hospital Academic Family Health Team and Inner City Health Associates.)
The next day (May 18) a letter in response claimed the accusations against Goel could be “defamatory and libelous” and a possible violation of the university’s Code of Student Conduct.
Signed by more than 1,000 medical students, residents and doctors, the letter said criticism used to justify Israel’s “war crimes” is not anti-Semitic, and that the Palestinian solidarity movement is “fundamentally anti-racist.”
Signers said they are “disappointed in our colleagues’ decision to pen a deeply problematic letter calling for the dismissal of a valued professor, rather than taking the opportunity to dialogue with their peers and faculty members on this issue.”
Dentists joined the fray on May 19. In a letter to Daniel Haas, dean of the university’s dentistry faculty, and UofT president Meric Gertler, three faculty members and an official of the Alpha Omega Dental Fraternity, Toronto alumni chapter, said the administration “has the clout to send a strong message that one does not have to hate Israel and the Jewish people to support the rights of Palestinians, and as a corollary, support of Israel does not constitute hatred or intolerance of Palestinians.”
The letter asked the dean and president to “send a strong message that your university does not tolerate racism, anti-Semitism or any words and actions that show intolerance and marginalization.”
On May 21, Friends of Simon Wiesenthal Centre (FSWC) called on Gertler to “take urgent action, as Jewish students in the faculty of medicine report that they are being subjected to anti-Semitic harassment and intimidation.”
FSWC said that the day before, “a number” of Jewish students and community members submitted a formal complaint to the university’s vice-dean for medical education, Patricia Houston, again raising their concerns about “the toxic environment of anti-Semitism that they feel is present within the faculty.”
The students also reiterated their complaint against Goel, FSWC added.
On May 29, The CJN received an 11-page document prepared by UofT students in which several of Goel’s Israel-related social media posts and ones she shared are captured and criticized. Some endorsed the international boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement against Israel.
One showed a large puppet of former Prime Minister Stephen Harper being controlled by a costumed puppeteer who’s holding a jar of liquid. “Puppeteer of @pmharper handing out SodaStream, which supports the occupation of #Palestine #stopharper,” the tweet said. SodaStream is an Israeli-made water carbonator.
Goel “is not befitting an advocate nor a person striving for diversity and equity,” the students said.
The CJN reached out to Goel, who replied in an email that she is not speaking to media at this time.
Questions to UofT’s faculty of medicine about whether the allegations against Goel are being investigated and whether she will keep her position were referred to the university’s media relations department.
A spokesperson said the university cannot comment on individual faculty members but said “supporting all of our learners, faculty and staff is embedded in our core values.”
The medical faculty “deeply cares about each learner, faculty and staff member within our community, as well as the people we serve. Our work at the Faculty is to build and sustain a community that respects a diversity of voices and experiences, including through dialogue on important and challenging issues. This purpose, with its attendant rights to freedom of speech and academic freedom, is intended to facilitate the pursuit of truth, knowledge and understanding,” UofT said.
Late last year, the university launched an “Anti-Semitism Working Group” to “examine and address anti-Semitism on campus and to ensure the university is an inclusive and welcoming place for Jewish members of its community.”