Dr. Ted Rosenberg says UBC medical school’s inability to address concerns over antisemitism gave him ‘no choice but to resign’ after three decades as a professor

Dr. Ted Rosenberg (Credit: BC College of Family Physicians)

Ted Rosenberg has stepped down from his post as a clinical assistant professor at the University of British Columbia’s Faculty of Medicine, citing an unsafe environment, following his repeated attempts to have the school do more to address antisemitism.

In a Jan 1. letter to UBC, the award-winning geriatrician, who has taught at the medical school for over 20 years—prior to that, he had a position at the University of Manitoba—wrote that because the faculty has failed to address concerns, he had “no choice but to resign.”

A tense atmosphere developed following the Oct. 7 Hamas attacks when a petition titled “A Call for Action on Gaza” first appeared at the faculty of medicine, and was signed by over 225 of its students.

The petition went beyond calling for a ceasefire in Gaza. Rather, it condemned Israel as “a settler colonial state,” accused it of “collective punishment through indiscriminate bombing of civilians” and claimed that “Palestinian people have been continually abused, traumatized, and killed by the settler state of Israel and its Western allies for over 75 years.”

In a Nov. 29 letter to UBC president Benoit-Antoine Bacon, medicine faculty dean Dermot Kelleher and other top officials at the university, Rosenberg wrote, “This petition and other similar statements on campus, as well as the inaction by UBC, makes me wonder if antisemitism has become systemic in this institution.”

While praising UBC’s efforts to redress discrimination and promote diversity and inclusion, he asked, “Why do these efforts for diversity and inclusion come to an abrupt halt when it involves ‘including and protecting’ Jewish/Zionist students and faculty?” According to Rosenberg, the petition not only made him feel unsafe but also traumatized a medical student “who was left distressed, anxious and sleepless after reading it, and enduring the hostile reactions of colleagues and faculty.”

A Dec. 21 letter, co-signed with 283 other physicians—both Jewish and non-Jewish—stressed the growing polarization at the medical school due to events in the Middle East.

“This is resulting in hate speech, student intimidation, and the feelings of many students and teachers that they are working in a toxic environment. Several of us have expressed concerns to you in writing and are waiting for specific responses,” the letter read.

The letter also called into question the validity of the anti-Israel petition, emphasizing that it contained several inaccuracies, caused deep divisions within the medical student community, and was one-sided and unrelated to medical care.

In requesting a response from university leadership to take action to protect the integrity of the medical school and the safety of medical students and staff, the letter urged that those who signed the petition “be made aware of the significance of their choice of contentious language.”

Additionally, the letter called on the offices of equity, diversity and inclusion (at both the university and the medical school) to receive sensitivity training regarding Jewish issues and antisemitism, encouraged the university to adopt the IHRA definition of antisemitism, and asked the university to form a clear policy on the boundaries of free speech, “having zero tolerance for any speech that crosses the boundary to antisemitic or hate speech or language used to incite violence, either openly or covertly.”

Both letters received responses from Dean Kelleher of the medical school. Rosenberg, however deemed the responses inadequate.

In the resignation letter, he said they “did not address any of our specific concerns re: the medical student’s petition, antisemitism within the faculty, or concerns that politicization and polarization of the Middle East conflict are creating a toxic work environment.

“I checked the recommended links to your and the President’s statements on respect and compassion… Two words are conspicuously absent from all these documents: 1. Jew(ish) and 2. Antisemitism.”

Rosenberg added that he searched the websites for the offices of equity, diversity and inclusion at the university and the medical school for ‘antisemitism’ and did not find the word included among the several “anti’s” that were mentioned.

In his most recent letter, he said he lamented the deaths of innocent civilians on both side, but denounced the “oversimplistic ahistorical demonizing narratives and rhetoric” taking place.

Rosenberg also expressed the hope “that the Faculty of Medicine and UBC will recognize this serious threat of antisemitism/Jew-hatred and the dangers of politicization and polarization of the faculty and student body.”

In his concluding remarks, he advised the school to consult with the physicians who collectively wrote the school leadership in December. “They can work with you to constructively, collaboratively, and proactively rectify this situation and ultimately help restore respect, compassion, empathy and trust among colleagues and students,” he said.

Rosenberg told The CJN that he is aware of other faculty members who have considered resigning because of the present atmosphere at the medical school.

But his resignation letter also led to hearing from people at the faculty who are prepared to do more to recognize antisemitism—and to do something about it when it appears at the school.

In response to a request for comment about Rosenberg’s resignation, a spokesperson for UBC wrote, “The Faculty of Medicine and the University of British Columbia have been very clear that antisemitism, or discrimination of any kind, is completely unacceptable. We are committed to creating a safe and respectful environment for all of our community members and will continue to take steps to do so.

“In response to concerns raised by faculty and learners, the Faculty of Medicine is also working expediently to develop educational opportunities for inclusive learning and respectful dialogue within the faculty in areas that directly reflect our stated values, including how we address issues such as discrimination, harassment and hate speech,” they added.

Rosenberg, a Victoria-based physician who makes house calls, is an advocate for keeping the elderly in their homes for as long as possible. His company, Home Team Medical Services, aims to to improve quality of life and increase independence for older people and their families. The company provides home-based health care for people 75 to 105 with physiotherapists, rehabilitation aids and care coordinator, in addition to a team of nurses and physicians.

In 2016, Rosenberg received the BC College of Family Physicians Award of Exceptional Contribution in Family Medicine.