York University fires faculty member after alleged anti-Semitic social media posts
A York University faculty member has been fired for allegedly sharing anti-Semitic posts on his public Facebook page, after a Jewish advocacy organization prompted the school to investigate.
Hillel Ontario, a Jewish student organization based in Toronto, was reportedly tipped off by a student at the university that Nikolaos Balaskas, a laboratory technologist in York’s department of physics and astronomy, had posted the inappropriate content on social media.
The Canadian Jewish News reports one of Balaskas’ anti-Semitic posts said “Jewish Bolshevik mass murderer Genrikh Yagoda was responsible for between 7 and 10 million deaths. The fact that you’ve never heard of him is exactly why the Jews should not have total control of the media.”
He also allegedly posted links to anti-Semitic websites such as JewWatch.com, wrote posts that said Jewish people declared war on Germany and forced England into the war, that Israel has an organ-trafficking centre and that the country is responsible for genocide in Palestine.
“Armed Zionist partisans/resistance fighters were considered as terrorists by the Nazi Germany government before World War II started, and their violent acts only made matters worse for Jewish civilians, which culminated in the Holocaust,” a July 13 post stated.
“This time, the oppressors are not Nazis but Zionists, and their victims are fellow Semitic Arab martyrs and heroes whose own holocaust is still ongoing.”
York University said in a statement to Global News Friday that they take “all allegations regarding inequity and discrimination seriously” and “took immediate steps to begin an investigation.”
“This process has now been completed by York’s Human Resources team,” said spokeswoman Barbara Joy. “Given this is a confidential employee matter, we are obligated to treat this as confidential and I am not able to comment further.”
Global News received a copy of a letter sent to Balaskas from Doriano D’Angelo, the facilities manager of the Faculty of Science at York, which outlined the reasons why he was fired.
The letter said a meeting was held between Balaskas and school officials about the “nature and content of your social media posts,” their compliance with school policies and whether they were considered “hate propaganda and racism.”
The letter added that Balaskas was not intending to “promote hate” but instead “promote and bring awareness of historical circumstances that in your opinion did and still impact lives today.”
Balaskas was put on a paid suspension on Aug. 31 and “altered” his Facebook profile to “remove reference to [his] employment at York University,” according to the letter.
It also stated that he knew his posts were publicly accessible and that he made them to “highlight these articles for discussion,” describing himself as a “messenger.”
Some of the posts he made were blocked or removed by Facebook, but Balaskas re-posted them because he believed they were “important to share with others” and he “does not believe in censorship,” according to the letter.
“You offered your opinion that we live in an evil society, these posts are a wake-up, that your conscience is clear, and that you would feel guilty if you did not share with York students; it is good for them to know of these posts,” the letter stated.
“You see York University as a microcosm, and that you want to return to the workplace as it is your duty to expose students from over 200 countries to these posts and comments.”
The letter stated Balaskas’ Facebook friends included students, staff and faculty, and he said that if they had issues with the posts they were “not coerced to remain on your account.”
York University said in the letter it had determined the posts did not comply with school policies, had an adverse impact on the school’s reputation and also “denigrate particular religious faiths including those of the Jewish faith.”
“Given the gravity of your continued conduct, actions, and behaviours a strong disciplinary response is justified and warranted,” the letter stated, adding that Balaskas’ conduct was “unacceptable.”
“You are hereby notified that your employment is terminated with cause effective immediately.”
Balaskas provided a statement to the Toronto Star Friday in response to the allegations.
“Although there are some very disturbing allegations of interference and wrong doing by outside special interest groups that ultimately led to having me unjustly fired, at the moment I just want to clear my name and prevent further attacks and damage to York University’s reputation so that I can return back to work doing what I love to do — helping students in the labs and being there to listen to and support them as their friend,” he stated.
The Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs (CIJA) called the posts “unacceptable and inconsistent with [his] obligations and responsibilities as an employee of York University” and commended the university for firing Balaskas Friday.
“Social media platforms are increasingly being used as a vehicle to spread antisemitism and other forms of hate,” the statement read.
“Now more than ever, universities have a right and a responsibility to hold staff accountable for promoting racist content online – particularly given the impact such hate has on the campus community.”
Hillel Ontario CEO Marc Newburgh said in a statement that it was “outrageous and unacceptable that a university employee would post revolting, anti-Semitic content on social media.”
“As York rightly concluded, such a person has no place on campus,” he said.
“We are pleased that the university has responded quickly and professionally, and has taken a strong stand against hate by choosing to dismiss Balaskas.”
© 2016 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.