By Premila D’Sa and Kosalan Kathiramalanathan
The president of Ryerson’s Orphan Sponsorship Program (OSP) has resigned from her position after she was accused of anti-Semitism, which has put OSP’s annual orphan sponsorship program in jeopardy.
Hirra Farooqi resigned late February after anti-Semitic comments she made publicly online a few years back resurfaced. The comments were posted on Canary Mission, a website that profiles people and student groups that they believe promote hatred on college campuses.
According to RSU president Obaid Ullah—who worked closely with OSP—the comments led to SOS Children’s Villages Canada’s (OSP’s major partner) hesitancy to work with them. OSP declined to comment on this. However, Ullah said he was in contact with Melanie Davis, a community engagement director at SOS Children’s Villages, and it was confirmed Farooqi’s anti-Semetic comments were an issue.
Farooqi issued an apology in a resignation letter addressed to OSP. The sponsorship campaign is de- pendent on replacing the president position.
“At this point there is no date and no contract in place for the 2017 Ry- erson OSP,” Davis said.
Ryerson’s OSP has been working on campus for the last two years as a fundraiser to help sponsor orphans in impoverished communities around the world. The funds they raise are given to SOS Children’s Villages Canada, an international charity that helps orphaned children find families and a “safe environment where their needs for food, health and shelter are met,” according to their website.
Ullah said SOS Children’s Villages agreed to work with the group if they either got a letter of approval from Ryerson’s Jewish student groups to keep Farooqi on, or if she resigned. Ullah added that he attempted to bring Students Supporting Israel at Ryerson (SSIR) and Hillel Ryerson with OSP to negotiate a resolution, but the group was unable to get a recommendation from the Jewish student groups. Farooqi was then forced to resign to maintain the program’s partnership with SOS Children’s Villages.
Farooqi’s Canary Mission profile showed posts from her Twitter and Facebook accounts. Canary Mission also cites Farooqi’s support of the Boycott, Divest, and Sanctions (BDS) movement, a Palestinian-led movement that attempts to put economic and political pressure on Israel. According to Canary Mission’s website, “promoting BDS in any of its forms” is considered anti-Semitic.
After Farooqi’s resignation and statement, her profile was deleted from the site, along with the tweets from her Twitter account.
Farooqi wrote in her resignation letter that she is stepping down, “To ensure that people of all different faiths and backgrounds feel safe and welcomed to be involved in OSP.”
“The tweets that were made in my teenage years were, without a doubt, unacceptable and hurtful to entire communities,” wrote Farooqi. She added that she does not stand by the “hateful rhetoric that [she] pushed forward” in the past. “[I] would like to actively work against [these comments] in order to make those I have hurt feel comfortable in spaces that is rightfully theirs as much as it is mine.”
According to SSIR member Tamar Lyons, Ullah contacted her to set up a group meeting to resolve the tension of the partnership.
Ullah said SOS Children’s Villages questioned Farooqi’s role after they were notified of her profile on Ca- nary Mission.
Ullah confirmed he was in contact with the two parties and mediated a group phone call to get Hillel and SSIR’s approval of Farooqi early this semester.
Ullah was also in contact with SOS Children’s Villages throughout this process.
During the call, Ullah explained that in order for OSP to be able to continue their partnership with SOS Children’s Villages, Farooqi needed the letter of approval from the two Jewish student groups to keep her on. But Lyons said SSIR decided not to write the letter because they were uncomfortable with Farooqi’s “hateful language that was used in the past.” They added that they still support OSP.
“I want it to be very clear, that we fully support the OSP initiative, and are more than willing to help them out with events and donate to an extremely important cause,” said Lyon in an online message.
She added that during this meeting, Farooqi also apologized for her comments, which were made three to five years ago.
Farooqi declined to comment on the meeting.