Seven years later, Josh Morry still remembers the unsettling phone call he answered that one day in 2013. It was from the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs.
“Things are out of control,” the man told him. “It’s time you had a bodyguard follow you around campus.”
Morry [BComm(Hons)/13, JD/16], then a 20-year-old student in the Asper School of Business, said he was already geeky and “uncool enough” without a former Mossad agent in tow. He declined their offer. He says in hindsight, he probably should have said yes.
That spring, an international movement—Students Against Israeli Apartheid—held their annual week at the University of Manitoba and at universities across Canada. Criticism of Israel quickly turned into anti-Semitic propaganda.
“There were caricatures of Jews with hook noses and swastikas on their forehead,” Morry says. “At McGill, this group threw pennies at Jewish students because, ‘Jews like money.’ At York University, they chased Jewish students down the hallway.”
UM Jewish students signed a petition. They felt unsafe, unwelcome.
“It’s one thing to have constructive dialogue about complicated issues, but it’s another to demonize and harass Jewish students because of who they are,” says Morry.
As the commerce student representative on the council for the University of Manitoba Students’ Union (UMSU), he pushed to ban the anti-Israeli group from operating—when the motion passed, it broke ground. There had never been a successful motion to decertify the group at any university in the world and it served as a precedent for human rights groups globally to combat anti-semitism on campus.
Morry was praised by the head of the World Jewish Congress, the Jewish Federation of Winnipeg and parliamentarians.
In the aftermath, he received hate mail, but Morry and an Arab friend started the Arab-Jewish Dialogue on Campus to keep a rational conversation going.
“As university students you should engage…with issues that put you outside your comfort zone. When you end up talking, you actually agree much more than you disagree, but when you’re screaming at each other, you disagree with everything,” Morry says. “There should be a space for this on campus. You should talk about the Arab-Israeli conflict. But you should do it in a manner that…respects constructive dialogue.”
Morry also worked on the UMSU council for the rights of Indigenous and 2SLGBTQ+ groups.
A love for debate
It was no surprise he became the man of the hour when things heated up on campus. Now a tax lawyer at the Toronto firm Torys L.L.P, he has always been enthralled with debate and history—he heard Winston Churchill biographer Gilbert Martin speak and took a signed copy of his book home to read when he was 14 years old.
And he’s quick to identify the absurd, with a natural wit and his dabbling in stand-up comedy. He once took the stage with a nose cast, lobbing his first joke: I should deal with, like, the elephant in the room: This is an Armani blazer. “If they don’t laugh on the first joke, you’re screwed,” he says.
Lively dialogue around politics were commonplace in the Morry home in Winnipeg’s Tuxedo neighbourhood. His father, sister and aunt are all lawyers.
He was high school president of Gray Academy of Jewish Education, but says his marks were nothing exceptional. “I had B plus and As, but I was terrible at math.”
But in the Faculty of Law at UM, Morry found his calling and was first in his class every year, ultimately winning the Gold Medal and becoming a Pitblado Scholar. He was then among the few to be accepted for a master’s of law at the University of Oxford. He joined the Oxford Union, one of the world’s most prestigious debating and private students’ societies; its members include top international debaters.
Morry says he imagined Oxford would be so different—that “everything would be Klingon”—but credits UM for “competing at a world level.”
“The best professors at Robson Hall could teach at Oxford. I felt totally prepared.”
This outspoken 28-year-old continues to reframe conversations, writing op-eds and leading discussions with policymakers. We asked Josh Morry to finish the thought for us…
If we want to build a better society…
“…we’ll need to stop seeing our political beliefs as the dogmas that define us. People on both sides of the political spectrum see disagreements over policy as personal attacks.
Unlike personal identity, political ideology is not an immutable characteristic that we must protect from others. Rather, it is a way of seeing the world that must continuously be challenged and reformed as the underlying facts grounding that ideology change.
We cannot allow our cognitive dissonance to prevent us from listening to opposing views, or we will not have a reliable mechanism to determine public opinion and craft policy to reflect or change that opinion.
We should, of course, have no patience for hate speech in the guise of political activism. However, most mainstream political disagreements are the best way to unleash Canada’s full potential. People on the left and right just disagree on the best way to do so.
I’m now working on an online platform for thought leaders on the left and right to publish long-form opinion pieces engaging with complex issues in a respectful manner.”
It’s far too easy to …
“…define the relationship between Muslims and Jews by reference to the Arab-Israeli conflict.
The conflict is very personal and painful to those in the Middle East as well as their families and friends in Canada. It therefore becomes very easy to lose hope and attribute the continuing conflict to irreconcilable differences between the two groups.
These disagreements are only amplified on university campuses when professional agitators acting in the name of social justice seek to position Jews and Muslims against each other, thereby creating an unsafe and unproductive learning atmosphere.
But I feel a real sense of hope when I’m able to go to a restaurant with my Muslim friends and talk about sports, movies and anything other than the Arab-Israeli conflict because at the end of the day, we’re not defined by our differences.
It may sound naive, but I honestly believe that the respectful learning environment we created and fostered at the University of Manitoba can serve as a powerful example to students around the world.
I saw this firsthand when I was one of Canada’s representatives to the World Jewish Congress in Budapest, where leaders from around the world approached me about setting up Arab Jewish Dialogues in their countries, based on the University of Manitoba’s model.”