Anti-semitism felt on campus

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Israel Apartheid week: Free speech or hate speech

Martin Weaver
Contributor

It’s an event that some federal leaders have condemned and even Prime Minister Stephen Harper recently spoke out against, yet for the first time this year Israeli Apartheid week was held at the University of Regina.

The event has taken a lot of criticism and has even been labelled “hate week” by some who argue it targets Jews. A March 9, 2009 article in the National Post states it “leaves Jewish and Israeli students wary of expressing their opinions, for fear of intimidation.”

And intimidation is felt first hand by first-year linguistics student Falene McKenna. McKenna is from a small town and grew up being the only Jewish family that she knew of, often leaving her out of activities. Prior to her arrival at the University of Regina she was excited to be part of a welcoming environment only to be disappointed. McKenna felt that the university could have presented a more balanced point of view at the event.


Dr. George Maslany, VP of academics at the U of R, said the university did not share the views expressed by the event. “The university simply provided space for someone who was presenting an event like that.”


Maslany added he supports the idea of free expression and “even unpopular [events],  as long as they don’t cross the lines in terms of becoming treasonous, seditious or illegal.”


What added to McKenna’s issue was an email she received that was sent by assistant professor Dr. Emily Eaton. “Regina is proud to be joining more than 50 cities around the world in raising awareness about the system of apartheid in Israel, and building the growing international movement of Boycott, divestment, and sanctions (BDS) campaigns,” Eaton had written.


McKenna was disappointed to see faculty members take sides in on-campus issues.


Jacqueline Perlin, assistant news editor at the Excalibur at York University in Toronto, has covered the events that have gained national exposure during Israeli Apartheid week at York University in the last few years and feels that faculty members should remain unbiased.

She added that an email similar to the one sent at U of R would not be well received at York University. “Based on the history of York University I would expect that there would be strong student opposition to that, especially from the students who believe that Israel is not an Apartheid state.”
  

Dr. Maslany, who had been unaware of the email, said, “We do have policies that prevent people from making political statements and using our email systems for that purpose.”

Maslany adds that it’s difficult to prevent them from being sent. “We simply don’t have resources to monitor those types of emails.”


This isn’t the first time McKenna has felt disappointed by the university. In September 2010, a guest lecturer sponsored by the sociology department at U of R, Dr. Michael Keefer from Guelph University, came to U of R for a presentation on anti-Semitism and his book Anti-Semitism Real and Imagined.

Dr. Keefer’s book states that there is “an imagined new anti-Semitism” in Canada that is used, “as a justification for stigmatizing and even criminalizing criticism of the state of Israel”.

Ian MacAusland-Berg, the coordinator for harassment, discrimination prevention, and conflict resolution services at the University of Regina and a member of the Jewish community in Regina, said that often the university does deal with controversial issues that not everyone may like. “In a university you have to have a free exchange of ideas. Is it discrimination to bring a guy like that in? The university would say no and while we might not like it and if something comes in that’s offensive to you or disagrees with your moral values from a universities point of view that’s part of the open and fair debate.”


Perlin said that whether people would have opposed the speaker at York University or not it’s still important let these speakers talk.

“A university campus is grounds for political state, whether one agrees with an opinion or not. [It] doesn’t matter on a university campus. All that matters is that there’s free speech, and if not on a university campus then where else?”


Concerned about Israeli Apartheid week MacAusland-Berg sent a letter to the university on behalf of himself and other members of the Jewish community, but also on behalf of his position at the university.

“The essence of the letter was that I disagree with it. I think that calling Israel an apartheid state is beyond the definition of apartheid.”

The university did get back to MacAusland-Berg’s letter, “I didn’t get a bad response from the university. The response I got was ‘Thanks, we still think it’s part of a free and open debate of ideas. If anything illegal occurs appropriate action will be taken’.”


MacAusland-Berg thinks that a free and open debate was important for the event, however he suggested that there were other alternatives that the university could have taken.

“In regards to Israeli Apartheid Week, Lloyd Axworthy, who is the president and vice-chancellor of the University of Winnipeg, took the approach where he mandated the university to take a balanced approach, and he organized a balanced approach. It’s certainly one way of doing it.”
     A balanced approach that may be absent on a broader spectrum than just the university.

“Saskatchewan’s not an easy place to be a Jew. I accept that. I don’t know if the university is even more a place to be uncomfortable to be a Jew. I think the university mirrors its location. It’s not a racist place,” said MacAuskand-Berg attributing much of it to the low Jewish population in the province. “We end up being the ambassadors for our own beliefs, religions, nationalities, sexual orientations. So I don’t think the university mirrors anything malicious.”

Next year McKenna plans to start a group on campus in hopes to bring that balanced approach  to the  university.

15 comments

  1. Robbi 7 April, 2011 at 15:23

    I'm very glad to see that Ms. McKenna plans to start a group aimed at discussing the other sides of these important international issues. I think it is important to note that the University itself did not put on this event, but rather, as Dr. Maslany pointed out, provided a space for those who people on campus who wanted to organize around this issue and join in the debate that is happening around the world. It was not an event organized by the university that was one-sided, rather it was a forum organized by people who have a stance on a particular issue which was held at the university.
    I hope that many of the concerned individuals chose to attend some of the events, as they were not focused on condemnation of Jewish people, but rather on discussions of international law and sovereignty, human rights, activist struggle, and bridging gaps. While it is a politically charged topic, as the article says, "if not at a university, then where?"

  2. Mike Burton 7 April, 2011 at 15:29

    To start with this is a terribly biased story.  I can only assume that the author attempted to contact the Regina Solidarity Committee in order to have them defend the reasons for having an Israeli Apartheid Week here in Regina.
    Second, the criticism of Dr. Keefer position make a logical mistake when they conflate anti Zionism with anti Semitism.  The latter is hostility towards Jews which, in the Israeli Apartheid Week events that I attended was not apparent.  The former is hostility towards the political movement of Zionism which has led to creation of the Israeli state in Palestine.  The two things, anti Semitism and anti Zionism, are not the same.  Someone does not have to be hostile towards Jews in order to disagree with the Zionist cause.  Many Jews in fact oppose Zionism.
    Third, it is absolutely crazy to think Professors are not going to be involved in campus organizations and events that have a political purpose.  Universities are places were students will learn from a wide variety of Professors about a wide variety of topics.  Dr. Eaton is completely free to work with interested students on whatever kind of legal project they would like.  Just like Ms. McKenna and Mr. MacAusland-Berg would be free to work on projects together.  One of the best parts of my University experience has been working on causes and issues with some of the wonderful faculty we have at the University of Regina. 
    Fourth, I am very sorry that both Ms. Mckenna and Mr. MacAusland-Berg felt uncomfortable at the weeks events.  If they had attended, they would realize that there was absolutely no anti-Semitism involved but rather a discussion outlining why the presenters felt Israeli was an Apartheid state.  Attendees were free to agree or disagree and there was often vigorous debate which included presenters and organizers. 
    Whether or not Israeli is an apartheid state is debatable but these debates and discussions need to happen.  As do discussions about Canada’s historical and present apartheid policies, including the Indian Act.  If these discussions do not happen on University campuses, then where will they happen?
    Again, I think it is too bad several people on campus were made to feel uncomfortable, but discussions about systemic issues, such as structural racism, patriarchy, hetro normatively and sex, gender, race and class privilege will always leave some feeling uncomfortable.  That does not mean that we should not have them. 
    Saskatchewan may be not be an easy place to be a Jew.  It is also not an easy place to be a First Nations or Metis person.  I can't imagine that it is any more difficult than being a Palestinian in Palestine.
     

  3. Mike Burton 8 April, 2011 at 13:39

    Thanks for the clarification. Shouldn't responses appear in the opinion section?

  4. Frank White 8 April, 2011 at 22:06

    Zionism is a movement that is propogated by only some segments of the Jewish global community.  Some Jewish people reject the movement for its zenophobic and racists practices of dispossessing others.  Isreal is an oligarchy run by certain groups of Jews and through legal means purposefully maintains a two tier society (Jewish and everyone else). Hence, it is the latter that makes it an aparthied that is in some ways much worse than South Africa (which shot people but not starved them to submission). 
    Poor journalstic practice not to have interviewed anybody from the local sponsors of the international event.  

  5. Rachel Smith 11 April, 2011 at 00:42

    Mike,
     
    Perhaps you should look into what the real definition of an "apartheid state" is. Israel gives full legal rights to all people — including Arabs. Unlike African apartheid where rights were denied to the Black population. Moreover, Arabs even sit in numerous government positions in Israel. Israel is not an apartheid state, but is rather a democratic liberal state, which grants equal rights to all individuals. 
    It seems like poor practice to make a blanket statement claiming that Israel is an "oligarchy run by certain groups of Jews…maintains a two tier society." Ghaleb Majadele is an example of a  Muslim minister in Israel, proving that your statement is wholly incorrect. There is no two-teir society within Israel, but rather Israel is a state that provides full rights to all citizens where it is obvious none of their citizens are "starved into submission."

  6. Frank White 13 April, 2011 at 22:31

    Rachel, you are either an apologist or extremely naive about Isreal society.  The whole world under the UN umbrella called Isreal an apartheid state, except for the US (which has its own history with apartheid).  It is widely recognized that Isreal law inherently discriminates against non-Jews (e.g. Arab, African refugees) and some Jewish populations (e.g secular, reformists).  Isreal straves people in Gaza under the guise of a unjust boycott.  Right wing Isreal is also trying to ban Arab parties from the Knesset.  By the way, Isreal was one of the strongest supports of White South African and even offered to give them nuclear technology (look it up).  

  7. Mike Burton 14 April, 2011 at 03:02

    Rachel,
    I appreciate your contribution.  Just to clarify that based on your definition of an Apartheid state, Canada certainly is one.  Section 91 (24) of the Canadian constitution says that the federal government is responsible for "Indians and lands reserved for Indians." First Nations, in many cases, still have their membership, electoral and governance systems controlled by the federal Department of Indian and Northern Affairs.  The federal government is currently considering creating a membership criteria for Metis people.  Historically in fact, legislated Apartheid in South Africa was copied from Canada. 
    One of the things I really appreciated about the this years Israeli Apartheid Weeks events was that the organizers specifically ensured that Canada's Apartheid nature was addressed at least one of their events. 

  8. Regina Solidarity Group 18 April, 2011 at 10:10

    As the organizers of Israeli Apartheid Week, hosted for the first time in Regina this past March, we were both shocked and saddened to see Martin Weaver’s mischaracterization of these events as anti-Semitic in last week’s issue of The Carillon (http://www.carillonregina.com/?p=4035).
    The global movement against Israeli Apartheid, of which we are a part, is categorically opposed to all forms of racism, including anti-Semitism. It makes no place for those who believe that some are more human than others based on ethnic, religious, or gender differences. As members of a movement firmly rooted in the principle of universal rights, we take seriously all forms of discrimination. We find it deeply disheartening to see charges of anti-Semitism unfairly exploited to shield Israel from censure for its ongoing violations of international law and fundamental human rights – crimes that have been recognized by the International Court of Justice and the United Nations, among a host of Israeli, Palestinian and international human rights groups.
    As of yet, there has not been a single documented case of Jewish students being targeted or intimidated during Israeli Apartheid Week events in Canada since it was first launched in Toronto in 2005. Were such an instance to arise, it is something that we would oppose vehemently. The spurious characterization of Israeli Apartheid Week as a “hate week” is not only baseless, but part of a deliberate campaign to silence the legitimate and necessary criticism of Israel’s ongoing ethnic cleansing, illegal military occupation, and apartheid policies against the Palestinian people.
    While students, faculty, and others are without question entitled to disagree with the applicability of the term “apartheid” to Israel, the university is precisely the place for these issues to be rigorously debated. We would like to note that we have chosen this term carefully and purposefully, based on the UN definition of apartheid as “inhumane acts committed for the purpose of establishing and maintaining domination by one racial group of persons over any other racial group of persons and systematically oppressing them.” In choosing to describe Israel in these terms, we are joined by foremost leaders of the anti-apartheid struggle in South Africa, Nelson Mandela and Archbishop Desmond Tutu, in addition to renowned South African jurist John Dugard, former Supreme Court justice and Attorney General of Israel Michael Ben-Yair, former U.S. President Jimmy Carter, acclaimed author Naomi Klein, and a legion of prominent artists, scholars, activists and intellectuals across the globe.
    We regret that Israeli Apartheid Week events may have made certain students at the U of R uncomfortable, but we reiterate the rightful distinction made by Ian MacAusland-Berg, the university’s coordinator for harassment, discrimination prevention, and conflict resolution, between discomfort and genuine acts of discrimination.
    The objective of Israeli Apartheid Week is to speak openly and honestly about the daily crimes committed against Palestinians by the State of Israel, from home demolitions, arbitrary detentions, and targeted assassinations to the continued annexation of Palestinian lands for Jewish-only settlements, roads, and infrastructure. It is incumbent on us as people of conscience – including students and faculty alike – to take a position and firmly support the struggle of Palestinians for freedom, justice, dignity and self-determination.
    We commend Dr. George Maslany for upholding the right to free expression on campus, and encourage all members of the University of Regina community to join us for next year’s Israeli Apartheid Week and experience these events for themselves. We are confident that what they will find is far from a “hate week”, but rather a reasoned and principled effort to educate ourselves and others on what is, in the words of Nelson Mandela, “the greatest moral issue of our time.”
    Regina Solidarity Group

  9. Lewis Pendanski 18 April, 2011 at 20:17

    Wow, I've never read such a one-sided article in my life. I would like to point out, for those of you who apparently missed it, that the event is called Israeli Apartheid Week. It is completely secular and if you are someone who immediately recognized it as an ad hominem attack, you must be really insecure. Let us please leave anti semitism  out of this; that only blurs the lines of what we are really trying to say. What this event is "targeting" is the…well, holocaust, really, that's being put on by Israel and supported by the U.S. Everyone is in support of a two-state solution, but that becomes impossible when the individuals involved in the resolution process are uneducated, biased, and single-minded. We ought to see this as a good thing, which it is once you get your facts straight. So let us please, try to understand one another and not cut out each others' throats every time Regina makes a move toward solidarity.

  10. Margaret Plum 18 April, 2011 at 20:45

    The truth of the matter is Israel is an apartheid state, and has been ever since its establishment in 1948.  The author of this article as well as his supporters are clearly misinformed about the atrocities committed by the state of Israel towards the Palestinian people or they just chose to ignore the facts.  The truth is so clear but some people just chose to ignore it.  The excuse of anti-semitism  with regards to  Israeli Apartheid Week is simply unacceptable; the goal of this project was not to promote hatred of the Jewish people because they have nothing to do with it, the idea behind IAW is to make people aware of what the Israeli Government is up to because the mainstream media fails to cover the story. The oppression and injustices of the Palestinians is unknown to the world and this article is proves it.  If only IAW could somehow be more global and become more popular, the world could one day stand up for the Palestinians and against Israel. AND articles like this one, with such nonsense and ignorance, would not be published.

  11. Florence Stratton 19 April, 2011 at 15:16

    Is criticizing the Canadian government being anti-Canadian? Of course not! If it were, then most Canadians would be guilty of anti-Canadianism.
     
    It is equally ridiculous to label criticisms of the Israeli government “anti-Semitic.” Such accusations are merely a way of silencing censure of Israel for its policies on Palestine and Palestinians–policies which are immoral and criminal under international law.  
     
    One of the areas in which the Canadian government deserves criticism is in its policy on Israel and Palestine. For, rather than being even-handed and working for peace, the Canadian government has chosen to side with one of the combatants, Israel. The following examples illustrate Canada’s one-sided pro-Israel–anti-Palestine position:    
     
    ·         In 2006, when Hamas won Canadian-monitored and facilitated Palestine parliamentary elections, Canada was the first country after Israel to cut its assistance to the Palestinian Authority. The aid cutoff, designed to sow division within Palestinian society, had devastating social effects.
    ·         In 2008, Canada was the only country at the UN Human Rights Council to vote against a resolution that called for “urgent international action to put an immediate end to Israel’s siege of Gaza.” The resolution was adopted by 30 votes with 15 abstentions.
    ·         During the December 2008–January 2009 Gaza War, the Canadian government sided with Israel and exonerated it from all blame–even though Israel’s illegal blockade of Gaza and illegal West Bank settlements were major causes of the conflict. At the same time, it demonized Hamas, Gaza’s democratically elected government, calling it a terrorist organization, and accusing it of starting and prolonging the crisis by firing rockets into Israel. More than 1,400 Palestinians were killed in the three-week war –as compared to only 13 Israelis. Despite the lopped-sidedness of the death and destruction, Canada did not reconsider its one-sided, pro-Israel/anti-Palestine policy.
    ·         When, in June 2010, Israeli forces killed nine Turkish activists on a ship carrying humanitarian aid to Gaza, most world leaders denounced Israel and called for an end to the Gaza blockade. But not Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper, who uttered not a single word of condemnation. Instead, Mr. Harper stood beside Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who happened to be in Canada, and merely expressed regret about the loss of life and the disruption of Mr. Netanyahu’s visit to Canada. 
    ·         Hypocritically, the Canadian government regularly calls for new sanctions on Iran for its nuclear program, but it never asks Israel to give up its sizable, undeclared arsenal of nuclear weapons or to sign the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons–to which Canada is a signatory.
     
    By failing to be even-handed, Canada has become complicit in the bloodshed on both sides of the conflict. Israeli Apartheid Week offered a much more even-handed understanding of the situation. As a result, it left me with the hope that a just and lasting peace between Israel and Palestine is possible.

  12. Shannon Corkery 21 April, 2011 at 11:15

    After reading the article and the response from the Regina Solidarity Group, I feel the article and title "Anti-Semitism felt on campus"  is an example of sensational journalism, where emotions are manipulated rather than a clear exploration of the issue.

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