Monday, May 6, 2013

A secretive Queen's University anti-Zionist course disguised as "Jewish History" where "facts" don't matter

Imagine you'd enrolled in an undergraduate course last fall called "Jewish Women in Historical Perspective" at Queen's University in Kingston, Ontario. If you thought you would be learning about notable Jewish women like Ruth and Esther from the Bible through to authors like Emma Lazarus and Gertrude Stein, and renowned public figures like Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Bella Abzug and their influence on the wider world, you could be in for a big surprise.

The course calendar describes it as being about "Jewish history from biblical to modern times using gender as a category of analysis" including "tensions between competing traditions; influences of paganism, Islam, Christianity." But the syllabus and the course content suggest something very different.

You'd certainly receive a healthy dose of tensions between competing traditions. But rather than Jewish History, it has more of the appearance of indoctrination sessions on the evils of Zionism and the Jewish state delivered by a veritable who's who of Canadian anti-Israel ideologues.

Included on that list are Sylvat Aziz, Palestine Liberation Organization Adviser Elia Zureik, Adnan Hussein, Ariel Salzmann, and a Communist professor named Abbie Bakan whose apparent raison d'etre for the last decade has been to attempt to de-legitimize Israel.

Abigail Bakan addressing a
CASMO al Quds Day gathering 
Bakan is a particularly egregious choice for an instructor in a Jewish Studies course. She is on the editorial board of a 9-11 conspiracy theory promoting website called The Canadian Charger, which was founded by Mohamed Elmasry, who notoriously declared that all Israeli Jews over the age of 18 are 'legitimate' targets for murder.

She has also been a featured speaker at al Quds Day gatherings, a 'holiday' invented by Iran's Ayatollah Khomeini for the purpose of rousing Muslim support for Jihad against Israel. At one al Quds event, which she attended at the behest of a Khomeinist group called CASMO, which has posted anti-Semitic videos by the neo-Nazi leader David Duke on their website, Bakan fatuously declared that Israel "is exactly like the apartheid state of pre-1994 South Africa."

Such vicious polemical nonsense has the potential to cause quite a stir. But a directive in the course's syllabus is designed to nip that in the bud at the expense of the belief that university education should be above-board and open to scrutiny. A dictate in the Jewish Women in Historical Perspective's syllabus says:
To build an atmosphere of civility, trust, and participation, and afford reasonable privacy it is necessary and you are requested to abide by the following:
-no recording
-no cells, Internet, texting

-no visitors, no auditors
In order to keep the goings-on secretive, the classes can't be recorded and no outsiders are allowed. It's the Queen's anti-Zionist version of what happens in Vegas stays in Vegas. But indications are that what happens at Queen's is more insidious than the affairs at Caesar's Palace.

I telephoned Professor James Carson, the Chair of Queen's History Department under whose aegis the course falls, about its curious nature. He described the course as being about "dialogue."  That explanation is indeed supported by another dictum in the course syllabus which states:
"Truths or facts as labels are misleading to understand complex situations. ‘Even handed’ and ‘balanced’ for X may not be acceptable to Y. The important learning event happens in dialogue."
It doesn't require a lot of imagination to picture how that dialogue would be slanted in a course where most of the "authorities" are members of a group called "The Coalition Against Israeli Apartheid."

But what I found perplexing was how something purporting to be a university history course could declare that truth and facts are "misleading" and secondary to a dialogue comprised of feelings and emotion.

It may serve the ideological purposes of the instructors to wave aside facts like five Arab armies tried to eradicate Israel upon its inception as a state, or that the Hamas charter calls for Israel's destruction and endorses the killing of Jews, or that Palestinian state television produces children's programs that glorify suicide bombers and call for war against the Jews. To these Queen's academics, "the important learning event" is the Palestinian feeling of oppression.

But how could that possibly be categorized as history?

Professor Carson attempted to explain it to me using an example from a course he teaches about the First Nations In North America.

He said that the Canadian Indian Act came into being in 1876 and from the government's perspective, it was to "civilize" the First Nations but from the aboriginals's point of view it was an act of "genocide." Carson felt that was an example of how there could be different perspectives on what constitutes a "fact."

I challenged that, observing that there were indeed indisputable facts in his example. The Indian Act was enacted in 1876, the actual wording of The Act is something that can be verified. The intent of these facts could be open to interpretation, but the facts themselves could not.

That agitated Professor Carson, who curtly replied, "I'm not going to engage in a forensic examination of the syllabus with you, thank you for your time." Then he hung up on me.

It's easy to sympathize with Professor Carson's frustration. It would be tremendously difficult to do a forensic examination of anything if you don't believe there's such a thing as a verifiable fact.

It seems the syllabus and curriculum has changed a bit for "Jewish Women in Historical Perspective" in the coming term. For the sake of that course's students and the integrity of Queen's University, it would be a good thing if their History Department's appreciation of historical facts changed along with it.

19 comments:

Anonymous said...

I'm not surprised by the response you received. This type of one-sided "dialogue" is prevalent at every university history department across Canada and indeed almost every western university. The chair's example is typical for how other history courses are taught, particulalry Canadian history. That being said, it is heartening to see someone trying to expose it!

Anonymous said...

Hate speech is ok I guess as long as it's a credit course.
What possible value to society does this have?
Why are my tax dollars funding it?

Richard K said...

For a long time now, I've assumed that when Canadian universities claimed they were producing "critical thinkers," they were being ironic.

occupant 9 said...

Being "even-handed" in regards to the Jews means weighing hate and truth in equal measure, sort of. Hate, Muslim-style, hasn't had the traction here as it has in the ME, so Queens feels they have been remiss.

The fact the university, in this digital age, forbids the recording of the course as it rolls out, means they KNOW it is hate and would not be tolerated by an informed society.

It'd be shameful except neither Muslims nor Leftists can manage being ashamed; so they hide it.

Richard K said...

You can't lay stuff like this at the feet of all Muslims.

The general tenor of Liberal Arts at universities is responsible for an environment that is less interested in education than producing like-minded drones.

Irving Freilich said...

Richard, If you would send this post to the Kingston Whig Standard it would be more likely to ignite the kind of conversation it deserves.
Irving Freilich

Anonymous said...

I took a first year sociology course at SFU to fulfill my graduation requirements. One of our assignments was to 'critically read' an essay on globalization. So I fact checked every claim the authors made and every single one was wrong or taken out of context. Cataloging a dozen or more grievous errors, my conclusion was the essay was a highly suspect political document, not a piece of academic writing. I was told I "didn't get it" and got a 'C'. Oh, I got it alright.

This kind of bs goes on all the time at universities across the country. It's time we cull the academic herd.

Maikeru said...

Bakan's 'Quds Day' speech is typical of her worldview.

As a young teen, Bakan came to Canada from Chicago in the 60's (alongside 40,000 'draft dodgers'), and appears to harbour a deep-seated 'fear and loathing' of her native land.

Her contributions to the 'aig+c' research institute at Ontario's Lakehead University' reveal her pathological hatred for America.

"If you have a problem with Capitalism, Marx is really helpful"
- Abigail Bakan -

Anonymous said...

I've said it before, I'll say it again, "How many girls from Queens does it take to screw in a light bulb?"

Just one.

She holds onto the bulb while the whole world revolves around them.

You can't make this shit up, 'cause they make it up all the frickin' time.

I just hope the engineering studies aren't as stupid and make-believe.

Gilles Pembroke

Anonymous said...

I am very concerned about the secretiveness of this course and the emotional reaction of the history Chairperson. I am no fan of Israel, but how can open and honest dialogue occur in such an atmosphere? I would like very much to read a rebuttal from a student who has participated in this course.

Anonymous said...

Richard, How did you first learn of this course?

JennyLee said...

Let's start from the beginning.
The course is NOT a Jewish Studies course.
The course IS a GENDER studies course. Gender is the operative word. Curiouisly, you deem Gender Studies to be unworthy of study (in a later post), yet here you are studying a course, while misidentifying it. I might at first glance consider this post either parody or self-deprecating!

But, assuming it otherwise, if you looked deeper, you would see that the course has several speakers from several departments: Religion (or Theology), Gender Studies, Sociology, History, Law, Political Studies, Philosophy.

Further, it is a third year University course. Second year students know exactly what to expect. There is a reasonable expectation of privacy, for the exact reason your blog post exhibits - misrepresentation of information for select, media/promotional purposes.

Should I expect you to allow this comment to stand? As a reasonable person, dealing only with the links you gave me and your opinion piece, yes. Unless a dialogue is not what you're looking for.

Richard K said...

Interesting you would feel compelled to identify yourself as a reasonable person, Jenny. Is there anyone on the face of the earth you know of that self-identifies as "unreasonable?"

Openness is one of the cornerstones of the academy. If what is going on can't stand up to scrutiny or be exposed to sunlight, it has no place in a public university.

It's natural that secrecy would be desired if something untoward is happening, since so many of these courses turn into indoctrination sessions where any dissent is suppressed and bullied into silence.

The Gender Studies course was under the aegis of the History Dept. It was described as a Gender-based analysis of Jewish history, or did you completely miss that part of the course description?

The course outline suggests the purpose of its intent and it appeared to have little to do with "Jewish Women in Historical Perspective."

Jenny Lee said...

Up front, I know several neo-cons, marxists, liberals, hindus, and christians who self-identify as unreasonable, mostly because their passion for a topic drives them to be correct, not corrected. They are aware enough to know that circumstances can lead to passionate but totally incorrect argument. They choose information to support their belief, and discard any that refutes it. Examples: Buzz Hargrove, Jack Layton, Andy Card, John Baird.

I'll respond more tomorrow, but you should know that the "no auditors, no visitors" is clearly explained in the syllabus. Briefly, its mostly due to University Policy related to auditing course costs, and copyright policies. Basically, the course is created only for students in a Gender Studies concentration, with minor exception. It's not for public casual consumption.

You seem very concerned about the motivations of several of the course creators and contributors. Granted, anti-semitism is not a good thing, but then neither is assuming it only means "anti-jewish" or "anti-Israel". Underneath the "semitic" umbrella live Arabs, Hebrews, Shia Muslims, and Assyrians equally, as well as many other groups. Shia dominate countries include Iran, Iraq, Azerbaijan and Bahrain.

Personally, I refuse to accept the bastardization of words - that semite can include several groups but anti-semitic can only be used to refer to anti-jewish behaviour. Similarly, I refuse to accept the term homophobic to mean anything other than being afraid of homosexuality. An act of ignorance or hate does not qualify one as being fearful, anymore than an act of praise qualifies one as being knowledgeable.

With that in mind, you can see why I find your post curious. If one Semite is in fact being anti-semitic, then are you being racist by pointing that out and implying that the offender in question is less or not at all semitic?

Richard K said...

Jenny, you're playing masturbatory semantic games that suggest a tremendous lack of insight on your part. I'm not aware of the people you named referring to themselves as unreasonable, but let's say for the sake of argument they did.

Are you genuinely unable to tell the difference between a rhetorical device they may have employed on an occasion or two and a sincere self-assessment?

As to "anti-Semitism," yes, the peoples from the Levant are all Semitic. But the term came about in the 1860's and 70's and refers to Jews in that context. I could care less about the term, call it Jew-hate if you like, but as you got the point and want to fixate on a semantic footnote for digressive purposes seems to characterize the basis of everything you've written.

And you might have observed that I didn't actually say the course itself was anti-Semitic, only that one of the instructors has some unfortunate alliances with those who are, which itself is suggestive of poor character. Indeed it may bode poorly for the content of the course itself, which is guarded in secrecy.

I'm almost sympathetic to your point in that the meanings of words have been distorted through alterations of usage - take how "literally" is now taken by some dictionaries to mean hyperbolic - but as the term "anti-Semitism" has been in usage for over a century and its meaning is clearly understood, why waste the time?

As to the course's secrecy - you're obfuscating - the reasons that were explicitly stated in the syllabus are not the ones you're trying to explain them away with.

I assume your next comment will fixate on my ending the previous sentence with a preposition.

Anonymous said...

Almost all courses at queens have a rule in the syllabus saying you cant record or bring cellphones or laptops etc. Reasons are generally because of copyright issues or because its distracting when a students cell goes off. I suppose by your standards, my first year chemistry course was also top secret.

Also, this course is offered under Womens studies, with the course code WMNS-365. so clearly not a history course. Courses like these are more open to discussion and opinion. its the nature of the course isnt it? if this were an actual history course and they didnt dictate every fact from a textbook i would be just as confused as you. I might even come to some crazy conclusion like a university is secretly trying to turn our generation into communist jew haters... good thing I went to school and learned to think for myself instead of mindlessly following your garbage article.

this article is all BS and you clearly have an agenda. You isolate one course in an entire faculty and talk about how it doesnt address every aspect of jewish history you expected it to. while trashing a professor. you really have no proof either. (did you attend the course, listen to the lectures, write the final, no... oh ok...then just stop because you dont know what youre talking about)

thank god for discussions! or youre doing the same thing you acuse the professor of. spewing garbage opinions as facts. At least students in the class would be smart enough to realize whats opinion and whats not. not to mention they know that before entering the course.

so just a recap. Womens studies is not history class. if you want jewish history you take HIST 221 or 295, or maybe JWST 301.

Richard K said...

You've obviously overestimated your thinking ability, such as it is.

Did you have a 'no auditing' and 'no visitors' rule in those courses of yours too?

It must be painful for someone like you to have the idiocy of a statement like "Truths or facts as labels are misleading to understand complex situations" pointed out.

Were you to ever come to grips with how stupid that is, it would undermine every aspect of your life.

Anonymous said...

Richard you have a lot more patience than me. I am deeply intolerant of people who can't understand that if they have to justify their words or actions, They are wrong.

Thank you for the blog

Richard K said...

We all have to be capable of justifying our words and actions. It's when that justification comes from equating, or worse in the case of much happening in academia, by promoting and endorsing "I feel this way" over any facts and a knowledge of history that we have a serious problem. And we do indeed have serious problems in what is laughably called "higher education" in Canada's universities.