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Tuesday, November 16, 2010

An addendum to yesterday's post on academic Jew hate

Yesterday's post regarding OISE has got a fair bit of attention due to its being picked up by The National Post, so there are some points I'd like to add.

Regarding academic freedom. It may seem paradoxical to follow up a post that was highly critical of the premises of two theses based on their abstracts with a post insisting on the right to academic freedom, but I'm going to do that nonetheless.

Because my concern was not based on a desire to censor Ms Peto's or Mr Epstein's positions or their right to hold or write them. Let me make this explicitly clear. They have every right to do so, just as those who disagree have the right to criticize them.

But those premises, as far as I inferred from the abstracts, suggested that Jews bore some special moral guilt on the basis of ethnicity, or responsibility on the basis of pigmentation and there was an organized community effort to mislead and manipulate and those are suggestions that I feel merit the most extreme criticism.

They have the right to their opinions.

But it seems to me that the natural extension of their ideas is that a particular race can be either inferior or  superior, that some races merit special privilege or punishment. These are ideas that most of us in liberal democracies have hoped were abandoned a long time ago. If these ideas can be applied to Jews, they can be applied, in some form, to anyone. And one doesn't have to look too far in history to see where that kind of thinking leads.

But again, my concern is not about the ideas of two or three individuals whose ideas, I don't think, merit great consideration. My concern is what appears to me to be a pervasive attitude at OISE and to some extent at the University of Toronto. It is an outgrowth of an academic anti-Zionism that is at its substance exactly what the Prime Minister of Canada warned against at the international conference on anti-Semistism last week.

It is the way that this form of racism has insinuated itself into some academic institutions that needs to be examined and exposed.

When fanatical anti-Zionism extends to Jews in general and the notion of collective Jewish guilt, it is something that should be alarming to any thinking person.

OISE has played host to conferences whose purpose was the boycotting and sanctioning of Israel, part of the campaign to assign the false label of "apartheid" and, in effect, the deligitimization of that country.

The Prime Minister, the leader of the Opposition, federal ministers and civic leaders of all stripes have spoken out against that in the most forceful terms and have suggested it is a new form of anti-Semitism.

Is it?

Zionism is the belief that Jews should have a homeland in Israel. If the anti-Zionists were against the idea of any people having a national homeland with a religious component, and put equal energies into the condemnation of all, then their standing would have more credibility. But I am yet to find an "anti-Zionist" call for the end of the Islamic republics of Iran and Pakistan and the Islamic rule in other countries where religion and state are not distinct. The call for an end to such systems throughout the world is in no way significant among the anti-Zionist movement. The focus in those cases on one people and one religion appears to me to be highly suggestive of bigotry.

It is this and the anti-Israel politicization of academic programs that I believe requires serious examination.

UPDATE: let me reiterate this to anyone who thinks this post is a "softening" of my position. It isn't. The theses in question are repugnant in their respective suggestions that Jews are conspiring to exploit Holocaust guilt for ulterior motives and that anyone bears some sort of "accountability through genealogy."

But what I also want to make abundantly clear is that these theses are being used as examples of a greater problem. Presumably they were approved by a thesis committee at OISE. It is the institutional politicization and bias that is concerning, not individuals of questionable significance. That is always what the issue has been, for those who missed the point.


Anonymous said...

This, folks, is what backpedalling looks like.

If you're so into "exposing" this stuff, if that's what you want - then READ the final thesis papers. Critique them, and allow the authors to refute you. Publish everything here. Otherwise, this is little more than hot air (and the wish for others to do your work for you).

It is good to see that you've realized your little enemies list was not the way to go about this - but think of the cost of your actions.

Richard K said...

No, Anon at 12;27, it isn't "backpeddling," it's clarifying what I would have thought had been obvious, but has been completely misinterpreted by people like you.

I don't know either Epstein or Peto personally and I don't have an "enemies" list. That suggestion seems paraniod. The issue is about a form of academically-sanctioned anti-Jewish bias that has grown out of anti-Zionism.

And for the people who haven't quite comprehended the meaning of the sentence, "Maybe someone figures that academic Jew hate is okay as long as it's coming from someone who identifies as a Jew," let me put it in more explict terms that they might be able to grasp. I do understand these people are Jewish. It is possible for Jews to be the authors of inappropriate anti-Jewish tracts and that doesn't make it right.

Anonymous said...

Hatred cannot be all bad if the Holocaust survivor Elie Wiesel admonishes Jews to become resolute in their hatred of Germans. He wrote:

"Every Jew, somewhere in his being, should set aside a zone of hate -- healthy, virile hate -- for the German personifies and for what persists in the German. To do otherwise would be a betrayal of the dead [Holocaust victims]."

This admonition appears in Legends of Our Time in the chapter entitled "Appointment with Hate."

Richard K said...

I am not going to attempt to speak for Elie Weisel, for whom I have great respect. But I would hope that admonition would be a metaphor referring to a Teutonic attitude that led to the Holocaust rather than a literal call to hate individuals because of their birth or nationality.

If it is literal, then it is morally repugnant. To blame innocent people on the basis of ethnicity is disgusting and has no just place in the world.

Anonymous said...

Maybe the question is not so much about academic freedom as it is about academic standards, as the point is made here (I just happen to have come across it)

Anonymous said...

It strikes me as peculiar that any homosexual should support a medieval, patriarchal and clearly colonialist society of oppression (Hamas, Fatah and Hezbollah) where homosexuals (among other infidels) fear for their lives. And it is unfortunate that misguided and unread folk like Peto do not support Israel, where homosexuals enjoy more rights than in the US. There is something absurd and perverse about a queer person attacking the only safe zone in the region. It indicates that zero research into human rights issues has gone into the decisions of folk like Peto to join and support this deluded romantic movement. This perversity indicates that decisions are being made out of a sense of fashion and a desire to fit in rather than out of a truly political interest in the promotion of human rights. Because the world view being promoted is based on a misconception and a lack of interest in truth, it is by definition prejudice. It appears an especially vicious ploy to undermine the legitimacy of the state of Israel. Because the attitudes are unfounded and primarily emotional, it smacks of bigotry; which when directed against Jews is called antisemitism. It is a shame that Education Departments persist in being the bastion of the ignorant and lazy. And it is unsettling to consider that these folk seek political power over our education system.

Dr.Dawg said...

Oh, please. You have called for a McCarthyite "investigation," you have clearly indicated that the thesis should never have been approved, you have suggested that the approval was obtained irregularly, and you have cited Werner Cohn with approval--the same Werner Cohn who thinks that Peto's thesis is likely in contravention of the Criminal Code.

A little late for you to start insisting on academic freedom. It's not "backpedalling" -- it's sheer obfuscation.

Read the thesis yet, by the way?

Richard K said...

Hello Dawg.

Always happy to have your profound intellectual contribution to any conversation, as well as your free and entertaining use of the word 'McCarthyite.'

I indeed think that the thesis subject itself should have been queried when presenting such a contentious and unsubstantiated notion as the idea that "Jewish people of European descent enjoy white privilege and are among the most socio-economically advantaged groups in the West. Despite this privilege, the organized Jewish community makes claims about Jewish victimhood that are widely accepted within that community and within popular discourse in the West. I propose that these claims to victimhood are no longer based in a reality of oppression, but continue to be propagated because a victimized Jewish identity can produce certain effects that are beneficial to the organized Jewish community and the Israeli nation-state" and "Jewish victimhood is instrumentalized in ways that obscure Jewish privilege, deny Jewish racism and promote the interests of the Israeli nation-state."

Just because a thesis topic is proposed doesn't mean it is automatically accepted. Based on the intellectual rigour demonstrated in Ms Peto's paper (which I have read) I think a credible panel would have rejected her ability to deal with it in a scholarly way.

And here's something you seem to have trouble understanding, Dawg: Freedom of expression does not mean freedom from criticism.

However as the thesis was accepted, I very much believe that an investigation into the academic standards at OISE's Sociology and Equity Studies program in education is merited. There is an apparent lack of scholarship in the theses being accepted there, as detailed by Professor Cohn, and I have heard reports of an atmosphere where a one-sided, anti-Israel bias is so rabid, and overwhelming that students feel intimidated against speaking out or challenging it for fear of penalization.

Do you think an atmosphere like that contributes to academic freedom or free speech?

I don't speak for Werner Cohn. His analysis of the situation at OISE seems accurate.

As to my own position, let me make it, again, as I've done many times before, abundantly clear.

Ms Peto or anyone has the right to their opinions - they have the right to publicly propose them. They should not be banned or legally penalized for expressing them. If you can find any place where I've said that, I will be grateful if you'd point it out to me, because it would have been wrong of me to do so. I know of none.

But the authors of these theses do not have the right to expect academic imprimatur for substandard scholarship and mere opinion.

An academic institution has the obligation to maintain levels of scholarship while also maintaining an atmosphere that doesn't push only one dominant idea in an area of study where there are many accepted viewpoints. In some departments at OISE, it seems neither of those academic expectations are being maintained. It's discrediting to the university and the U of T should look into that in a very serious way.