According to the Canadian Jewish News:
Responding to a request for an interview, the University of Toronto issued a written statement by vice-president and provost Cheryl Misak: “Due to our privacy obligations to students, I cannot discuss an individual student’s academic work or his or her performance. What I can, say, however, is that freedom of expression issues are ever-present in our society, especially on a university campus. The University of Toronto’s Statement on Freedom of Speech makes it clear that freedom of inquiry lies at the very heart of our institution: ‘all members of the University must have as a prerequisite freedom of speech and expression, which means the right to examine, question, investigate, speculate and comment on any issue without reference to prescribed doctrine, as well as the right to criticize the University and society at large.’
“Of the thousands of MA theses written at the University of Toronto in partial fulfilment of degree requirements, it is inevitable that some will have elements that offend various individuals and groups."It is commendable that the University of Toronto values free speech. But there are issues that remain unaddressed, like the perception that the culture at OISE has become so virulently anti-Israel and anti-Zionist that theses which have the appearance of anti-Semitism have become acceptable there.
And there is the question of whether the anti-Israel attitude at OISE has become so politically rancid that anti-Zionism has become more important there than basic scholarship.
Werner Cohn, Professor Emeritus of Sociology at the University of British Columbia, and one of the first people to draw attention to the thesis, The Victimhood of the Powerful: White Jews, Zionism and the Racism of Hegemonic Holocaust Education" wrote of the author's scholarship:
"..she is an autodidact who knows how to quote from others, whenever that seems to serve the cause, and thus to give her thesis the sheen of formal scholarship.The only problem is that the footnotes and references to the literature in no way support her contentions, and that she does not muster facts or data of any kind to give her thesis the weight of an academic argument."
"..she makes assertions, but it can’t be called an advancement of knowledge as she doesn’t test it in any way."
Ms Peto's thesis characterized the March of the Living, a prestigious Holocaust education program, as an "abuse of Holocaust memory for Zionist and racist purposes" (pg 108).
An indictment of Ms Peto comes from March of the Living national director Eli Rubenstein. “She hasn’t been on a trip where you see a Holocaust survivor holding the hand of someone who survived the Rwandan genocide or the Sudanese genocide, that it’s comforting and helps them to heal.
“How can you write a master’s thesis and not speak to a single survivor, educator or student in the program, and how can the university accept that?” he asked.
“We have survivors who rebuilt their lives and want to share their stories of survival and make sure that it doesn’t happen to anybody, and here you have someone criticizing us for that… it’s very sad.”
In fact, the only first hand research on the March of the Living Ms Peto is able to cite in her 2010 Thesis comes from her viewing of the March of the Living website in 2006!
This addresses Professor Cohn's principle concern by critics of the thesis and by extension, the culture at OISE in the assertion that "the thesis was devoid of scholarship."
U of T Provost Misak said, "the university is committed to allowing and encouraging a full range of debate. The best way for controversy to unfold is for members of our community to engage with the perspectives and arguments they dispute. It is intelligent argument, not censorship, that lies at the heart of our democratic society and its institutions.”
These are commendable sentiments. But the question remains, where is the debate at OISE?
At a meeting of the OISE Graduate Student Association to discuss whether they should involve themselves with the bigoted "Israeli Apartheid Week," the minutes don't indicate any debate. They indicate a universal acceptance of the notion that the Zionist entity must be oppressive. The only expressed concern is about how to imply that they are not anti-Semitic.
And who is the person they had to address that concern?
None other than guest speaker Jenny Peto! Well, with expert advice like that, how could they go wrong?
Ms Peto's thesis advisor is Sheryl Nestel. Ms Nestel has made the conference presentation: "Mapping Jewish Dissent: Jewish Anti-occupation Activism in Toronto." The Department Chair, Rinaldo Walcott, is a signatory to at least two anti-Israel petitions.
Where is the debate at OISE?
For U of T Provost Misak to say that the “university is committed to allowing and encouraging a full range of debate” is most welcome. Perhaps she can let us know when that policy is put into practice at OISE.