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Thursday, December 16, 2010

You don't have to be Sigmund Freud to connect these dots..

"The Victimhood of the Powerful: White Jews, Zionism and the Racism of Hegemonic Holocaust Education," is Jenny Peto's infamous thesis in which she claims to "show how Jewish victimhood is instrumentalized in ways that obscure Jewish privilege, deny Jewish racism and promote the interests of the Israeli nation-state."

What's really behind it?

On the very first page, she wrote, "In the first grade, after having been told that I could not play the lead in our school play because I was a girl, I decided that god was either sexist or nonexistent. Either way, I wanted to have nothing to do with him."

If only little Grade 1 Jenny had known people in show business, they could have told her that rejection is part of the trade. You have to learn how to deal with it, get over it, and move on the the next audition. One of the reasons so many actors turn to Scientology is that it teaches confidence and how to overcome rejection.

Imagine how much happier a person she would be if Jenny's influences had been Scientologists such as John Travolta and not a Maoist fanatic like Norman Finkelstein.  Say what you will about Scientology, they haven't been responsible for a single suicide bomber, let alone the 10 million murders of the Cultural Revolution.

Would having been cast as a male in a school play been enough to have turned Jenny from the path she chose? It doesn't look like it.

Because being a girl didn't keep Jenny from playing male roles for long. As this picture shows, by Grade 5  Jenny is taking what appears to be a male role in a play. It was in 1992 and was put on by Associated Hebrew Schools, one of "the sexist, gender-normative and heterosexist educational institutions [she] was forced to attend."

Guess who the cute little thespian, 2nd from the left, is
But sadly, during those four years since Grade 1, it seems irreparable damage had been done.

Or maybe not!

Jenny wrote: "Despite all of my rebellion against the oppressive beliefs of my parents, teachers and religious leaders, the one aspect of my upbringing and education that I never questioned was Zionism – loyalty to the Israeli nation-state. In fact, Zionism fit within my childhood understanding of anti-oppression politics.."

Coily oppressing Q*bert with its racist,
hegemonic purple snake privilege
What a coincidence! Zionism fit within my childhood understanding of anti-oppression politics too! Wait. No it didn't. My mistake. I have to confess that as a child, I didn't spend much time considering anti-oppression politics. But I did manage to get the high score on a Q*bert machine once, if that counts. (Q*bert was frequently oppressed by Coily, a springy snake.) On the other side, I didn't give a lot of thought to Zionism either, unless watching The Ten Commandments on TV is an act of imperialist, colonialist, repressive Zionism.

But the hegemonic influence of Zionism was able to stay within Jenny Peto's psyche until a watershed event occurred, which she describes as follows:

Ancient oppressor with early Zionist propaganda

"I was having dinner with a friend who I thought was Lebanese – I later learned that his family were Palestinian refugees living in Lebanon. His brother, who had just arrived in Toronto from the United Arab Emirates joined us. He was wearing a necklace with Handala on it. I recognized it as Naj Al-Ali’s famous cartoon of a Palestinian child holding a rock behind his back and immediately demanded to know why he had a terrorist on his necklace. We then got into an argument about Israel and Palestine that lasted several hours. I pride myself on being able to win most arguments, but in this case I could not beat him – he had facts and history, but all I had was rhetoric and sound-bites."

All she had "was rhetoric and sound bites."  

Plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose.

Intriguing, and leaving aside the narcissism of "I pride myself on being able to win most arguments," the most interesting and revealing part of the journey into Jenny Peto's rebirth as a Jew who wants to see the end of modern Israel comes from two of her statements:
"It is also significant that I had long seen the organized Jewish community as extremely oppressive. As someone who had experienced violence and oppression within my own Jewish community, it was not very difficult for me to accept that Jews could be oppressors and by extension, that the so-called ‘Jewish state’ could itself be oppressive and violent."
"I was already an outcast in the Jewish community, and estranged from my family for being atheist, queer, gender-queer, feminist and generally outspoken in a highly normative, Orthodox setting. I had less to lose in terms of family and community than many anti-Zionist Jews."
If what Jenny Peto says about her childhood experiences are true,  then it is sad and she deserves pity.
But it was hardly the fault of the "mainstream" or "organized Jewish community" nor is it the fault of Israel for trying to survive as a democratic state among totalitarian countries bent on its destruction.
Peto's "thesis" reads like a cry of anguish and revenge against personal circumstances that caused her to suffer in her youth. She comes across as someone trying to strike back at the values and beliefs of those who caused her pain.
That's a tragedy. The greater tragedy is that the Sociology and Equity Studies in Education Department at OISE appears to consider an unsubstantiated cry of anguish to be something that should be awarded a post-graduate degree.

UPDATE: The National Post published the following letter from Jenny Peto's brother, David, which sheds even more light on the unfortunate situation:

It is not my desire to get involved with the details of my sister Jenny Peto's thesis, which has recently generated tremendous controversy. There are people far more qualified than I to debate the merits of the thesis, or lack thereof. There is, however, one point that I would like to contest. My sister dedicated her thesis to our late grandmother, Jolan Peto. She asserted that if our grandmother "were alive today, she would be right there with me protesting against Israeli apartheid."   
Our grandmother was the youngest teacher at the Jewish orphanage in Budapest during the Second World War. She, along with my grandfather, saved countless children from death at the hands of the Nazis. After the war, she saw firsthand the brutality and baseness of the communist regime that came into power. She, along with our grandfather and father escaped to Canada, and celebrated the day of their arrival each and every year. Freedom was not an abstract idea to her; it was alive and tangible for her.   
Our grandmother was a soft-spoken woman, but she had an iron will. She taught us to abhor hatred, and to strive for excellence in everything we did. She was a woman of endless patience and generosity, and boundless love. She was uncompromising in her dedication to truth and honesty, and was also an ardent supporter of the state of Israel. My sister is simply wrong; our grandmother would have been entirely opposed to her anti-Israel protests.   
Our grandmother had a tremendous impact on my life, and her memory continues to be a source of strength and inspiration to my family. My daughter is named after her, and we pray that she will emulate her namesake. I cannot in good conscience allow my sister to misappropriate publicly our grandmother's memory to suit her political ideology.

David Peto, Houston.

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