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Saturday, September 3, 2011

OISE embarrasses U of T with a new, vapid anti-Israel thesis

The Ontario Institute for Studies in Education is a wonderful centre for self-esteem. Its tax-supported programs are living proof that lack of intelligence need not be an impediment to getting an advanced university degree.

Fortunately for prospective employers, these degrees are offered in easily identifiable programs with fatuous-sounding names like Sociology and Equity Studies in Education. (SESE). That program achieved its greatest fame for having produced an anti-Semitic thesis in 2010, which broke ground for being the first student paper to be denounced by both the governing party and Opposition in the Ontario Legislature.

Now Sheryl Nestel, the same academic advisor to a pair of poorly researched, bigoted polemics that caused the controversy last year, has a new protege who has created a vapid anti-Israel screed to remind the public of the wasteful spending we throw into certain areas of academia.

In "The Appeal of Israel: Whiteness, Anti-Semitism, and the Roots of Diaspora Zionism in Canada," its author, Corey Balsam, who was awarded a Master's Degree on its basis, cites marginal academics and pseudo-academics such as Abigail Bakan, a board member of Mohamed Elmasry's anti-Semitic Canadian Charger website, anti-Israel fanatic Yves Engler, the deranged anti-Capitalist website Znet, and in his acknowledgments, thanks notorious 9-11 conspiracy theorist Diana Ralph.

Filled with anti-Semitic tone ("the elite British Jew Baron Walter Rothchild"),  half-baked efforts at psychoanalysis ("In Freudian terms, the end of a Jewish state is perceived as akin to castration and therefore something to be resisted at all costs"), and obsessively focussed on circumcision and Jewish body types, Balsam's thesis is a reminder of Judy Rebick's admission that radical activists often are acting out from their own personal psychological and emotional problems. That was clearly the case of the two previous anti-Israel theses for SESE guided by Nestel, both of which had lengthy introductions in which the authors described their childhood traumas and how it led them to their present-day activism.

Another question that arises in the case of individuals like Mr. Balsam is, are they too stupid to understand the material they reference or are they intentionally deceitful about it? A case in point is his assertion that "Under the leadership of Vladimir (Ze'ev) Jabotinsky (1880-1940), the revisionist movement took a much more right-wing, even fascist, approach to the achievement of Zionist goals." 

Balsam cites Jabotinsky's famous "Iron Wall" article as proof of Zionism's "fascist" approach. But what fascist would write (in the same article, but which Balsam omitted):
"this does not mean that there cannot be any agreement with the Palestine Arabs. What is impossible is a voluntary agreement. As long as the Arabs feel that there is the least hope of getting rid of us, they will refuse to give up this hope in return for either kind words or for bread and butter, because they are not a rabble, but a living people. And when a living people yields in matters of such a vital character it is only when there is no longer any hope of getting rid of us, because they can make no breach in the iron wall. Not till then will they drop their extremist leaders, whose watchword is "Never!" And the leadership will pass to the moderate groups, who will approach us with a proposal that we should both agree to mutual concessions. Then we may expect them to discuss honestly practical questions, such as a guarantee against Arab displacement, or equal rights for Arab citizen, or Arab national integrity. And when that happens, I am convinced that we Jews will be found ready to give them satisfactory guarantees, so that both peoples can live together in peace, like good neighbours."
The "Iron Wall" that Jabotinsky alludes to is an enforced creation of a democratic Jewish state, and as he says in the essay:
"What need, otherwise, of the Balfour Declaration? Or of the Mandate? Their value to us is that outside Power has undertaken to create in the country such conditions of administration and security that if the native population should desire to hinder our work, they will find it impossible. And we are all of us, without any exception, demanding day after day that this outside Power, should carry out this task vigorously and with determination.  In this matter there is no difference between our "militarists" and our "vegetarians". Except that the first prefer that the iron wall should consist of Jewish soldiers, and the others are content that they should be British."
Say what one will about the British during the Palestinian Mandate, but their behavior was honorable and no intelligent, honest person could possibly describe it as "fascist."

One need not look far for other ludicrously misleading statements from Balsam, such as "many Canadian Jews, particularly workers in the garment industry, “rejected Zionism as unfeasible, in favor of class solidarity, or out of loyalty to a project of internationalist struggle for progressive social change."

Balsam doesn't even seem able to follow his own arguments from one paragraph to the next, because only a few pages earlier, he wrote, " Labour Zionism became the dominant Zionist ideology in the 1930s and remained so into the nascent years of Israeli statehood." Perhaps Balsam is unaware that the Garment industry was heavily unionized and formed the core of the Zionist Labour Movement in Canada in the 1930's.

Of course, intelligence and honesty are not hallmarks of OISE's SESE program, which seems exclusively devoted to demonization of western capitalist democracies, fanatical hatred of Israel and the promulgation of hare-brained racist theories hiding behind the veneer of "Equity Studies." The program  promotes values that are the polar opposite of what fair-minded democracies have been striving towards. As we as a society aspire to treat everyone on their own merits as an individual, SESE continues to proselytize an ideology that views everyone less as an individual than a representative of a racial group. An ample illustration is another Master's Thesis recently guided by Nestel that asserts that Western feminists opposed to female genital mutilation are motivated by racism and their obsession with genetalia.

It is an approach that can lead nowhere but continued racism, and the University of Toronto would be well advised to reconsider the continued existence of a program such as SESE which remains an embarrassment to the university's reputation.

UPDATE: Werner Cohn's analysis elucidates the total absence of scholarship in Balsam's thesis

h/t Sassy Wire

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