Friday, February 20, 2009

Fruit of the Poisoned Tree - Part 2

Last night was parent-teacher interviews. It was not one of my more stellar parenting moments. My son and I ended up in one of those parent-teen rip-roaring agruments which I have learned from experience just doesn’t go well for anyone. We were in one of his teacher’s office discussing what she felt was impeding my son from progressing academically in her class. She characterized his attitude towards the subject material as being one of constant mockery and ridicule. He claimed he was just expressing and exercising his critical thinking skills.

I made, what I thought was a rather benign statement, suggesting that mockery and ridicule, while critical in nature, is not necessarily observing any given issue with a critical eye. Mocking and ridicule are about taking sides or positions on any given issue while critical thinking requires an objective eye to observe and examine an issue from inside out, and therefore, requires one maintain a degree of objectivity. We haven’t had an all-out, rip-roaring argument like this since he took to reading the Talmud in secret last year and we got into an argument which lasted weeks concerning whether it was necessary to lie to be dishonest.

Yes, this kind of argument and hairspliting, which passes as standard fare at Chateau Kateland. Welcome to my family. Honestly, somedays its like living with the entire Law Society of Upper Canada contained within 8 rooms. So what brings this on? Well, Dr. Dawg, has this to say on his blog about something I wrote and I quote.

And do check out Kateland's riposte at Dust My Broom. I'd like to respond, but I'm banned there.* Suffice it to say that her account is flawed in a number of respects: it uses dubious testimony, and incidents elsewhere, to justify the suppression of a poster on the campus of Carleton University. One doesn't have to be a free speech absolutist to see where that kind of argument leads us.

Now to give the good Dawg credit, he does tack on a small note at the bottom of his post stating he is not banned from commenting at The Last Amazon where I run my own blog. But what irks me is how quickly he rushes into judgment and hints at mockery. For example, “dubious testimony” and “incidents elsewhere to justify the suppression of a poster”.

What dubious testimony? I hardly think two video links showing some pro-Palestinian demonstrators in action last month in Toronto and Montreal can rightly claim the mantle of dubious testimony – unless he means to imply one should never observe those tapes and make the mistake using one’s lying eyes and ears while watching.

Or perhaps, he is calling the eyewitness account of Sara Ahronheim who experienced the riot at Concordia University first hand and her experience as reported at Aish dubious. I did a summarily search this morning on Sara Ahronheim and found absolutely nothing which would cast doubt on her character or her experience at the Concordia riot or Aish. If anyone can find evidence to the contrary – do share.

So if there is no evidence to presume the character of Sara Ahronheim is dubious, I’m not quite sure what Dawg is implying here, unless it is because Sara Ahronheim is a Jew, and therefore, her character should be assumed to naturally be dubious or was it because her account was reported in a well-known Jewish online journal, and without evidence supplied to the contrary, is he suggesting the Jewish journal should be innately suspect and therefore judged dubious. Then there is the report carried in Hillel of Greater Toronto and penned by Daniel Ferman concerning recent events at York University in Toronto. It was also widely reported in other news outlets but I choose Hillel, because it is a well-known Jewish campus community group. It is Hillel or Daniel Ferman whose nature and character are deemed to be ‘dubious’, and again for what reason? Either way this doesn’t smell good on the Dawg’s behalf.

Now as far as the events from elsewhere charge goes, I decided to do a little online summary research into the state of relations for Jews at Carleton University and found this article at the Canadian Jewish News and written by someone who was a Jewish student at Carleton.
Staring at the swastikas drawn on my campaign posters, my first reaction was sadness and regret. It was February 2007, and I was running for student body president at Carleton University. Another one of my posters had a Hitler moustache drawn on my face. I had two options at the time. One, take the posters down and replace them without raising a ruckus. Two, lodge an official complaint with the chief electoral officer, go to the media and make it an issue. I chose the first option.

I decided from the outset that I did not want my religion to be an issue. I did not want my positive campaign for change in student leadership to be defined by anti-Semitism. It was a missed opportunity on my part to shed light on an emerging problem on campuses across Canada: a rise in anti-Semitism.

(…)Most of my colleagues at Carleton either don’t think anti-Semitism is truly a problem or don’t see the point of raising it as an issue. At one Shabbat dinner I attended with three members of the Jewish fraternity in Ottawa, I speculated about ideas for my next column. I suggested anti-Semitism on campus, and one friend immediately stated his opposition to the idea, before recalling his own brush with anti-Semitism in first year when someone drew a swastika on his dorm room door. The sudden flashback gave him pause.

The desire on the part of many Jewish students is to move on. Our society is for the most part accepted on campus, and quite simply, we are sick of playing the role of victim. Our community is so strong in so many ways, it almost feels like sour grapes to get up in arms over a piece of childish graffiti. Meanwhile, on campuses today, it is a fear of racism against Islamic students that dominates campaigns to end hate. But the truth is, the number of Muslim students is vastly greater than the Jewish population, and I have found anti-Muslim sentiment to be nearly non-existent on campus. In fact, Muslim students have their own prayer room at Carleton and have been allowed to use other spaces to pray and hold events. No such permanent space exists for Jewish students.

At Carleton, I constantly hear stories about how professors teaching Middle East history courses have started to make anti-Israel and anti-Semitic dialogue part of their lectures. I tell people who experience this to go to the university Senate, the top academic body at the school, and raise their concerns. But again for the most part I get shrugs, as if there is nothing we can do and this must be accepted as the norm. It’s suggested that these types of professors will simply always exist, and it isn’t worth our breath to protest because then all we will be seen as is a bunch of complainers. This is a dangerous view and must be disavowed by Jewish student leaders.

We are a small community on the campuses in Ottawa, and as a result some students, especially younger ones, are hesitant to speak up about their faith. After all, when you walk through the famous tunnel system linking all buildings at Carleton and see that it is the Jewish Students’ Association mural that is almost always vandalized, then what is one to think? (...)One day I want to come back to Carleton and walk through the halls and see a Jewish Students’ Association mural untouched, a symbol that we are accepted on campus.

So what would Dr. Dawg make of this account? And should we just make the blanket assumption that there is an innate dubious quality to the character of Mark Masters and/or the Canadian Jewish News? Or both? Are we to just sweep away this account under the ‘dubious testimony’ defense? But the larger question is; why Dawg and his ink do not believe a University Administration owes a duty of care to protect a small minority group on campus from unnecessary incitement and potential acts of violence and intimidation?

Reminder: Full comment moderation will commence from tonight until Saturday evening/Sunday morning.


Dr.Dawg said...

To start with, something on the lighter side:

She characterized his attitude towards the subject material as being one of constant mockery and ridicule. He claimed he was just expressing and exercising his critical thinking skills.

Rock on, kid. She'll teach. He'll do.

Carleton's my school. Past and present. I'm curious: have Jewish students actually asked for a prayer room? Have they been refused? That would move me to take action.

Or perhaps it was a foil for the fact the Muslims asked for, and received, a prayer room. There wasn't one during my first cycle. Muslims and Jews--binary opposites? The assumption, unspoken but everywhere evident, that Muslims are the source of campus anti-Semitism?

But to even weightier matters. University administrations, in some quarters, are being portrayed as cowed into submission by angry Palestinian/Muslim activists. Yet the very opposite seems to be the case. Recent revelations about the University of Toronto administration conniving to torpedo pro-Palestinian events, some other campus banning the phrase "Israeli apartheid," and now Carleton sending us all threatening memos and tearing down posters that remind us of the human cost of the Israeli mailed fist--things aren't exactly plain sailing for the voices critical of Israel these days.

And then the dodgy arguments: that when someone (say myself) refuses to draw a connection between, for example, a demonstration that got out of hand at Concordia years ago and Carleton's actions right now (a campus that has always been peaceful), I am either blind or disingenuous. That when I refuse to take as absolute, unvarnished truth a breathless and clearly biased account of events at York (about which I shall soon be blogging, so stay tuned), that I am doing so--because the author is Jewish. How can one respond to such accusations without inevitably being put on the defensive? I don't want to debate on those terms.

Because anti-Semitism is the new Communism, and rooting it out in every conceivable quarter is the task of the new McCarthyists. They are indeed busy: whenever something happens in the Middle East, there is a surge of denunciations and suppression right here at home. Inevitably, every new charge of anti-Semitism is accompanied by the bold and empty disclaimer: "Of course, not all criticism of Israel is anti-Semitic...". I have learned to duck when I see that phrase. It always serves as an introduction to yet another accusatory statement in which the specific criticism of Israel at hand is, yes, another instance of anti-Semitism. I have yet to see these criticisms of Israel that are permitted: the weather in Askelon? The infrequency of bus service in parts of Tel Aviv? Perhaps we might be furnished with a helpful checklist, just to keep us out of trouble.

In the meantime we are literally and metaphorically under the gun, there and here. We can't mention casualties in Gaza without someone raising the Blood Libel. We can't name the on-going dispossession of the Bedouins in the south Negev (people in a recognized village, so-called, had their homes bulldozed the other day)--ethnic cleansing. Or the separate roads for Palestinians in the West Bank, and the harassing checkpoints, and the unchecked murderous fanatics called by that oh-so-carefully chosen word "settlers"--apartheid. We'll be called to account for it. We are anti-Semites. Remember the Holocaust. Well, half of it, anyway.

If even a poster that reminds us of the carnage in Gaza is to be torn down, and our students threatened with expulsion, we have, I think, moved into a new phase of the struggle. And we'll fight back--not because we are Jew haters, which we are not, but simply because we aren't used to this, and we don't like it, and we won't put up with it.

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