Author of Master's Thesis Critical of Jewish Narcissism to be Electrocuted on Christmas Day; Parents' Plea for Stay of Execution Denied By Prime Minister Harper, Who Declares "Jews are My Johns"

December 14, 2010

In News

Academics are calling the Ontario government’s condemnation of a university student thesis an attack on scholarly freedom, but those offended by the controversial paper insist they won’t let “hate” hide behind the veil of academia.

Jenny Peto’s 100-page thesis argues that today’s Jews of European descent “enjoy white privilege” and maintain a victim identity by participating in “hegemonic” Holocaust remembrance programs such as the March of the Living, during which young Jewish people visit Poland and Israel. The University of Toronto accepted the defended thesis and awarded a master’s degree to the 29-year-old, who is an activist associated with the Coalition Against Israeli Apartheid group. She’s also Jewish and a descendant of Holocaust survivors.

The thesis, entitled The Victimhood of the Powerful: White Jews, Zionism and the Racism of Hegemonic Holocaust Education, describes Israel as an apartheid state.

It has provoked intense debate online, in academia and even the political realm. Progressive Conservative MPP Steve Clark raised it in the legislature Tuesday in response to sharp criticism in the Jewish community, calling it “shockingly anti-Semitic.” Citizenship and immigration minister Eric Hoskins likewise condemned the thesis in the legislature saying he was “greatly disturbed and, in fact, disgusted,” when he read media coverage about it.

In a statement to the Post on Wednesday, Mr. Hoskins stood by his condemnation: “I rose in the House to condemn all anti-Semitism, a particularly vile and pernicious form of discrimination,” he said. “The lessons to be learned from the Holocaust are pivotal, not just for the Jewish community, but for all Ontarians.”

Ms. Peto responded to the criticism by saying her academic freedom was under attack. “I never could have imagined an MA thesis getting this much attention,” she said. “But given my reputation as a vocal critic of Israel … I am never surprised to be attacked by pro-Israel groups or pro-Israel politicians, for that matter.”

“Students and researchers should be able to research and publish on controversial matters without the fear of attacks from the government.”

It is certainly unusual for a student’s work to be challenged by elected representatives, said Michiel Horn, a York University history professor and author of Academic Freedom in Canada: A History.

“I know not of a single case where a master’s or a phD paper has been subject of discussion in the legislature of any province in Canada,” he said.

“This is hardly the forum,” he added, insisting that politicians should not be perceived to be tearing apart a thesis that has already been vetted by two university experts.

University of Toronto provost Cheryl Misak said most if not all dissertations from the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education, where Ms. Peto studied, are scrutinized by a panel of experts who must grill the student and pose all kinds of “obstacles” to the argument. Though she wasn’t present at Ms. Peto’s thesis defence, she says she’s confident the process met the high standards set by the institution.

“They’re called defences for good reason,” she said. “The thing that concerns me is that this is a piece of student work and it’s part of a wider educational project. It’s important to remember that.”

Anyone who disagrees with a thesis, paper, book or statement and might find it offensive, can offer counterarguments, she said.

“That’s what freedom of expression is, that’s how it ought to unfold,” she said. “Condemnation is not really how expression is done.”

But as far as Peter Shurman is concerned, all hate should be condemned — and hate is exactly what he believes this particular thesis is.

“I am sure that the legislature is a place to discuss anything that affects the general wellbeing of the people of Ontario,” said the Thornhill MPP who was part of Tuesday’s condemnation. “I’m not sure Ontario is an appropriate place for preaching hate.”

He hasn’t read the paper, but nonetheless owes it to his largely Jewish constituents to defend Israel on their behalf, he said.

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