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OP-ED THE AUDACITY OF HOLDING A ONE-SIDED INTERFAITH DISCUSSION

Calling on Axworthy to hold a balanced dialogue on U of W.

By Rhonda J Spivak, B.A., L.L.B.

[Editor’s note :This article was first published earlier this year in January 2009]

On January 15, 2009 the University of Winnipeg Global College, Faculty of Theology, Institute for Community Peacebuilding, and the Winnipeg Mosaic held a program billed as “The Audacity of Conversation” an “Interfaith Discussion about the War between Israel and Hamas. 

The event was one sided and unbalanced in its make up and presentation.  In  a room packed with  many pro-Palestinian supporters, only a small handful of  Jews were  present, and out of that small handful there were some non Zionists of the radical left. This was clearly not anywhere close to being a representative sample of our Jewish community.  As a result the event lacked intellectual integrity.

An  article in the Jerusalem Post  on Jan. 22 quoted an official of the Palestinian Authority -in Ramallah as saying that Israel made a "big mistake" by ending Operation Cast Lead without overthrowing the Hamas regime in the Gaza Strip.  “The fact that Hamas is still in power is bad for all,” the PA official said.
It’s interesting that a PA official made a  much more strident statement about Hamas than anything I heard from almost  all of  those who spoke at the interfaith event  at  the University of Winnipeg on January 15 ( A notable exception was Retired Professor Rees Khan, whose comments showed me that he truly understands the dangers of Hamas as an obstacle to a negotiated settlement of the conflict.) 

John Derksen, Assistant Professor of  Conflict Resolution at Menno Simons College ,the second speaker at U of W’s event, told me after the event that he doesn’t have any “strong opinions” about a two state verses a one state solution  in the land that is Israel, the West Bank  and Gaza .  With all due respect, Mr. Derksen’s  position reveals  that  he doesn’t appear to understand  that that Jews of Israel will never agree to a “bi-national state” or a “one democratic state,” which could see Jews becoming a minority in a state with a Palestinian majority. I  don’t know too many Israeli Jews who would be willing to live under a Palestinian regime—do you sir?   

Libyan leader Muhammar Kaddafi  in an article published in the New York Times on January 21, 2009,  has  advocated a one state solution, with a right of return to “accommodate all of the refugees.”  And Jews recognize that what Kaddafi is really saying is that there ought no longer be a Jewish state in the Middle East— in short- a  call for the destruction of Israel.

With all due respect, Mr. Derksen’s position reveals his complete lack of understanding that continuing to talk about a “bi-national state” or “one democratic state,” in which Jews would become a minority in a state with a Palestinian majority, simply feeds the illusions that maintain the cover for the continuation of war by groups like Hamas.

On January 10, Tom Oleson wrote a column in the Winnipeg Free Press in which he said that the  “Israeli Defence Force responds in self-defence by pounding the Gaza Strip from the air, the sea and the ground.  Disproportional? Perhaps. Justified? Absolutely.”  

Oleson wrote, “It is more difficult to understand the virulence of opposition that exists to the existence of Israel on the part of the so-called democratic left in Canada and other Western societies.”

Oleson went on to criticized the proposal by Sid Ryan  the president of CUPE's Ontario branch, to ban Israeli academics "unless they explicitly condemn the (bombing of the Islamic University in Gaza) and the assault on Gaza in general."
 
Dr Dean Peachy of  Global College, who was the moderator at the event at U of W wrote a letter to the editor in the  Winnipeg Free Press published on January 19,  in which he said  “I challenge Tom Oleson, Charles Adler and everyone in our city and province to take time this month to have a substantive dialogue with someone with whom they disagree about Middle East issues.”  

Unfortunately, Dr Peachy has not practiced what he preaches, in that he himself organized a non-balanced, one sided dialogue where there was no one present to defend a whole slew of criticisms of Israel, Zionism and Jews. 

Similarly, while Prof. John Derksen told me that he is concerned most about the PROCESS for resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, it’s unfortunate that he doesn’t appear to have been nearly as concerned about the process of setting up a balanced interfaith dialogue on U of W campus.

It’s also interesting to note that when Dr. Peachy, himself an academic,  wrote  a letter in response to Oleson’s  article nowhere did Peachy voice any opposition to Sid Ryan’s call for a boycott of Israeli academics on Ontario campuses. Dr.  Peachy could have written that as a proponent of dialogue, he opposed any efforts to ban the voices of Israeli academics, but Dr. Peachy didn’t say this.

In fact, I urge readers to search the internet to read the complete article by Tom Oleson and then read Dr. Peachy’s complete response. It is worth reading in its entirety to see not only what Dr. Peachy wrote, but what he omitted to write ( i.e. an affirmation that Israel has the right to exist.)

While the people who attended the U of W all have the right to express their opinions, an event ought not be billed as an “interfaith” dialogue about the war between Israel and Hamas unless the organizers take proper care to ensure that the Jewish community is fully and actively engaged.  At no time did this reporter hear from any of the organizers  that anyone actually picked up the phone to invite a Jewish group to the event.  Sending “FYI” emails to one or two people in a Jewish community that has a myriad group  of Israel/Jewish organizations can hardly suffice, under the circumstances.  Additionally, there was no reason given why an event dealing with such sensitive issues had to be organized with giving at most two days notice.  If the sponsoring organizations want to engage in a substantive dialogue, then it’s incumbent upon them to do much better than they did.  As a result of what has occurred, it is not surprising if the Jewish community understandably would be hesitant to attend another program organized and moderated by Dr. Dean Peachy. 

The  President of  the University of Winnipeg,  Dr Lloyd Axworthy, is a former Foreign Minister of Canada.  I call on you Dr. Axworthy to organize a balanced and fair interfaith dialogue at  your campus under your moderation- where all stakeholders get proper and ample notice.  Because as it stands now, my community is not very pleased with the way things have been handled.
 

 
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Rhonda Spivak, Editor

Publisher: Spivak's Jewish Review Ltd.


Opinions expressed in letters to the editor or articles by contributing writers are not necessarily endorsed by Winnipeg Jewish Review.