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CAMPUS ANTISEMITISM: COMBATING ISRAEL APARTHEID WEEK ON CAMPUS - THOUGHTFUL ENGAGEMENT REQUIRED

ATTEMPT TO BAN IAW IS LOSING BATTLE - BUILDING AN ISRAELI MARKET, BAGELS AND SIZE DOESN'T MATTER CAMPAIGN ISN'T ENOUGH

by Dr. Catherine Chatterley, November 15, 2010

[Editor's note: The following presentation was delivered by Dr. Catherine Chatterley at the Expert's Forum of the Interparliamentary Coalition for Combating Antisemitism (ICCA) Conference, which was hosted by the Canadian government in Ottawa, Nov. 7-9, 2010. ]

In her lecture, Dr. Chatterley refers to the Size Doesn't Matter Campaign  2010 inaugural video that compared Israel to a man's genitals, and was promoted in 2010 on campuses. The video was produced by the Canadian Federation of Jewish Students and promoted with the apparent backing of Hillels and CIJA (Canadian Council for Israel /Jewish Advocacy). The video depicts a couple in bed with the woman looking at the man's penis saying she can't go there because "it's too small." The man replies, "I consider this a spot of worship. It may be small, but it's brought the driest places to life. Baby, this is paradise." The camera then pans to Israel maps and pocket guides placed strategically on the man's lower parts. The idea behind the video was to drive young people to the Size Doesn't Matter website that contained valuable facts about Israel, its culture and innovation and promoted it as a tourist destination. Some people liked the video and others thought it was in bad taste (no punn intended). The Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs pulled the video off its website, when it garnered controversy.]  See video: 

 

Presentation to the ICCA Expert’s Forum Workshop on Campus Antisemitism

By Dr. Catherine Chatterley, Founding Director, Canadian Institute for the Study of Antisemitism (CISA) http://www.can-isa.com

Rather than attempt to present a sustained discussion of a complex problem in such a short amount of time, I will,

instead, mention four dimensions of our  subject that are of significant concern to me as a Canadian scholar

and educator, and particularly as a historian whose specific research and teaching specialization is

Antisemitism and the Holocaust:

 
1. Form and Content
It might be helpful to separate form from content in order to understand the dynamics at work in some of the problems on campus, problems that may or may not manifest as antisemitic, as the case may be. There are two major worlds on campus that have collided and that collude as well and they require separation and delineation in order to understand them. There is the practice of academic discussion and debate, on one hand, and there is activism and political advocacy, on the other. They are not the same, they do not share the same values and tactics, and I would argue that the latter (activism) too easily bullies the former (reasoned discussion).
 
Activism has a long and proud history on university campuses and it makes sense that students want to act on what they are learning, particularly if injustice is at hand. The basic moral impulse at work here is idealistic and respectable. It is, in essence, a desire to help right a wrong and to alleviate suffering. However, the form that this impulse takes is often aggressive—both rhetorically and sometimes physically—and it is perceived as threatening by those targeted by such activism. What we see on activist campuses is a venting of rage and frustration over seemingly intractable political problems that one has no actual power to influence or change. And this frustrated rage is directed toward those students and faculty who identify, or are identified, with the target of that rage. So if the Jewish State is the target of one’s rage, Jewish students and faculty become legitimate local targets—proxies if you will—in the struggle against oppression. In this hostile, polarized climate, Jews—students, faculty, alumni, and even administrators—are pressured to publicly identify with one side or the other, and the effects are felt throughout the university structure.
 
It is possible that this potentially toxic climate—which varies widely from campus to campus and city to city—requires a new charter for all university campuses that outlines the rules of conduct for both academic discussion and campus activism. To have effect, the charter would have to be produced by faculty, based upon consensus, and universally applied to all universities in Canada. Focusing on behavior—form rather than content—may help us to reach agreement on how to return civility to campuses like York and Concordia and to protect the civility that still exists on others like those in Manitoba. I would imagine that all faculty—regardless of their own political perspectives—would agree that the university must be a place that operates within the bounds of professional academic discourse—reasoned, mutually respectful, and based upon an accurate, demonstrative, evidentiary record. 
 
2. Bans and Bagels will not work
The attempt to ban Israel Apartheid Week (IAW) on Canadian campuses does not have the support of faculty, and is in fact seen as a totalitarian tactic to suppress dissent and to censor discussion of the Arab-Israeli conflict. From my own discussions with colleagues, it is clear that even those faculty who reject entirely the fallacious comparison between Israel and South Africa under Apartheid (1948-1994) will never support a ban on campus discussion of any subject matter. However flawed the analogy may be intellectually, the vast majority of faculty are not convinced that the comparison between Israel and South Africa constitutes hate speech. The exception here of course is agitation on campus that specifically calls for genocide or violence against individuals, which is illegal under Canadian law.
 
It is perhaps important to note that pushing for a ban on IAW has negative implications that both draw from, and feed, the antisemitic imagination. Jewish organizations, Jewish students, Jewish alumni (who are better known as donors), and Jewish lawyers are perceived to be in cahoots to ban critical discussion of Israel, which of course translates into muzzling dissent and censoring “the truth”. Unfortunately, this convinces many that the Israel-Apartheid argument has some validity because it has the Jewish community on the run, as it were; it “proves” to many that Jewish organizations are reactionary and work through elites (this conference itself is largely perceived along these lines by individuals in Canada); and, it convinces some that in fact Jewish organizations are like Israel itself, which in their view is anti-democratic and repressive. This kind of authoritarian policy, it is argued, has no place on university campuses in a democratic nation like Canada.
 
The attempt to ban IAW on Canadian campuse
 
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