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Lead photo: Dr. Dean Peachey.
Photo by Rhonda Spivak

Lead photo: Prof. John Derkson
Photo by Rhonda Spivak

Photo: participants at the event.
Photo by Rhonda Spivak

Palestinian commenting at the event.
Photo by Rhonda Spivak



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

About 75-100 people attended a program at the University of Winnipeg billed as an interfaith discussion about the War between Israel and Hamas (Operation Cast Lead), but only a handful of Jews were present.  Most of the people who spoke criticized Israel’s actions but only a relative few criticized Hamas in any way.

The program held on January 15, 2009  was sponsored by the University of Winnipeg Global College, Faculty of Theology, Institute for Community Peace building, and the Winnipeg Mosaic. The sponsors began organizing the program on Tuesday January 13 and it was held on short notice two days later.

A page given to this reporter at the event  referred to  the “Second Commandment” of dialogue as follows:  

Second Commandment:  Interreligious, inter-ideological dialogue must be a two-sided project-within each religious or ideological community and between religious or ideological communities [emphasis added].

The moderator of the evening, and one of its organizer’s was Dr. Dean Peachey from Global College.

The  first speaker was Esther Blum who is a member of the Winnipeg Mosaic and said that as a humanist she has difficulty with all of the deaths in Gaza. She said that it was difficult for her to “hear the accusatory statements of both sides.” As someone who has lived in Israel for many years, and is a daughter of Holocaust survivors, 60 years after Israel’s birth, “it’s equally hard for me to be still hearing that we’d [Hamas] like to throw you [Jews] into the sea.” Nevertheless, she contends: violence can never bring peace. A whole new generation of Palestinians is growing up to hate us.
Alia Hart, a Muslim student at U of W, who is  a member  of the Winnipeg Mosaic, expressed her pain at seeing the “slaughter” in Gaza and referred to Israel with its “sophisticated army”  fighting against Palestinians, in a “one-sided “ battle.

John Derksen, a Mennonite Christian  who teaches conflict resolution at the Menno Simons College at U of W, and who is a member of Winnipeg Mosaic, criticized Israel’s “10 to  20 fold” retaliation of Hamas rockets and said “even if you wipe out Hamas, a new Hamas will emerge.”  He said only  non-violence will solve the conflict. He also asked the Palestinians “where are the Gandis and  Declerks and Mandellas among you?

One man, who said he was originally from East Germany , criticized Israel and referred to it as an “apartheid’ state. He said he had written in  several letters to the Winnipeg Free Press on this topic but his letters weren’t published, because  he said if  an opinion isn’t pro-Israel  “it doesn’t count.”   He said “I have been blacklisted by our Free Press which has Jewish owners.”  This same man also referred to the Jews being “cozy inside” the campus at the Stand For Israel rally whereas the “poor Palestinians” had to protest outside “in the cold.”

Retired Prof. of Political Science at U of  W, Rees Kahn  said that for the territorial conflict to ever be resolved “Orthodox Palestinians,  and  the suppliers of  Hamas, Iran and Syria, will have to accept the reality that nothing in the world will dislodge Israel’, and “that they’ll have to learn to live with it, and that “it is a pipedream to think that sending rockets onto Israel” will dislodge it.  He also said that  Israel will have to realize that “the promised land in its entirely can’t be regained’ and it  too will have to compromise.  In his view the conflict is “not likely to be resolved in the next 60 years.”

Louay Abghoul, a Canadian of Palestinian origin, said that “four of my family members [living in Gaza] have been killed in the last 20 days.” He said this is “not a religious war” but a war about occupation and Israel is the “occupier.

Idris Elbakri, a Palestinian Canadian said he was born in Jerusalem and has a Jordanian passport, and his wife has a passport from the Palestinian Authority and “We had to spend three hours [being questioned] getting into the United States,” and this always happens.  He said Palestinians “have been confined to a cage.”
A U of W student Ryan spoke about a video he said he saw IDF soldiers let a German Sheppard dog tear up a Palestinian woman in Gaza without calling the dog off her.

A Moslem women who spoke asked “How can we disarm Hamas and disarm Israel? We can’t give one party weapons and not the other.”

A U of W  Moslem professor who teaches Islamic Studies, said that “we need to see the complexities of  people’s identities,”  and each side is not “monolithic.” For example, she said there are Palestinians  who talk of a two state solution and “aren’t denying Israel as a state.”  She said “there are Jews who are upset and they don’t like the numbers either.”

A  U of W student,  Ashley whose “ grandmother’s mother was raised Jewish”  said she was scheduled to go on a  birthright trip to Israel  but  cancelled since she couldn’t “take a vacation to Israel” given events in Gaza.  She said, “Now many of my Jewish friends won’t talk to me.” She said  overall. “My heart goes out to Palestine.” She told this reporter that she used to go to JSA/Hillel but won’t likely continue to do so.

In a telephone interview, Samantha Loxton, Director of JSA/Hillel said that “Ashley has a different opinion than most members of JSA… We respect a diversity of opinion and we have never discouraged her from participating in JSA functions now or in the future.”

Several other speakers made presentations critical of Israel and/or of Zionism.

In response to questions from this reported about why the “ interfaith” event  contained lots of representation from the Moslem and Palestinian communities  but very few Jews, no Israelis, and no one from the  many pro-Israel organizations in the city, the organizers responded said they had sent an email to the Jewish Federation on Tuesday Jan  13, 2009. They said this was two days before the event which was when others were notified.

At the event, James Christie, Dean of Theology at U of W, said “I personally sent a personal invitation to the Jewish Federation on Jan 13, 2009.”
In a telephone interview on Jan 16, Shelley Faintuch, Director of Community for the Jewish Federation said that she received an email from Christie after she had left the office on Tuesday Jan 13, 2009 that said “FYI [For Your Information].

 “I would hardly call an FYI an invitation, especially since there was no request to re-circulate,” said  Faintuch.  She said she gets many emails that say FYI, and she didn’t consider that to be a direct invitation that made it clear that this was an event  the organizers wanted the organized Jewish community to attend.  She added ““some of the host organizations were not at all known to me.”

“I also received a couple of forwarded emails. I assumed they were also simply FYI's,” she said.

One she received was an  FWD email  (forwarded as part of a distribution list) from Esther Blum o

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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.