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Dr. Sean Byrne

 
Editorial: It's Time for U of M to Follow Axworthy's Lead and Organize Events that Promote Constructive Dialogue re: Middle East

by Rhonda Spivak, March 16, 2012

  
by Rhonda Spivak


Dr Sean Byrne, Director of the Arthur V Mauro Centre for Peace and Justice at St. Paul's College at the University of Manitoba, was speaking at an event in late February on anti-Semitism, sponsored by B'nai Brith Canada and the Jewish Heritage Centre.

At that event both David Matas, Senior Counsel of B'nai Brith, and Yude Henteleff, moderator for the evening, made it clear that they thought Israeli Apartheid Week ought to be banned from campuses.

My own view is that this is just not going to happen given the wide scope of freedom of political speech in Canada, and therefore it is more worthwhile to promote other options.

I like the model Lloyd Axworthy, President of the University of Winnipeg, has taken, which is to pro-actively organize a series of events that present the issues in the Middle East in a more balanced way without demonizing and singling out Israel for all of the region's ills. Most of the proponents of IAW I have met are not interested in reaching a genuine two state solution, but have an agenda of turning Israel into Palestine and wiping it off the map. (See my article on Palestinian Huwaida Araf,
http://www.winnipegjewishreview.com/article_detail.cfm?id=908&sec=6&title=WOMAN_WHO_PLANNED_THE_FLOTILLA_TO_GAZA__WAS_AT_ISRAEL_APARTHEID_WEEK_HERE.)
 
Dalit Baum, who spoke at IAW this year, said that she doesn't believe in states, and it doesn't matter to her if there is one state, two states, three states etc--but she does believe in giving the Palestinian refugees the right of return (she didn't mention any limits to this). If you take her remarks to their logical conclusion, I think she is talking about the end of the State of Israel --and even though she doesn't believe in states, she wasn't talking criticising  any other state in the region other than Israel. 
 
The session presented by the Arab-Jewish Dialogue group at University of Winnipeg this year (and last) is a means of providing interested students and members of the general public with a venue to engage in serious discussion regarding the complexities of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, without demonizing Israel and laying all of the blame for the conflict on her doorstep. This type of dialogue is much more befitting an academic institution than IAW.

Last year, the approach adopted by the University of Winnipeg administration made international news when we published an article in the Jerusalem Post about it. "The most effective response to it [IAW] was a series of opportunities for Arab-Jewish dialogue," Axworthy said at the time.
http://www.jpost.com/JewishWorld/JewishNews/Article.aspx?id=212031.
 
The University of Winnipeg again took this approach and scheduled two weeks of events in March this year. That didn’t mean that IAW will not occur at University of Winnipeg, but students and the university community at least were  exposed to a better model for examining complicated issues. http://www.winnipegjewishreview.com/article_detail.cfm?id=2166&sec=2&title=U_of_W__Administration_Sponsors_Events_For_Next_Two_Weeks_Re:_Middle_East_to_Promote_Dialogue_And_Counter-Balance__IAW-_See_Schedule_Here
 
I see no reason why University of Manitoba administration under the leadership of Dr. Barnard couldn't also put forth programming similar to U of W's initiative. In fact, the two universities could co-ordinate and offer programming together.
 
The Arthur V Mauro Centre for Peace and Justice at U of M is one of the few centres for peace and conflict studies in the world, and although it may only have 3-4 people on staff, it could be a component in a U of M program sponsored by the administration to explore a variety of issues facing the Middle East in a tolerant environment, to encourage constructive dialogue rahter than the week of continuous Israel-bashing that is IAW. 

Dr Barnard, I urge you to show that extremist positions do not have to be the only ones heard on campus, and to provide a venue for thoughtful exchange consistent with the purpose and mission of your Centre for Peace and Justice.  I urge you to show leadership in this area and to implement a program similar to what the University of Winnipeg has implemented.
 
At the end of the presentation on anti-Semitism, Dr Byrne told me that he is a member of the Arab-Jewish Dialogue. To the best of my knowledge, the AJD has never appeared at U of M. Hopefully, a suitable way to bring them will be found through a program initiated by the U of M administration, in collaboration with the Arthur Mauro Centre for Peace and Justice, or through other departments.
 
Jessica Sennihi, the Associate Director of the Arthur V. Mauro Centre for Peace and Justice, has been assessing the Jerusalem Stories Project with two other academics. Jerusalem Stories harnesses the power of personal stories and portrait photographs to promote empathy between Israeli Jews and Palestinians, a critical component of sustainable peace. Jerusalem Stories enables people to develop a human perspective on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict by presenting the deeply moving experiences of a broad variety of Jerusalem residents whose lives have been profoundly affected by years of violent conflict. In these stories and photographs it is possible to see both oneself and the other. [for more on this, http://www.jerusalemstories.org/about.htm]
 
With proper support from U of M’s administration, Byrne and Sennihi can put forward a program that is far more conducive to promoting constructive engagement vis a vis the Israeli-Palestinian issue than Israeli Apartheid Week or Boycott Divestment Sanctions events on campus will ever prove to  be. In short, it is time for the University of Manitoba’s administration to lead from the front, as has the University of Winnipeg’s administration.
 
 
 
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Rhonda Spivak, Editor

Publisher: Spivak's Jewish Review Ltd.


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