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The promo for the Faculty4Palestine Event

The initial promo for the Faculty4Palestine event using a U of M email address

Did The Faculty4Palestine Event Violate The Academic Freedom of Jewish/Zionist Students and U of M’s Policies? Only Questions in Support of Palestine Allowed. U of M Responds

by Rhonda Spivak, Feb 1, 2024

On January 19, 2024 the Winnipeg Jewish Review sent an email to President of U of M Michael Benarroch, indicating that the the Winnipeg Jewish Review had attended an event on Jan 17 between 6-7:30 PM on Zoom, which used the U of M's zoom license, the promo of which read as follows;

Faculty4PalestineMB present

Speaking Up for Palestine on Campus

A roundtable for university faculty,

staff and students in Manitoba.


The Winnipeg Jewish Review wrote to Benarroch as follows:


"There were six speakers, including two professors from U of W, 3 from U of M and one journalist from The Manitoban. Israel was described as a settler colonialist, apartheid, state committing genocide against Palestinians. After the six speakers made their presentation, U of M Prof Serenity Joo said that the only questions that would be allowed would be those that "support" Palestine. She said that questions that would not be focused on speaking out for Palestine would not be taken. 


From the wording of the promo, it certainly sounds as if all university students and faculty in Manitoba are welcome and this purported to be a bona fide academic event.


1.Is it not the case that the U of M's Respectful Work and Learning Environment (RWLE) Policy was violated in that attendees of this event were not allowed to pose questions which in any way challenged anything any of the speakers said, which is in violation of the academic freedom of those at the event who may have wished to present an alternative view, additional facts, or who disagreed or wished to engage in respectful debate?  


2. Further, Dr. Haskel Greenfield, a Distinguished Professor of Anthropology, who has identified publicly as believing in the right of Israel to exist as a state in the region, asked the following respectful question in the Chat:

"Do any of the panelists favour a two state solution? i. e. A Palestinian state in the West Bank, Gaza and East Jerusalem living in peace and security alongside a state of Israel, which is Canada’s position on the conflict?"

This question was not read out or answered. Even according to the (ridiculous) notion that only questions in support of Palestine would be answered, how is it the case that this question was not answered, in that it arguably was one that promoted a Palestinian state as part of a two state solution, and was therefore "in support" of Palestine ? 


3. Further, since Dr. Greenfield is coordinator of Judaic Studies at U of M, does the U of M administration acknowledge that, at the very least, it is possible that the failure to answer his respectful question was antisemitic in nature?


4. Isn't it a violation of the academic freedom of students and faculty who wished in any way to challenge the viewpoint of the speakers to not tell them at the outset of the event that their questions would not be answered, such that they could have decided to leave the event and not waste their time sitting through it. At the very least is it not a violation of the  U of M's Respectful Work and Learning Environment (RWLE) Policy to not state this extensive limitation on the right to pose questions at the outset of the event, or on the promo of the event ?  


5.  There was reference at the event to Zionist students feeling unsafe, but there was a distinction to be made between feeling hurt vs. harmed.  Prof Chigbo Arthur Anyaduba who spoke minimized the feeling of those who believe that Jews, like other peoples, have a right to self- determination, by saying that being disagreed with is different than finding your family has been killed in Gaza. He disregards Jewish friends/family being murdered, raped, beheaded, burned, their bodies desecrated in Southern Israel and hostage taking, which is ongoing. He also indicated that it needs to be recognized that these people are "privileged folks." Does the U of M administration agree that it is appropriate to minimize, insult the feelings of those Jewish students who believe in Israel's right to exist and who feel unsafe on campus ? Are stereotypes that Jews and/or Zionists are "privileged" or any other stereotype about Jews now acceptable at the University of Manitoba?


6. The organizers of the event did not indicate in advance who the presenting faculty members would be, even though they received the names of the individuals wishing to attend the event, before a zoom link was given. Is this fact not a violation of the academic freedom of those students and faculty who would have wanted to know who was speaking in order that they could conduct any research about the public statements of such presenters, for example, such that they could have better prepared the questions they wished to ask.? Isn't failure of the faculty presenting to identify themselves on the promo material of the event as is customary an infringement not only of the academic freedom of those who may have wished to better prepare themselves for the event, but also an infringement of the academic integrity and ethics of those presenters. Does this not tarnish the reputation of the U of M which allowed the organizers to use the U of M zoom license, without identifying in advance who the speakers would be at this event?


7. In order for a student or faculty member  to decide whether they wished to attend the event, is it not obviously foreseeable that they would want to know in advance who would be presenting. For example, if a student who believes in Israel's right to exist had  Professor Sinanan as their professor and they knew that they disagreed with her views, they may choose not to attend, but if they knew she wasn't speaking, then they may decide to attend the event. Similarly, a student who believes that  it is in the interests of the Palestinian people to rid themselves of Hamas, and spend their energies building Gaza as the "Singapore" of the Middle East instead of investing only in terror tunnels, may well have wished to know who was on the panel before deciding on whether to attend . They may wish to see if any of the speakers may have views that align or do not align with their views. A student who goes to U of W, may want to know if there are any  U of W professors on the panel, as if there are only U of M professors they may decide to attend, or not attend due to this factor. A student majoring in English may want to know if there is anyone in the Faculty of English  who is speaking, as if not, they would not attend.  A Jewish student who is feeling fearful on campus may be interested in attending but will only do so if none of their professors are speaking at the roundtable. Is it not a violation of the U of M's Respectful Work and Learning Environment (RWLE) Policy at U of M to not enable students  and faculty members to make an informed choice about whether they wished to attend this event or not, which naturally means they ought to know in advance who the presenters are ?


8. When is the last time the U of M allowed its resources to be used for an academic event where the organizers did not in any way put out publicity indicating in advance who would be speaking? 


9. Will the U of M be investigating the manner in which this event was carried out to determine if  it violated  the Respectful Work and Learning Environment (RWLE) Policy at U of M and the principles of academic freedom, and will the U of W report back to the community at large about the results of the investigation?


10. There is nothing in the U of M's Respectful Work and Learning Environment (RWLE) Policy which specifically refers to antisemitism. Given that the number one target of hate crimes in Canada is against Jews, will the U of M be prepared to change this policy to refer to antisemitism ? "


Myrrhanda Novak Executive Director,Strategic Communications,University of Manitoba, replied to the above questions as follows:


Thank you for your email. Michael is currently away, but I can provide you with the following response.


As I believe you're aware, this was not a UM event; it was organized by individual faculty members, from multiple institutions, who were each representing their own views. UM is committed to the principles of academic freedom and freedom of expression, and does not prevent individual faculty members from expressing their perspectives through events such as this one. UM also enforces a respectful work and learning environment, free from discrimination or harassment. While we have yet to receive any formal complaints about this event, we are determining whether what transpired reflects a violation of UM policies, and will have further discussions with organizers.


UM’s Respectful Work and Learning Environment Policy is founded on the characteristics identified in Manitoba’s Human Rights Code – while antisemitism, and other forms of discrimination, are not specifically referenced, both the policy and code are inclusive of antisemitism. UM has spoken out against antisemitism and taken numerous steps to support a safe campus environment for all community members. UM is committed to addressing issues of antisemitism through a series of discussions, dialogues and resources designed to educate and raise awareness on our campuses."


On Jan 28, the Winnipeg Jewish Review wrote again too to President Benarroch, asking  if the Faculty4Palestine Event  was not a U of M event, then why was there a U of M email address ([email protected]) given out on the promo poster on X as captured in screenshot, which indicates that this promo received 2.3 K views? Anyone seeing this would naturally conclude it was a U of M event.


On Jan 30, Myrrhanda Novak responded, “I am happy to address your follow up question and want to stress that individual faculty members do not speak for the university, nor does the university speak for individual faculty members. Shortly after the post was first made, UM connected with the organizer to communicate that it was not appropriate to use the UMIH email in this way, as this event was hosted by Faculty4Palestine and not UMIH. The organizer was understanding of this concern and informed us that they would circulate an updated poster with different contact information.”

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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.