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Ross McCormack

U of W History Prof Ross McCormack: 'Palestine and Genocide' Event by U of W Profs in Nov 2023 brought the University into Disrepute -Read the letter the Uniter did not publish

by Ross McCormack, Feb 23, 2024


[The piece below was sent to the U of W's  publication The Uniter, but it was not published. The letter below has been edited by the Winnipeg Jewish Review slightly for clarity.]


The Abraham Global Peace Initiative considers the University of Winnipeg’s efforts to combat antisemitism and protect its Jewish community members a relative failure. That sad reality derives from a pro-Palestinian event held at the Institution and on zoom  after the Hamas atrocities. Organized by a Collective, the title of late November’s “teach-in” "Palestine and Genocide: Reflections on Imperialism, Settler Colonialism and Decolonization" hardly promised an objective academic exploration of the complex tragedy unfolding on the border between Israel and Gaza. Indeed, the event’s dogmatic and simplistic narrative has brought the University into disrepute.


The teach-in systematically violated the principles clearly enunciated by President Mondor, principles that were meant to inform discussion of the Gaza war. Presenters and panelists abused the specified norms of the University under which they posed.


Under the subterfuge of University sponsorship and the pretense of academic teaching, the event was nothing more than a propaganda session.  Only the most extreme Hamas narrative was presented, dubious political assertions, anachronistic historical dogma and loopy conspiracy theories. The views of one person at the roundtable were so extreme as to be ludicrous.


 Teaching in the academy entails dialogue. There was none. No authentic Israeli or Jewish voice was allowed to be heard. Carefully selected, the token Jew, who espoused non-sensical conspiracy theories and, hardly provided the “richness of…diversity” claimed by the Collective. But the Collective made no claim to objectivity. It asserted “scholarly work …does not require neutrality, unbiased opinion or an ‘all sides’ approach to discussion.” There certainly was no attempt at balance. When a few adversaries challenged the dogma, they were either shouted-down or castigated as racist. Throughout, the fast and loose use of the term Zionism was chilling.


Sadly, in addition to the dogmatism of the Collective, there is another reason for the relatively muted Jewish voice of challenge at the teach-in. Jews are alarmed-and rightly so- by the antisemitism that is sweeping across Canada. Bitter memories of  over two millenia of persecution dictate private caution and public reticence. Events such as the teach-in only exacerbate that fear, as the Abraham Initiative has warned.  Students of mine have told me that they encounter anti-Semitism on campus, and indeed the Jewish presence at the University appears substantially less prominent than in past years. 


From the time the teach-in was announced, there were expressions of concern, from both within and outside the University, from both Christians and Jews about the public consequences of such a biased and simplistic exposition of a highly complex issue. Some of those expressions called for cancellation of the event. Wisely the University Administration insisted on the sanctity of academic freedom; to have done other wise, President Mondor would have given hostages to fortune. Had the University cancelled the event, the Collective would have vociferously donned the cloak of martyrdom, decrying “McCarthyism.”  Still, it was the teach-in itself  that demonstrated  the abuse of academic freedom by allowing the presenters to violating the academic freedom of  others by suppressing legitimate questions. No one was allowed to challenge any of the dogma of the presenters. The principle of academic freedom cannot be allowed to foster a notion of moral equivalence between Israel and Hamas. Israeli self-defence and Hamas atrocities are different.  


Apparently, the teach-in didn’t teach much. UW faculty and students appear to have ignored the teach-in as a non-event, an exclusionary and self-righteous rant among the faithful. Be that as it may, this is not a time for complacency. The teach-in damaged the reputation of the University. So, UW citizens of good will now must bend every effort to ensure that the Institution restores the confidence of in particular Jewish students and in general the Jewish community.


About the author: Ross McCormack has been appointed in the University of Winnipeg for over fifty years, serving as Associate Dean of Arts, Vice-President Academic, acting President and Director of the Institute of Political and Cultural Studies of the Americas. He has also been appointed in the University of London and the Pontifical Catholic University of Peru. He has long been interested in the Middle East, visiting and working in Israel including Gaza, Egypt, Libya, Jordan and the Gulf. He is currently Professor of History.





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