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Mike Fegelman

Itay Zutra, U of M lecturer in Judaic Studies Tried to Have Jewish Heritage Centre Cancel its Speaker Fegelman of Honest Reporting

by Rhonda Spivak, April 10, 2024



Dr. Itay Zutra, a lecturer in the Judaic Studies program at University if Manitoba began a petition a number of weeks ago calling on the Jewish Heritage Centre to cancel its Kane Lecture, with speaker Mike Fegelman, of Honest Reporting. Zutra claimed that Fegelman’s work curtails criticism of Israel.


It’s interesting to note that Zutra’s “go-to” choice was to have Fegelman’s right to free speech cancelled. It is somewhat ironic that a university professor  and other professors like Zutra called for Fegelman’s right to free speech to be cancelled, even though these individuals certainly would want their own rights to free speech to be protected on campus and elsewhere. (As an aside, how would Zutra like it if I started a petition to have his classes at U of M cancelled because I disagreed with his opinions as they pertain to Israel? 


Each person attending the JHC event or reading Fegelman’s articles can decide for themselves to what extent they agree or not with Fegelman. But I fail to understand why we should have listened to Zutra and exercise censorship and seek to have Fegelman’s voice and his viewpoint be cancelled?


I, will give one example. Fegelman took to task an article written by Prof Jonah Corne, where Corne acknowledges Hamas’s Oct 7 attacks “involved unambiguous atrocities” but said these attacks emerged  “out of conditions of colonial occupation.” Was Corne suggesting Israel is a colonialist state, and that Jews are not indigenous to Israel, and do not have a right to self-determination, like other peoples?  If he was, then in my view, Fegelman’s criticism was warranted. What is Zutra’s opinion on this? Does Zutra believe Israel has a right to exist as a state in the region or is he in favour of the dismantling/destruction of Israel for a “one state”? Now that he has drawn attention to himself, I hope he will outline his views so they can be considered. 


On U of M Campus there are ongoing lectures by Faculty4 Palestine, which paint Israel as a colonialist imperialist state and indicate the occupation is over 75 years old. To the best of my knowledge, Zutra has never called for their speech to be cancelled. In fact, Zutra has never called for any of these Faculty4Palestine programs to have a viewpoint included from a Zionist.


When his colleague Prof Ben Baader spoke on behalf of protecting the free speech of the nursing student at U of M who compared Israelis to Nazis, Zutra didn’t oppose this to the best of my knowledge. If Zutra deems her speech to be worthy of protection, then why is Fegelman’s right to free speech to be curtailed, and why can’t the JHC choose its own speaker for its annual fundraiser.


Itay Zutra also in his petition said Fegelman’s talk ought to be cancelled since it would be divisive and unnecessarily prevents “achdut,” the Hebrew word for “unity”. Although, one could say that Zutra’s call to cancel Fegelman is also divisive and prevents “unity’.


It should also be noted that last year the JHC’s speaker for the Kanee Lecture was Dr. Yossi Beilin, an architect of the Oslo Accords, who is left of centre. Why did Zutra expect that this year the JHC couldn’t choose to bring in a speaker that is centre/right?


Fegelman wears a kippa and is a modern orthodox Jew. I can’t remember the last time that the JHC brought in an Orthodox Jew to speak for the Kanee Lecture. Why did Zutra think it was acceptable to petition to cancel his speech? Is the JHC not entitled to bring in speakers with diverse views? Are we to ban the one speaker in recent memory who is Orthodox, in the name of “unity?”


As for Zutra, anyone in our community can now make a more informed choice about whether they wish to take Zutra’s courses. That too, is an expression of free speech.

It's also kind of strange that Zutra was calling on Fegelman's talk which was sponsored by the Asper Foundation to be cancelled when the person who founded Honest Reporting was actually Izzy Asper.

Not surprisingly Zutra’s efforts to cancel Fegelman’s talk did not succeed and the event, which was well attended, proceeded. There was a protest outside the event by about 30 members of Independent Jewish Voices and United Jewish People’s Order at the park across the street from Adas Yeshurun Synagogue. I did not see Zutra there. Anyone has the right to peacefully protest.  But I note that Zutra did not call on the protesters to stop their protest for failing to promote “unity,” especially when they were protesting outside a shul.  

By the way, Ramsey Zeid, head of Canadian Palestinian Association of Manitoba, was present at the protest, which has given me pause. Would Zeid like members of  the Jewish community to protest outside his mosque? Something tells me not, and no one from the Jewish community has ever protested outside of a mosque-and we should keep it that way. I do not think we should escalate matters between the Jewish and Palestinian communities by protesting outside of our respective religious institutions.  

Also  Ramsey Zeid may wish to reflect on the words of Palestinian Sufyan Abu Zaydeh, who was released from Israeli jail following the Oslo Accords. Ha’aretz columnist Shlomi Eldar recently wrote that Abu Zaydeh, who is also critical of Israel, told Eldar regarding Oct 7’s attacks  "You can write it in capital letters," he said. "From my point of view, it's a disgrace." He raised his voice so I would not miss his determination. "I, as a Palestinian, say to you in a loud voice: It is a disgrace. I am ashamed that they murdered and abducted people – children, women, old people. I am ashamed.”


Has Ramsey Zeid said anything similar?


Below is the wording of the  Petition started by Itay Zutra:

Honest Reporting Canada, a non-governmental group founded in 2003, is systemically monitoring and reporting what they deem as anti-Israel bias in the media. Honest Reporting reports daily and, at an accelerated pace since October 7 and the beginning of the Israel-Hamas war, singling out individuals and organizations who ask serious questions and raise criticisms of Israeli government actions and its treatment of Palestinians and violations of their human rights. We believe this reporting to be overly biased and polarizing. 


Honest Reporting targets reporters, scholars, and others who think differently as being antisemitic, often without proof and usually confusing legitimate criticism of Israel with anti-Jewish sentiment. Honest Reporting is, in our opinion, attempting to suppress critical thinking and fact-based analysis which are the pillars of any democratic society. Honest Reporting has positioned itself as a self-appointed “sword and shield” of Israel and its government, resulting in the spread of divisiveness, fear, and prejudice.


The Jewish Heritage Centre of Western Canada together with the Jewish Federation and the Asper Foundation have recently invited Honest Reporting executive director, Mike Fegelman to give the annual Sol & Florence Kanee Distinguished Lecture to be held at the Adas-Yeshurun Herzliya Synagogue on April 7, 2024. This event is also marketed as a fundraiser for the Heritage Centre. 


We strongly oppose Mr. Fegelman’s biased positions and fear this lecture will divide the community even more and send a message of bad faith to other communities in this peaceful city. We call upon the Jewish Federation, the Asper Foundation, and the Heritage Centre to promote programs of unity, diversity, and tolerance.


The Jewish community of Winnipeg has a long history of social justice activism, humanism, and fairness. Jewish people helped make this city a better place for all. We, people of all walks of life, religions, ethnicities, and cultures wish to keep it this way. Please help promote peace and understanding in these hard times by advocating for the universal and Jewish values of Tikun Olam (repairing the world), Sholem (peace), and Akhdes (solidarity).

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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.