Thursday, June 24, 2021

“An open letter to the Premiers – Stop funding extremism” by Brian Henry

The horrific murder of four people in London, Ontario, for no reason other than their religion shows it’s urgent that we find ways of dialling back extremism in our country. The federal government says it plans to fight online hate groups. Fine, but what good is that if at the same time our universities are teaching extremism to our young people?

Such is the case with the gender and women’s studies departments at numerous universities in Canada. In response to Hamas’s recent war against Israel, these gender studies departments – not individual professors – but the departments themselves, have declared their solidarity with the Palestinian “resistance” to Israel’s “settler colonialism” and “apartheid” (here).

What’s more, these departments consider dissent illegitimate. “We do not subscribe to a ‘both sides’ rhetoric,” they say; “anti-colonial activism informs the foundation of our discipline,” and “Palestine is a feminist issue.”

In other words, denouncing Israel isn’t optional.

Clearly, this creates a hostile environment for Israeli and Jewish students – or for any student who believes in thinking, rather than accepting dictates. What if a student thinks the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is not a feminist issue? Many students might suppose gender studies should be about an open inquiry into gender.

Or if the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is a feminist issue, a student might think a feminist or anyone supporting gay rights ought to be on the side of the one state in the region that champions equality – and not on the side of theocratic fascists, such as Hamas that believe women are subordinate and that executes gay men

But that would be a “both sides rhetoric,” contrary to the “foundation of our discipline.”

Really, these gender studies departments are more like political cults, highly intolerant of dissenting views. And intolerance poisons civil society, with intolerance on one side begetting intolerance on another, creating a vicious circle of extremism.

There are many issues these gender and women’s studies departments say cannot have two sides: They claim that Israelis – Jewish Israelis – are settlers.

Another and more truthful viewpoint is that Jews are indigenous to the land of Israel. Indeed, virtually everyone in the world knows the Jewish people originated in Israel and Jews have lived there continuously for more than 3,000 years. Arbitrarily declaring that Jews – and only Jews – can’t be indigenous is simply antisemitic.

They claim Israelis are colonizers, again meaning Jewish Israelis. A colony of what country? Perhaps of the Arab states – this was where half of Israel’s Jews came from. But Algeria, Egypt, Iraq, Morocco, Tunisia and the rest did not send their Jews to colonize Israel; they expelled them. Neither did any other country in the world send Jews to colonize Israel. Jews fled prejudice, pogroms, and murder to return to their indigenous homeland.

Israel, they claim, is an apartheid state. On the contrary, Israel is the only country in the region that grants “complete equality of social and political rights to all its inhabitants irrespective or religion, race or sex,” to quote Israel’s Declaration of Independence. Arab Israelis vote, get elected, sit in governments, hold cabinet posts, and work in the judiciary as lawyers and judges up to and including Israel’s supreme court.

In contrast, Palestinian governments in the Gaza and the West Bank don’t allow even basic rights to their own people. As for Jews, there aren’t any and none are welcome. In Palestinian territory it is a crime punishable by death to sell land to an Israeli. 

Mira Awad, Palestinian-Israeli
singer, actress & songwriter,
represented Israel at Eurovision

Calling Israel “apartheid” is a way of saying it should be wiped off the map. And what of the 6.9 million Jews who live there? At best, anti-Israel types don’t care.

As for the recent war Hamas launched against Israel, these gender studies departments adopt the rhetoric of Palestinian propaganda and lay blame exclusively on one side: We condemn the forced removal of Palestinians from their homes in Sheikh Jarrah, the raiding of the al-Aqsa mosque, the indiscriminate bombing of Gaza.”

These are complex issues. The homes in Sheikh Jarrah, owned by Jews for 146 years, since 1875, and currently occupied by Palestinians, have been subject to a 50-year court battle. People have differing views on the rights and the wrongs of it. It’s possible the courts will finally declare the Palestinians have to move. But only the Hamas terrorist group and its supporters believe this possibility justifies launching a war against Israel.

Similarly, Israeli police clashed with Palestinians at the al-Aqsa Mosque and on the Temple Mount because the Palestinians were rioting. Only the Hamas terrorist group and its supporters believe it’s justified to launch a war in defence of a right to riot.

Absent entirely from the statement of the genders studies departments is any reference to the fact that Hamas started this war – and that, as with all wars, this inevitably resulted in numerous deaths, including the deaths of innocents. Apparently, they haven’t grasped this cause-and-effect relationship, nor that the inevitable deaths of innocents is a big reason it’s wrong to start a war.

Absent entirely is any reference to Hamas firing 4,340 missiles indiscriminately at Israeli towns and cities with the object of murdering as many people as possible – Jews, Arabs or whoever happened to be on the ground.

Absent entirely is any reference to Hamas embedding themselves in the civilian population in Gaza, making every missile launched against Israel a double war crime – for indiscriminately attacking Israeli civilians and for endangering Gaza’s civilian population by using them as human shields.

As for Israel’s supposed “indiscriminate bombing of Gaza,” only Hamas and its supporters believe this happened. 

Fighting a terrorist group such as Hamas poses impossible dilemmas. Like any state, Israel is morally obliged to protect its people from attack. It’s a state’s most fundamental responsibility. Yet Hamas’s defensive strategy is to try to ensure that any response from Israel results in Palestinian deaths.

Israel’s answer has been to take extraordinary steps to try to prevent civilian deaths – steps never before imagined by any army in the world and going far beyond anything required by international law. Before bombing targets where civilians are present, the Israeli army goes so far as to telephone occupants to warn them to leave. Obviously, this means the terrorists also leave, so Israel pays a high military cost.

Israel’s attempts to prevent civilian deaths are not entirely successful. It remains a hard question: How can a state protect itself from a terrorist group like Hamas that deliberately hides behind a civilian population?

But if you’re in one of these gender studies departments, you’re not supposed to ask such questions. That would be a “both sides narrative,” and you’re supposed to support only one side – the side launching 4,34o missiles with the aim of murdering as many people as possible.

Premiers, your governments are responsible for the universities in your provinces. It’s time you remind them that their funding requires them to be places of free and open inquiry –not places where whole departments preach any political narrative, much less the kind of intolerant, extremist position taken by these gender and women’s studies departments.

***

Brian Henry is a writer, editor, creative writing instructor, and publisher of the Quick Brown Fox blog. He’s written opinion pieces for the National Post and the Toronto Star and was a regular contributor to the (now defunct) Jewish Tribune and in the UK for Harry’s Place and for Engage, the anti-racist campaign against antisemitism. This piece was previously published on TheJ.ca.

 ***

Departments at Canadian universities endorsing the anti-Israel statement:

Nova Scotia:

Women and Gender Studies Program at Saint Mary's University, Halifax, Canada

Women’s and Gender Studies Program, St. Francis Xavier University, Antigonish, Nova Scotia, Canada

New Brunswick:

Department of Women’s, Gender and Sexuality Studies, Rutgers University New Brunswick

Quebec:

Feminist Media Studio, Concordia University

Simone de Beauvoir Institute, Concordia University

Ontario:

Eden Alene, Ethiopian-Israeli,
Israel's rep at Eurovision 2021

Department of Gender Studies, Queens University. Kingston, ON Canada Traditional Lands of the Haudenosaunee and Anishinaabe peoples)

Gender & Social Justice Program, University of Waterloo, Canada

Gender Equality and Social Justice Department at Nipissing University, Canada

Gender Studies and Feminist Research Graduate Program, McMaster University, Canada

Institute of Feminist and Gender Studies, University of Ottawa

Institute of Feminist and Gender Studies, University of Ottawa, Ottawa Canada

Pauline Jewett Institute of Women’s and Gender Studies, Carleton University

School of Gender, Sexuality and Women's Studies, York University, Canada

The Social Justice Studies Department, Lakehead University in Thunder Bay and Orillia, Ontario, traditional territories of the Anishinaabe, Ojibwe, Odawa, and Pottawatomi

Dr. Mouna Moroun, the Arab woman who heads Neuroscience.
at University of Haifa
Women and Gender Studies Institute, University of Toronto 

Women's and Gender Studies Program, University of Toronto/Mississauga

Saskatchewan:

Women's and Gender Studies, University of Regina, Canada

Alberta:

Department of Women & Gender Studies, University of Lethbridge, Canada

Women's and Gender Studies Program, Mount Royal University (Calgary, Treaty 7, Canada)

B.C.:

Department of Race, Gender, Sexuality and Social Justice, University of British Columbia, Vancouver, Canada

Gender Studies, University of Victoria, Victoria, BC, Canada

Women's Studies Program, Langara College, Musqueam Territory / Vancouver

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