A miserable Mideastern misnomer

A “war of words”—the back and forth of slogans and chants—often foregoes proper analysis of the grammar of a dispute. “Israeli apartheid” is one such slogan, frequently used but poorly analyzed. The syllogism reads: apartheid is racist. Israel is akin to South African Apartheid. Thus, Israel is racist. However, such reasoning is problematic because conjoining “Israel” and “apartheid” conflates two ideological concerns: 1) the right of the state of Israel to exist; and 2) the metaphor of South African Apartheid, and the systematic racism implied therein. In order to understand last week’s “Week of Action” organized in the name of this conjunction, it is prudent to seriously question the value of this rhetorical synthesis.

Using the apartheid metaphor is intellectually lazy. In oversimplifying the issues, it substitutes rigorous education with agitation against imagined moral opposites. Such moralism overlooks the fact that Israel, unlike white-minority South Africa, consists of a Jewish majority and a 17 per cent Palestinian minority. Palestinians are granted the right to vote, autonomy in religious courts, administration of worship sites, and access to the institutional necessities of daily life. While Palestinians living in the territories are treated horribly, these struggles must be weighed against those of an Israeli population living in fear of riding the bus, rockets the size of a minifridge falling through the roof, and a young generation of conscripted teens unwilling to die to protect religious fanatics committed to a Biblical narrative of ancient Israel.

Labeling Israel an apartheid state ignores these complexities. The word invokes memories of a regime that is systematically entrenched a racial hierarchy, where a white minority enforced violent methods of exclusion, carrying out indiscriminate murder and completely disregarding the political rights of the black African majority.

How do the rights and freedoms denied in South Africa relate to the question of national self-determination? It is naïve to believe historical conditions are universal. From the Israel- as-South Africa standpoint, the figure of Nelson Mandela is replaced with Marwan Barghouti, the Al Aqsa Martyr Brigades and Fatah leader who now exerts political influence from an Israeli jail. The ANC trades places with the PLO; the Apartheid State with the Jewish State.

In such an analysis, historical fate seems to be guided by the alignment of the stars. Yet crossing stars lead from rash assumptions to tragic consequences. The conflict’s protagonists remain driven by passion rather than reason, with moderates content to play with accusations and false analogies.

Without the secular Marxist-inspired agenda of Yasser Arafat’s Fatah party, Barghouti no longer serves as an index for Mandela. Political Islamicization of the Palestinian identity has helped Hamas refocus the conjunction of “Israel” and “apartheid” to undermine Israel’s right to exist. Unlike the struggle to end apartheid, the real issue is not the rightful representation of a state, but an existential war between religious fanaticism (Jewish, Christian and Islamic) in Israel.

By relying upon unsound metaphors likening Israel to South African Apartheid, all serious academic and ethical concern for conflict and occupied Israeli territories is sacrificed for the sake of an intellectual trend as cool as sporting a kafieh in yellow or purple. In this war of words, information is the opponent, and the victims remain those on the ground.

Event listings for week of February 11

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Brought to you by the Centre for Diaspora and Transnational Studies.

  • Fri. Feb. 29, 2-5pm. Free!
  • Larkin Building Room 220, Trinity College (15 Devonshire Place)
  • www.utoronto.ca/cdts


A musical tour exploring love and romance as expressed in music.


Bid on your dream date for Out of the Cold.

  • Thurs. Feb. 14, 8-10:30pm.
  • The Coop, Brennan Hall, St. Michael’s College (81 St. Mary Street)
  • collegium@smcsu.ca


Tips and techniques to make the most of your job search.

  • Tues. Feb. 12, 2-3pm. Free!
  • Career Centre Seminar Room, Koffler Student Centre (214 College St.)
  • www.careers.utoronto.ca


Amateur performances and free refreshments.

  • Tues. Feb 12, 9-11:30pm. Free!
  • Junior Common Room, University College (15 King’s College Circle)
  • www.uclit.ca


Triple-header featuring Labyrinth, The Thing, and The Warriors.


Learn the science behind staying healthy in winter.

  • Weds. Feb. 13, 2-3pm. Free!
  • Cumberland House, International Student Centre (33 St. George St.)
  • (416) 978-2564


Presented by Woodsworth College Student Association.


Learn to cook your own Asian feast.



Participate in Toronto’s take on the “Frozen Grand Central” stunt.


Donate your old bras and get a 20% towards a new one.


Working at major record labels and the rock’n’roll dream.

Unnatural amino acids

“Of primary importance:” no other component of your diet boasts that etymology, but then the other aspects of the Canada Food Guide just aren’t as essential as protein when it comes to maintaining a healthy cell life. Though DNA often steals the limelight, proteins are among those basic building blocks of life, and participate in every activity within a cell. So when U of T chemistry professor Ronald Kluger and his team announced in late December that they had found a way to develop proteins not found in nature, it opened the door, many thought, to creating whole new forms of life without genetic mutation.

The science isn’t anywhere near that stage of development yet—the researchers have not finished perfecting their process for developing these molecules, let alone moved on to creating new organisms. Still, the discovery has exiting potential. Currently, there are about 20 amino acids that can be combined to form a protein. “It’s the equivalent of cooking with 20 ingredients,” says Kluger. “Just think how much more creative you can be if you had other possibilities.”

Protein synthesis occurs in the ribosomes of a cell, and depends on the function of two molecules: messenger RNA (mRNA), which carries the coding for a protein from DNA’s genetic template, and transfer RNA (tRNA), which aligns with mRNA according to the genetic code. Transfer RNA carries an amino acid at one end, and proteins are formed from a series of these molecules. The research housed at U of T’s Lash Miller Chemistry Laboratories focused on a synthetic replacement for the enzyme—synthetase— that binds an amino acid to tRNA. Using lanthanum salts as a replacement, this new process theoretically frees protein production from the determinism of the genetic blueprint.

Kluger and his team aren’t the first to try to change the end result of RNA transfer, but they’ve been the most successful in offering a viable method. They’ve done it chemically, to boot. Traditionally, researchers have attempted to find biological solutions: using E. coli bacteria, for example, to mutate tRNA synthetase, and make it more tolerant to different amino acids. “All of the exciting people in the field had been working on it for 20 years, and had tried completely different approaches—nothing like this,” says Kluger. Though other researchers had come up with chemical processes, they were highly impractical because they were difficult to repeat, let alone use for further research.

Kluger is respectful of these earlier discoveries, but skeptical of their usefulness: “It’s about five to 10 steps—difficult steps. The people who were doing it were the top people in the world for this kind of stuff and, practically, it was too hard for anyone to do, so although they were able to report that they’d done it, and it was going to lead to all these things […] they’d never make enough [protein] by doing them.”

What amazes Kluger is in all the attempts to modify the natural process of protein synthesis, few thought to emulate it. “If nature does this […] why can’t I make that kind of a thing do this kind of reaction? No one had ever done that, and it never occurred to anybody that you could.” Biomimetics set the research agenda.

Biomimetics is the modification of methods found in nature to create new technologies. A classic example of biomimicry is the invention of Velcro, which occurred in 1948 when Swiss engineer George de Mestral was cleaning burrs out of his dog’s long hair. Kluger found inspiration in another example, provided by notable Columbia chemistry professor Ronald Breslow. “We did not simply make larger versions of birds in inventing airplanes, but we did take the ideas, the wings from nature,” Breslow once said. “The goal of biomimetic chemistry is a large one—learn how to imitate the chemistry of life using our own new chemistry. That will not have been completely reached until we can make cells that have at least some of the properties of life itself.”

“This is what nature does,” Kluger says, pointing at a diagram of aminoacylation as it occurs in nature. “This is what we want to do,” he says, pointing out another diagram, almost identical, but for the process being controlled by himself through the production of a synthetic enzyme. With a Discovery Grant from the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada, Kluger and the students who work with him made a series of small discoveries, each one leading to the results published recently in the Journal of the American Chemical Society.

It was important to Kluger that the team find a process beautiful in its simplicity. No 10 steps, no biological mutations. “Mix the right chemicals together and it will work,” was the mantra. “In nature I saw that all I have to do is bring things together […] the enzymes don’t have to work very hard. So it seemed to me that this must be inherently the right thing to do. We shouldn’t be getting too artificial here.”

Easier said than found. The first challenge was in finding a compound that would bond both to an amino acid and tRNA, but that would also— and this was the hard part—do so in water, as the amino acid, synthetic enzyme, and tRNA would be brought together in an aqueous solution. Another hurdle was simply proving that the synthetic replacement worked equally well as the naturally-produced enzyme in binding amino acids to tRNA.

Synthetic protein synthesis is a careful balance between what might be considered natural and what is artificial. To those who find something ominous in the potential to build proteins not found in nature, Kluger counters that his system is better than the alternatives. “In a way it’s better than making mutants, because that would be sloppy. If they’re sloppy on one thing, they’ll be sloppy on something else.”

But then, says Kluger, “We were trying to avoid the thing that nature is really good at.” It’s a counterintuitive statement coming from someone who has just explained to me the biological precedent for the jumbo jet. But ultimately, the problem Kluger has overcome is the specificity of RNA: its editing system whereby the genetic code determines the corresponding amino acid. Kluger’s success has been the extent to which he has been able to choose which naturally-occurring elements of RNA to use, and which to only mimic. He keeps the essential structure, which makes the protein itself. He scraps the editing system. “I’m saying I want to avoid all that specificity and overcome it, so I’m doing the opposite of nature, and being totally unnatural. The goal was to avoid mimicking that aspect. We can selectively emulate nature.”

New horizons

It is difficult for up-and-coming dancers who do not practice a mainstream form, such as ballet, tap, or jazz, to get attention for their hard work. However, the Horizons Dance series intends to act as a platform for emerging Indian classical dance artists to showcase their talent. The series had their launch of Feburary 8 with Horizons 1 at The Church of St. Stephen’s in the Field on College Street. The series is the brainchild of the Artistic Directors at M-Do and Toronto Tabla Ensemble, Joanna de Souza, and Ritesh Das.

Horizons 1 featured two dancers, Kiran Phull, a Kathak dancer and protégé of Joanna de Souza, as well as Ankita Sarkar, an Odissi performer trained by the internationally renowned ChitraLekha Odissi Dance Creations.

Kathak and Odissi are two of the seven forms of Indian classical dance. Kathak is a dance style from the temples and courts of northern India and is characterized by rapid-fire footwork, vertical alignment, lightning quick pirouettes and soft graceful movements. Odissi, on the other hand, brings to life the sculptures from eastern India through grounded and graceful fluid movement.

The show was spectacular. Both dancers trained hard, and their efforts were applauded mightily. For the uninitiated in Indian classical dance, the gurus (teachers) of both dancers led the dancers through a series of demonstrations that explained the mechanics and meanings of the movements. This was followed by the actual dance pieces.

Ankita performed two pieces: Shankaravaran Pallavi, which is a pure dance set to Raga Shankaravaran, a lilting melody that is set to Ekataali (4 beats), and Dasavatar, which is an expressional piece on the ten incarnations of Lord Vishnu from the Hindu religious tradition. The contrast between pure dance and expressional dance showed how Ankita is not only an athlete, but also an actress.

Kiran performed various traditional compositions in the major speeds: vilambith (slow), Madhya (medium) and drutt (fast) through pure technique and narrative themes. Particularly delightful was the live music accompaniment and improv between the musicians and Kiran. The ambience of the The Church of St. Stephen’s in the Field worked well with the dances, because both dance forms are rooted in a rich spiritual and religious core.

While Horizons 1 is complete, the series will return for Horizons 2 on March 28 and 29. Hiroshi Miyamoto will be performing Bharat Natyam, another form of Indian classical dance and Chad Walasek will show more Kathak on both nights. The fact that two non-South Asian males will be performing what are innately Indian dance traditions, lends itself to the concept behind this Horizons series, which is to highlight the work of teachers and students who contribute in creating uniquely Canadian voices in Indian classical dance.

For more information, visit www.mdo-tte.org

Cabaret thrills Hart House

I was shot down by a girl not long before I saw the UC Follies’ production of Cabaret. Now, before we go any further, I’m not looking for sympathy here—heck, I’m practically overflowing with charm, wit, good looks, and modesty. The point of the story is that I was not predisposed to enjoy Cabaret.

My preferred activities that night probably would have been laying in bed stuffing my face with Cheetos, and listening to Alanis. Furthermore, Cabaret adds insult to injury with its sexed-up nature, packed to the gills with scantily clad lovelies and dance sequences (particularly “Two Ladies”) that contain all the thrusting and groping that I would not be indulging in that evening.

Ah, but as we all know, there’s nothing to mend a broken heart like a night of musical theatre, and this production of Cabaret was a very good one.

The plot should be familiar to anyone who has spent too much time in the Catskills. The play is set in Berlin during the early 1930s, when the city, as noted in the program by director Stephen Low, was “an artistic and cultural centre ahead of its time,” plagued by the growing Nazi movement. The protagonist is Cliff, an outof- work American writer who arrives in Germany to develop a new novel. Bored, Cliff ventures to the decadent Kit Kat Klub, encountering British singer/dancer Sally Bowles. The pair hit it off, and soon are living in sin under the prudent eye of the boardinghouse owner, Fraulein Schneider.

Meanwhile, Fraulein Schneider finds herself being courted by Herr Schultz, a kindly Jewish man, and the two plan to marry. Unfortunately, their love, and the fate of the world at large, is challenged by the growing power of the Nazi party.

The most striking quality of this particular production of Cabaret was its strong sense of atmosphere. A lot of the credit goes to the lighting (designed by Simon Miles), as scenes at Cliff’s boarding house are given a smoky, amber-hued appearance that looks almost cinematic. Interior club scenes were more vibrantly coloured, with an emphasis on a vivid, Chicago-esque red. The most effective moment came when crimson was employed during the “Tomorrow Belongs to Me,” a powerful conclusion to the first act.

I found the acting sufficient. Thomas Davis is fine as Cliff, though he’s cursed by playing the least interesting character in the show. Claire Rice, who has stage presence and the cast’s strongest singing voice, was very fine as Sally Bowles. As Fraulein Schneider and Herr Schultz, Meredith Shaw and Neil Silcox brought a strong element of pathos. Both Geoff Stevens (as the emcee) and his package do a credible job.

The dance choreography was excellent throughout, particularly during the “Don’t Tell Mama” sequence. But at Thomas’s boarding house an awkward set construction caused confusion, and ill-placed doors and characters’ movements sometimes disrupted the action as they exited the stage. The final scene lacked the requisite emotional wallop, perhaps because it featured the emcee in distress, a character with whom the audience cannot claim to have much emotional investment.

Minor quibbles aside, Cabaret was a consistently entertaining show. The production is polished and convincing, the dramatic scenes have weight, and the comic and musical moments are done very nicely. Just know that if you were planning to spend any of the next few nights alone sobbing into your pillow, desperately clutching onto the sheet music for Phantom of the Opera, there is an another entertainment option.

Cabaret runs Feb 13 to Feb 16 at Hart House Theatre. For info and tickets visit www.uofttix.ca

Robbers wraps successful run

It’s not often that I revisit my highschool self to recall how self-righteously angry I was, and how I was determined to change the world, my way. Now, only shortly removed from adolescence, I tend to avoid the stark black-and-white worldview that I once held. Like all of us here at U of T, I’m trying to learn to see the world in delicate shades of grey.

So what made the University College Drama Program production of Schiller’s The Robbers so enjoyable? For me, not only was its creative exploration of the stereotypical “loss of innocence” trope successful, but that it did so in a creative way, one which did not force me to wallow in the shadows of my former self, but rather observe with the perspective of someone older.

Written in 1781 by German poet and philosopher Friedrich Schiller while he was stuck in a military academy, The Robbers follows the story of a group of young German vigilantes who fight injustice with more injustice as a Robin Hoodesque band of brothers. The play was Schiller’s first published work, and represents the late “Storm and Stress” period in 18th-century German literature.

In this production, director Johanna Schall’s choice to cast men and women worked well, adding an element of sexual tension as the cast explored the gender dynamics of anger. It also satisfied the audience’s desire to recall their own adolescent sexuality, a crucial part of growing up.

The story takes place entirely within the confines of a high school classroom, running for two hours with no intermission. For the first 10 minutes of the play, I was reminded just how confining it felt to be trapped in a high school classroom. Each actor fulfilled some archetypal high school role, but did so with such youthful enthusiasm and talent that no character really fell flat, although they were all more or less one-dimensional.

This production was a triumph of acting. Each character fit in to the setting so that it did not matter that the plot was secondary, and occasionally difficult to follow. Franz (Ted Witzel) is the younger son of Count von Moor (Marcel Dragonieri, hilarious as always) who schemes against his older brother, Karl (Luke LaRocque). Karl forms the band of robbers to channel his anger into a struggle for justice as chaos and blood ensues.

Witzel plays an excellent villain, reminiscent of many jealous misfits. LaRocque clearly worked hard for this role, and it shows, making young, self-righteous anger seem natural and justified. My favourite character was the scheming Spiegelberg (Jennifer Dowding), a character who is seriously fucked up.

Perhaps the reason I enjoyed The Robbers so much, and the reason they did so well, is that this is a show that demands reflection on youth, perfectly suited for young actors, and especially resonant for young viewers. It has an unmistakable innocence, shrouded with enlightened ideas and ideology easily held by the young.

Getting Godot

When Samuel Beckett’s absurdist masterpiece Waiting for Godot was first staged 55 years ago, it opened in a basement of a Paris pub. In conscious homage, The Victoria College Drama Society staged theirs in the Cat’s Eye, a dark and small performance space in the basement of the Wymilwood building. The space had the potential to limit the actors and the audience (then again, so does the play), but instead the entire space was filled with Beckett’s presence and a full house of spectators, watching and waiting.

The show takes place on a desolate country road, where Vladimir (Anthony Furey) and Estragon (Robin Toller) are waiting for someone—or something—named Godot. Furey and Toller inhabit the space fully, as first-time director Michela Sisti allowed the actors a great deal of personal development, occasionally at the cost of a more developed dynamic between the characters.

Furey, a well known actor in the Toronto theatre scene, lacked the full maturity that Vladimir requires, especially in contrast to the comedic and childish Estragon. Despite this, Furey did deliver a strong performance, enjoying the role to the fullest.

Toller’s character was more developed, but it is also the easier part to play. After all, who wouldn’t want to draw laughs in a play in which, essentially, nothing happens twice.

The real comic relief, however, is Pozzo (Mike MacKinnon) and his servant/slave Lucky (RJ Hatanaka). MacKinnon exuded the larger-thanlife personality necessary, but at times his timing was off, which affected the humour of his interactions with Lucky.

Hatanaka’s Lucky is perhaps the greatest source of intrigue. The clear Christ comparison was fully exploited, and the Nietschean master- slave dynamic was good, but again, lacked a full scope of vision, as Hatanaka was at times too slow in his response to his master.

The original score set a haunting tone to this production. No elements of clowning were present, and the mood was serious, dark, and sombre. The music and lighting design matched. While the cues were too slow, it did not distract from the quality of the production greatly.

At one point in the play, Vladimir says to Estragon, “This is becoming very insignificant.” I’d like to echo that sentiment here: not only did this production force us to come to terms with the superfluity of theatre as art, but it’s also a reminder to me to quit writing, shut up, and enjoy the show!

CFS-BC leak exposes referendum ‘war plan’

Ever sent an email to the wrong person? What about a few hundred wrong people? Imagine that the email lays out your plans for a major referendum campaign with tens of thousands of students’ dollars at stake, and that the unintended recipients were hundreds of student politicians throughout your province, and you might understand the predicament of the Canadian Federation of Students-BC.

The leaked document contains a spreadsheet outlining CFS-BC’s plans to defeat the Simon Fraser Student Society’s attempt to leave the federation. SFSS, based in Vaninside couver’s Simon Fraser University, will hold a referendum on March 18 to 20, asking students if they wish to leave CFS-BC. Two other unions are considering leaving CFS-BC as well: The Kwantlen Student Association and the University of Victoria Graduate Students’ union.

The KSA released a statement calling the leaked document “war plans.”

“In my three years on the CFS-BC Executive Committee, I never saw a campaign strategy document this methodical,” said KSA’s chair and director of external affairs Laura Anderson.

The leak reveals the names of hundreds of potential volunteers at student unions nationwide, along with timelines and detailed lists of resources CFS-BC could marshal in their referendum campaign.

According to the University of Alberta’s newspaper the Gateway, the document was intended for Lucy Watson, CFS national director of organizing. It was mistakenly sent to a large mailing list including every CFS member union in the province.

The CFS-BC is now maintaining that the document was the work of a single staffer, Summer McFadyen. At press time, McFadyen was not speaking to reporters.

CFS-BC chairperson Shamus Reid said that McFadyen had “brainstormed” the document independently, without consulting any of the politicians detailed in the file or coordinating with CFS’s national branch.

“Summer was preparing with her own personal notes. My understanding was her notes were around people’s perceived availability and what she expected people’s availability was for the campaign,” Reid said. The list contained the full names of more than two hundred CFS staffers across the country, with an accompanying letter grade. The meaning of that grade is not clear. Reid said he was unfamiliar with the document and believed the grade represented each person’s availability. While a calendar grid for the dates March 3 to March 21 accompanies each name on the list, their highlighted availability does not seem to correlate with the letter grades.

Gilary Massa and Loveleen Khan, for example, both of the York Federation of Students, are shaded in for the week of March 17 to 21. However, Gilary got an A grade and Loveleen a C.

U of T’s CFS workers received a range of mystery grades. For example, Dave Scrivener, VP External, received an A. Alice Wu, UTSU board member, was assigned a C.

“It’s news to me that I got a C or that my name showed up at all,” she said. With files from Allison Martell