Letters to the Editor: Regarding Efraim Karsh and the Israeli–Palestinian conflict

Re: “Who speaks for Palestine?”

Letters to the Editor: Regarding Efraim Karsh and the Israeli–Palestinian conflict

Disagree, but don’t condemn

U of T, as with any university, is a space for peaceful discussion and debate, where all are entitled to their opinions. However, opinions must be justified by fact in order to become well-informed judgments.

I tend to believe that historian Efraim Karsh, a founding director of the Middle East & Mediterranean Studies postgraduate program at King’s College London, was qualified to offer a well-informed judgment at his U of T lecture last month. When, just for once, a visiting professor voices a well-founded yet unpopular finding, we should take it as a new viewpoint or at the very least a criticism and avoid calling for his denunciation.

The facts Karsh that put forward are actually plain and simple. Palestinian leadership has proven to be notoriously difficult to work with throughout history. Until the early 1990s, the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO) did not even acknowledge the right to existence of the State of Israel, resorting to conflict by default. When negotiations started in Oslo for which Yasser Arafat, PLO Chairman and first President of the newly formed Palestinian National Authority, even got a Nobel Prize the Palestinians were granted autonomy. And yet Palestinian authorities have rejected any peace offer made by Israeli governments ever since including an offer involving regions of East Jerusalem in the 2000 Camp David accords.

It’s a hard fact, but it is one a conflict needs two sides to be a conflict. One cannot downplay the role that Palestinian leadership has had in maintaining the conflict, as Karsh has done. Palestinian governments have engaged in decades of organized terrorism the latter wave resulting in hundreds of dead Israeli civilians and Israeli governments responded with periods of controversial force. But presenting either as “mass murder,” as the author has done, is false, biased, uninformed, and misleading. Neither side has engaged in systematic, planned “mass murder.”

As unpopular as the opinion may be, Israel and Palestine have not been at war for seven decades, as the author suggests. Rather, it started as a conflict between Jewish and Arab states that began with a unanimous Arab rejection of the United Nations Partition Plan of 1947. The conflict with a self-identifying Palestinian group began taking its current form in the mid-1970s, following countless terror attacks carried out by the newly formed PLO, which is still in control of the autonomous Palestinian Authority and the Popular Front for Liberation of Palestine. Israeli governments still negotiate with these organizations, despite their implicit intent to bring Israel to its destruction.

The author’s advocacy for the Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions (BDS) movement is extremely problematic. BDS aims to boycott the State of Israel, but doing so is a form of modern antisemitism as it serves to prevent notable Israelis from success in academia, arts, and culture. Coupled with its known ties to the PLO and lack of condemnation toward Hamas — the terrorist organization running the Gaza Strip and whose charter calls for the destruction of the State of Israel — the idea of giving BDS official university sponsorship under the guise of free speech is worrying.

Two sides are in a deadlock, and the conflict will only change with a change of leadership on both ends. There is need for a committed, confident, peace-seeking leader who skillfully navigates the difficult Israeli public space, and a democratically elected leader on the Palestinian side, unaffiliated with organizations openly calling for its negotiating partner’s destruction.

The author has a right to disagree with and reject Karsh’s presentation. After all, Karsh presents an Israeli-centric view, more favourable than others seen in the media. Calling for a condemnation and apology from the university, and a following condemnation of a whole state, however, is not reasonable.

— Arik Portnov

 

Truth versus myth in the BDS movement

In her article “Who speaks for Palestine?”, Lina Lashin argues that the stated goals of the Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions (BDS) movement are misinterpreted as targeting Israeli and Jewish identities. Whether or not its political objectives are antisemitic, BDS is antisemitic in its effect, if not in its intent.

Although BDS activists paint the movement as a peaceful one that solely seeks to promote fundamental rights using economic pressures, this remains to be seen. BDS emerged during the Second Intifada, a violent resistance movement that predominantly involved wearing explosive-rigged suicide vests and detonating in crowded Israeli civilian areas including pizzerias and cafés.

Israeli civilians were murdered in terror attacks on an almost daily basis, and fearful for our safety, my own family immigrated to Canada. This is the same intifada that fuelled anti-Israel advocates on university campuses. In 2015, the “Stabbing Intifada” wave of violence was supported by the #SolidarityWaveBDS hashtag. Worryingly, Western student activists were using the same hashtags for the same cause.

Omar Barghouti, the Palestinian founder and chief proponent of BDS, does not shy away from admitting the real ambition of BDS: the destruction of Israel. In 2009, Barghouti told the anti-Israel online publication The Electronic Intifada that “people fighting for refugee rights like I am… cannot reconcile the right of return for refugees with a two-state solution… a return for refugees would end Israel’s existence as a Jewish state.” That year, Barghouti also repeated this position to a group of students at the University of Ottawa.

Lashin and her fellow BDS advocates refer to themselves as proud anti-Zionists, but never antisemites. To most on this campus, antisemitism is untoward, justly put in the same category as racism, sexism, and hatred towards the LGBTQ2I+ community.

However, as outlined in the working definition of antisemitism of the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance, a definition adopted by various governments and institutions around the world including Global Affairs Canada, this distinction is incorrect. As noted by the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs, this definition “reflects a consensus among scholars that a new type of antisemitism has emerged post-Holocaust, in the form of hatred of Jews presented under the guise of hostility toward Israel and/or Zionism.”

Ignoring the deeply entrenched antisemitism involved in anti-Zionist BDS, Lashin argues that free speech is not applied equally at U of T, and that the University of Toronto stifles pro-Palestinian advocacy. Yet just this month, the U of T Faculty of Law hosted well-known Palestinian law advocate and United Nations Special Rapporteur Michael Lynk to discuss the intersections of Palestinians, Indigenous people, and British common law. Moreover, the University of Toronto’s Graduate Students’ Union has spent thousands of student dollars on BDS activities.

The Israeli–Palestinian Conflict is a multilayered, complex issue with human beings on either side, and thus requires empathetic communication and space for difficult cross-dialogue. There is ample room at U of T for discussions on Israel and Palestine. But BDS, and other movements like it, are never helpful and only further the divisiveness on campus. They entrench opposing viewpoints and create division, are openly anti-peace, and are a poor use of student dollars and student union time.

Dean Lavi

Disclosure: Arik Portnov is a contributing producer for the Bazaar podcast by The Varsity.

Letter to the Editor: Accommodations absolutely should not be optional

Re: The Varsity Magazine Vol. XII No. 1 Fall 2018 Seam

Letter to the Editor: Accommodations absolutely should not be optional

I picked up a print copy of The Varsity Magazine Vol. XII No. 1 Fall 2018 Seam and wanted to express a bit of consternation about the sad irony related to the “Seemingly optional: The problem with accommodations” article at the back.

Accommodations and accessibility are indeed significant issues, and print editions should be made available using 18-point font for readers with visual impairments. The overall font throughout the magazine is painfully small, but incredibly, this particular article’s font appears to be the smallest used in the entire publication, despite the ample margins surrounding the piece!

I had difficulty figuring out how to get in touch with someone at the magazine; there are letters from the editors but no letters to the editor! I could not see any contact information in the magazine. An internet search led me to staff email addresses and the online version of the magazine, which is certainly easier to read since one can zoom in as needed.

Please consider your assumption that people will realize that there is also an online version they can access. If you are continuing with print, please consider having a large print version available.

Accommodations absolutely should not be optional; inclusion and accessibility are human rights and need to be prioritized.

Thank you for your consideration.

S. B. Barak

Letter to the Editor: Government should not interfere with the media

Re: “Scarborough Campus Students’ Union moves to control media access to meetings"

Letter to the Editor: Government should not interfere with the media

As the 2018–2019 Southam Journalism Fellows at Massey College, we would like to join those who have expressed concern about the Scarborough Campus Students’ Union (SCSU) decision to establish a committee that would decide which journalists are permitted to cover student union meetings.

It is a basic tenet of democratic life that governments must not have the power to decide who covers public affairs. In moving to regulate media coverage, the SCSU is following the worst impulses of government to interfere with the media’s vital role in holding public institutions to account.

What we find particularly alarming is that while the SCSU accuses campus media outlets of “reporting falsely on what the Board of Directors have done,” it will not state specifically which coverage it finds objectionable.

This leads us to worry that the SCSU objects to public scrutiny in general, and not any reporting in particular. If the SCSU has problems with the coverage it receives, it can point out errors, ask for corrections, and give more interviews to help reporters understand the SCSU’s point of view.

We support our colleagues in the student media and we join the Canadian Association of Journalists in calling on the SCSU to immediately disband its unnecessary, unjust, and undemocratic committee to regulate journalists.

Sincerely,

Amy Dempsey

Richard Goddard

Lagu Joseph Kenyi

Richard Warnica

Chris Windeyer

Letters to the Editor: On retractions in the scientific community

Re: “The double standard of retractions”

Letters to the Editor: On retractions in the scientific community

For several years, along with many other neuroendocrine cancer patients, I have been attempting to persuade the University Health Network (UHN) and U of T to rescind their extreme punishment of Dr. Shereen Ezzat and Dr. Sylvia Asa over minor problems in a handful of hundreds of their publications. While UHN paid expensive lawyvers to defense its decision, our patient community has felt abandoned by UHN and U of T. Research in our rare and complex cancer has been terminated at UHN. Since the doctors’ teaching privileges have also been terminated, local and international doctors can no longer experience their professional expertise. Neuroendocrine cancer is now thought to be the fastest growing cancer in the world. Because of the devastating results of its decision about such minor research problems, we are left with no other conclusion than that UHN and U of T had other reasons to demand retractions, shut down their labs, and fire Asa.

— Robert Haughian, neuroendocrine cancer patient

The great value of this article is to make clear the wide range of what may cause an essay to be ‘retracted,’ from the truly dishonest and plagiaristic to the trivial and easily rectified. It seems clear that the work of Asa and Ezzat falls in the latter category, but UHN’s relentless punishment of them does give substance to other commentators’ suspicions that UHN had its own reasons for wanting them gone. Not only does the entire episode seem shameful, but it also compromises the ability of two fine doctors to continue the full care of the many patients whose lives literally depend of them.

— Frederick Asals, Professor Emeritus, University of Toronto

Journalism standards at the University of Toronto Varsity newspaper need some attention in this day and age of misinformation campaigns using social media. The article discusses the termination of Dr. Shereen Ezzat’s position within the University Health Network (UHN), yet Dr. Ezzat is still listed as a member of the Medical and Community Care program in the Endocrine Clinic of the Princess Margaret Hospital, an institution within the UHN. The article interviews Dr. Sylvia Asa with regards to retractions listed in the Retraction Watch database, yet publishes no interview material with anyone from Retraction Watch, nor anyone involved with the internal investigation committee. A letter to the editor by Robert Haughian discusses the UHN paying “expensive lawyers,” yet it was Drs. Asa and Ezzat who initially hired a lawyer and submitted court challenges to this academic investigation.  The UHN had no choice at that point but to engage lawyers of their own. Robert Haughian states that “research in our rare and complex cancer has been terminated at UHN,” yet the UHN’s website discusses this issue directly, clearly stating that “the NETs program continues to be an integral component of UHN’s service offerings.”  Why was no one from the Princess Margaret Hospital interviewed and quoted in coverage of this saga? A disingenuous petition drive has also been started and addressed at the UHN web page linked above.

Nowhere in The Varsity’s coverage of this saga is any discussion of harms that can happen to patients based on inappropriate research. Effective treatment strategies are delayed and inappropriate treatment suggestions offered in journal articles whose primary evidence is not scientifically solid. To continually offer defence to scientific researchers with year after year of problematic publications well-documented in a public and court-reviewed document readily available at the UHN website linked above is a disservice to patients facing such challenging diseases.

— Steven McKinney

Editor’s Note (January 9): This collection of letters has been updated to include Steven McKinney’s correspondence.

Letter to the Editor: Self-interest overthrows the will of UTSC students

RE: "Scarborough Campus Students’ Union disregards AGM consensus, votes to give more money to Women’s and Trans Centre"

Letter to the Editor: Self-interest overthrows the will of UTSC students

It’s unfortunate to hear the outcome of recent actions of the Scarborough Campus Students’ Union (SCSU) and it makes students’ wonder: does the SCSU actually work and serve the students they proclaim to do, or do they simply work in a narrow field prepping the advancements of their self-interested intentions.

The Women’s and Trans Centre at UTSC do a substantial effort to push its cause forward. I have no questions or comments in regards to their efforts and these comments are in no way of target to their dedication and assistance to make a conference happen. However, at the recent SCSU Annual General Meeting (AGM), the failure of their proposed motion requesting $7,000.00 was a consensus decision made by students— not because of their cause, not because of anyone’s bias, but instead, simply because of an unrealistic amount being asked for. The will of the members was to donate $2,500, which the members agreed upon by way of amendment and voting.

Why is it so that self-interested individuals are able to over-throw the will of the members? At the November 27​ ​meeting, that’s exactly what happened, with Director of Political Science Raymond Dang proposing a motion to donate a further $4,500 to the Woman and Trans Centre notwithstanding and, furthermore, not respecting the democratic process that took place at the AGM. Let’s not forget Leon Tsai, Director of Historical & Cultural Studies, who has direct influence on the organization of this conference. Tsai is listed as the External Coordinator for the Women’s and Trans Centre on Ulife. Tsai is apparently part of the organizing committee toward which the funding is going — can someone smell conflict of interest?

Director of Political Science Raymond Dang and each and every one of the SCSU Board Members who voted in favour of this passed motion considered their self-interested intentions over their members’ — putting disregard to the members who put them in office and an evident uncaring attitude to those who voted at the AGM to not have this motion in its original stance.

These are the elected officials sitting in the SCSU. My comments are not for them all, but, instead, for the slim majority who voted in favour at a meeting, away from the general public, and against the resolution formed at the AGM.

Where is the accountability and transparency? There isn’t any. There will never be any — not if the union continues to neglect its members and their voices.

— Sarkis Kidanian

Letter to the Editor: The Varsity broke an agreement at the UTGSU AGM

Re: "Graduate Students’ Union’s failed AGM puts organization at risk of financial default"

Letter to the Editor: <em>The Varsity</em> broke an agreement at the UTGSU AGM

As members of the University of Toronto Graduate Students’ Union (UTGSU) and department council representatives, we were disappointed by the decision of The Varsity to live tweet during the recent annual general meeting and general council meeting on December 3.

We think it is commendable that The Varsity is covering these meetings. We are supporters of the free press, and we think that The Varsity’s journalism has the potential to make an important contribution to the UTGSU by making the meeting proceedings more accessible and helping to hold our leadership accountable.

However, while we think it is a positive thing to have journalists present at these meetings, the meetings are for members of the union, and it is fully within the rights of the union to ask for conditions on their participation. Asking for prohibitions on certain types of media or requiring the chair’s discretion to be seated are not uncommon procedures.  

At the Annual General Meeting (AGM), the chair used his discretion to seat the Varsity journalists under the condition that they would not record audio, take pictures, or live tweet the meeting. This was stated publicly to the entire room. During the general council meeting that followed the AGM, council was made aware that The Varsity had been live tweeting during the entire AGM, and they were asked to leave by the chair.

We don’t fully understand why The Varsity chose to live tweet during the AGM, but in doing so The Varsity violated a publicly stated agreement. Being asked to leave was a direct consequence of the decision of The Varsity to disregard their agreement with the membership present in the room.

Readers of this letter may believe that the journalists should live tweet these meetings — we agree, and think it’s something that should be discussed in the future. At this meeting, however, the publicly stated agreement was that live tweeting should not take place, and The Varsity disregarded this. This type of blatant disregard for the will of UTGSU members fosters an atmosphere of distrust between members and The Varsity.

We hope that The Varsity covers future meetings. We think that this benefits the UTGSU and strengthens a democratic institution. However, whatever agreements are put in place need to be clearly communicated in advance to everyone in the room and then subsequently upheld.

Sincerely,

Robert Fajber, UTGSU member and council representative for the Physics Department

Anna Cwikla, UTGSU member and council representative for the Department for the Study of Religion

Aris Spourdalakis, UTGSU member and council representative for the Physics Department

Lisa Labine, UTGSU member and council representative for Graduate Student Association Scarborough (GSAS)

Qusai Hassan, UTGSU member President of GSAS and council representative

McKinzey Manes, UTGSU member and Faculty Council Representative for the Master of Information Student Council

Charlie White, UTGSU member and council representative for the Graduate Environmental Students’ Association

Letter to the Editor: The importance of the printed word

Re: “Books in blue bins is a bad look”

Letter to the Editor: The importance of the printed word

I was very pleased and heartened to read Amelia Eaton’s recent article in the November 26 issue of The Varsity informing us of the importance of the printed word and how it must be cherished and protected. The students who rescued the books destined for recycling are to be admired and applauded.  

I also have experience with the University of Toronto’s flagrant disregard for the value of books and what they represent. As the proprietor of the Ten Editions Bookstore in the building at Spadina Avenue and Sussex Avenue, which U of T plans to redevelop, I am well aware of the university’s lack of appreciation of books.  

I was saddened and dismayed to read Vice-President University Operations Scott Mabury’s comment in a recent issue of the Annex Post that a restaurant or a coffee shop would be a more valuable asset to the university than a bookstore.  I also hope that the students’ actions will “have a profound impact, not only in saving hundreds of books, but in showing the university how important the books are to students,” in Eaton’s words.

Yours in solidarity with the preservation of the printed word,

Susan Duff
Owner, Ten Editions Bookstore

Letter to the Editor: You omitted context and misrepresented procedure

Re: “UTSU AGM 2018: Where’s the spirit of union democracy?”

Letter to the Editor: You omitted context and misrepresented procedure

I am writing to express my discomfort with your November 8 editorial, “UTSU AGM 2018: Where’s the spirit of union democracy?” The editorial omits crucial context when describing the events of the UTSU’s Annual General Meeting (AGM) and misrepresents several fundamental aspects of parliamentary procedure and corporate governance.

As the member who raised a point of order to ensure the meeting operated in compliance with the Canada Not-for-profit Corporations Act (CNCA), I was not aiming to counter “the spirit of union democracy,” as implied in the editorial.

In fact, a member of the union attempted to use a quorum call to end the meeting before members could pass a motion with which he disagreed. In short, he attempted to use a procedural loophole to prevent the assembled members from making decisions they were permitted to make under the union’s governing legislation, its corporate bylaws, and its rules of order. Continuing the meeting was not anti-democratic shutting it down would have been.

The editorial also presented a number of factual inaccuracies.

First, while an AGM of the Scarborough Campus Students’ Union (SCSU) did indeed adjourn in 2015 after losing quorum, that is not a valid procedural precedent for the UTSU’s general meetings. The SCSU is not a federally incorporated not-for-profit corporation and is not governed by the provisions of the CNCA.

Second, there is no question as to whether continuing the meeting without quorum was in order. The speaker correctly ruled that adjourning the meeting would require a motion supported by the majority of members present (rather than a quorum call from a single disaffected member). This ruling was in line with the provisions of the corporation’s governing legislation, corporate bylaws, and rules of order; there has been no serious argument to the contrary, whether at the AGM or after its adjournment.

Third, there is no question as to the validity of the motion to allow members to bring policy and bylaw changes forward at AGMs. The motion was carried by a clear majority of a general meeting of the members. While The Varsity may question the merits of the motion and debate whether passing it was the right decision, it is inappropriate to imply that the motion could in any way be considered invalid.

I hope that The Varsity’s editorial board will hold itself to a higher standard in the future.

Thank you,

Andrew Kidd

Andrew Kidd is a fourth-year Engineering Physics student. He was Speaker of the Engineering Society for the 2017–2018 academic year.