There is a striking scene in the classic documentary about the Wannsee Conference — the 1942 meeting of Nazi leaders to plan the Holocaust. One of the attending Nazi officials urges quick action against any remaining Jews in German cities. “Can you tolerate,” he says, or words to that effect, “that Mrs. Israel and Mr. Cohen should live in comfort in our cities while our brave soldiers suffer on the front ?” The man was so sincere in his outrage; no wonder he quickly obtained the approval of his assembled accomplices.
And so is Ms. Jennifer Peto sincere. I can summarize her thesis at OISE, “The Victimhood of the Powerful; White Jews, Zionism, and the Racism of Hegemonic Holocaust Education” as follows:
The Ashkenazi Jews of the world, in particular those in North America, constitute an over-privileged White group which is ever trying to extend its hegemony over others, especially people of color. To that end, these Jews have organized various forms of Holocaust remembrances. Such observances serve to oppress Palestinians and people of color everywhere. Decent people, for example the author of this thesis, have therefore been forced to become anti-Zionist Jews and Palestine solidarity activists, as well as, apparently not incidentally, activists for LGBT rights.
Does this point of view make sense ? As a point of view, as an emotion, yes it does. Ms. Peto thinks she is right, and she declaims her beliefs with disarming verve and obvious sincerity. It is the sincerity of someone with a strong and consuming idée fixe. And she is an autodidact who knows how to quote from others, whenever that seems to serve the cause, and thus to give her thesis the sheen of formal scholarship.The only problem is that the footnotes and references to the literature in no way support her contentions, and that she does not muster facts or data of any kind to give her thesis the weight of an academic argument.
As it happens, the sociological literature is exceptionally rich in empirical studies of Canadian and US Jews (to which I have made modest contributions in the past), their demography, political alignments, and ideological commitments. But Ms. Peto’s bibliography is strictly bereft of empirical work. To take one example, the problem of political alignments of North American Jews. If US Jews were indeed committed, as Ms. Peto contends, “tirelessly” so, to “align [themselves] with oppressive forces in their own country” (p. 6), “especially [against] people of color” (p. 78), how would they have voted in 2008, two years before Ms. Peto completed her opus ? For Obama or for McCain ? Well, the empirical data show an overwhelming Jewish support for Obama, exactly what Ms. Peto’s thesis holds could not have happened. She does not deign to discuss these widely-available data. She does not discuss any data. She cannot, apparently, be distracted from her holy rage by mere facts.
From the point of view of scholarship, there is a most telling item on the very first page of Ms. Peto’s thesis. She recalls that when she was in 9th grade, in 1995, she attended a Jewish school (unnamed) in Toronto at the time that the Jewish extremist Baruch Goldstein killed some 49 Arabs in a rampage in Israel. Ms. Peto tells us that her teacher supported Goldstein, and that she, the fifteen-year-old, had difficulties with both the teacher and principal about the matter. She tells this story as a pivotal point in her awakening to the evils of “the oppressive beliefs of my parents, teachers, and religious leaders” (p.2).
I can see how to a 15-year old, or even to the now-thirty-year-old ideologue that she is today, this unexamined putative incident can loom large. But it is purely subjective. The value of our scholarly tradition is that it can take such subjective events and test them against objectively-available social data. The obvious question, from a scholarly point of view, is whether what Ms. Peto remembers as having taken place in her (unnamed) Toronto school is in any way typical of the reactions of Canadian or North American Jews. The record happens to be very clear. All sections of world Jewry, with only tiny exceptions in very restricted ultra-religious circles, reacted with shame and horror at the deeds of Baruch Goldstein. Why didn’t it occur to Ms. Peto to examine (or, as she would put it, “interrogate”) the record of world Jewry’s reaction to Goldstein ? Because she is in no way a scholar, obviously; because empirical data mean nothing to her, as indeed they mean nothing to the ideologues of any sort. I do not blame her for this. She is entitled to believe as she wishes, to be in the throes of any delusion that she was unfortunate enough to contract.
But it is a different matter with OISE, a taxpayer-financed institution affiliated with the world-famous University of Toronto. OISE has accepted this thesis, it is being made available to the world under the OISE imprimatur, and it is OISE that, in effect, promotes a fraud by sponsoring wild accusations and hatreds as if they had a scholarly basis.
In her introduction, Ms. Peto pays tribute to her OISE thesis supervisor, Professor Sheryl Nestel. Now why didn’t Professor Nestel press her student to take a scholarly approach to evidence ? One answer may be that Prof. Nestel herself is identified, on the internet, as an anti-Israel activist. But the true fault obviously lies in OISE itself, since it does not seem to have institutional safeguards against passing off subjective feelings as verified facts.
The Baruch Goldstein story in this thesis — suggesting that the Jews of the world supported Goldstein when in fact they overwhelmingly rejected him — is part of the anti-Semitic fraud that is perpetrated by OISE here. But only part of it. The thesis as a whole — no matter how forgivable when presented by an untutored naif — is an act of both fraud and hatred when it comes from the halls of academe. And let’s not forget that the perpetrators receive their salaries from the taxpayers of Ontario.
Read my my correspondence with U. of T. President David Naylor and OISE’s Dean Sullivan
For more information on this thesis, and on yet another thesis at OISE under the tutelage of the same thesis adviser, see the article and blog by Richard Klagsbrun.
Klagsbrun suggests that if you are unhappy about the goings on at OISE, you may wish to write to John Milloy, the Ontario Minister of Colleges and Universities, email@example.com
Also, see story in Toronto Star of Dec. 7
And the column by Geoffrey Alderman in London’s Jewish Chronicle
My related postings on this topic: