The University of Toronto has accepted and posted a master’s thesis called “The Victimhood of the Powerful: White Jews, Zionism, and the Racism of Hegemonic Holocaust Education.” As the title might insinuate, it is actually an anti-Semitic screed displaying the lowest academic standards.
The author, a young Canadian Jewish woman named Jennifer Peto, gives the psychological background of her views in the introduction:
I had been attending Orthodox Jewish schools since kindergarten and all along I had been questioning the worldview that was being presented to me. In the first grade, after having been told that I could not play the lead in our school play because I was a girl, I decided that god was either sexist or nonexistent.
It’s worth pausing over this. The “logic” is clearly that of a six-year-old girl; yet Ms. Peto considers it worth presenting in her thesis!
Over the years, both my atheism and my feminism only grew stronger within the sexist, gender-normative and heterosexist educational institutions I was forced to attend. That all these values were reinforced at home only made me more convinced of my own beliefs.
It all came to a head when she was 15 and a history teacher in her “private Jewish high school in Toronto” appeared to praise Baruch Goldstein, the American Israeli who massacred 29 (Ms. Peto gives the number as 50, but why quibble in a master’s thesis) Palestinians in Hebron in February 1994.
When Ms. Peto questioned the teacher’s attitude, he “became enraged” and sent her to the principal’s office. This led her for the first time to “start questioning” the Zionist attitudes that had been instilled in her. These included the belief that “all Palestinians were violent terrorists who wanted to kill all Jews, just like the Nazis had tried to do.”
Of course, intelligent Jews in today’s world do not think that, and in the context of a mature mind let alone an academic thesis it is not an issue at all. And as Werner Cohn notes:
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 … the record of world Jewry’s reaction to Goldstein?
The answer is that she had already embarked on her thrilling rebellion, and wasn’t about to be deflected and isn’t to this day by mere facts and reasoning. No, after a while she:
… began to read about the history of Palestine, [and] started to understand the violence that was necessary to establish the Israeli state. … The Second Intifada began shortly thereafter, which only accelerated my shift from supporter of Israel to Palestine solidarity activist.
So now it was Palestinians murdering Jews, over and over again, en masse. Ms. Peto was launched on her path! After all, she was “already an outcast in the Jewish community, and estranged from my family for being atheist, queer, gender-queer, feminist, and generally outspoken in a highly normative, Orthodox setting.” Revenge is sweet!
From now on the epiphanies came one after another. Among them: Israel is an apartheid state based on ethnic cleansing! Ashkenazi Jews in the United States, Canada, and Israel all take part in privileged “whiteness” and, hence, in oppression and genocide of “people of color” even when these Ashkenazi Jews try to impart lessons about tolerance based on the Holocaust!
As Ms. Peto goes on to explain, after World War II “Jews and other European ethnics [in the United States] became integrated into the white middle-class.” Notwithstanding “the myth that American Jews succeeded simply because of hard work,” they were now “firmly on the white side of the black/white divide in the United States.”
And yet, because “seeing themselves as part of an oppressive white majority was like seeing themselves as goyim” (that phrase quoted from a scholar named Eric Goldstein), Jews, according to Ms. Peto, turned the focus to their own ethnicity instead. That enabled them to “enjoy the privilege of whiteness, while still feeling like an oppressed minority that is not complicit in American racism.”
What a clever trick. It came in handy for disguising the phenomenon of “Jewish racism” a phrase Ms. Peto uses 21 times (as noted by the blogger Elder of Ziyon) in the course of this very nasty master’s thesis.
Could such cunning, nefarious people be trusted even when running the March of Remembrance and Hope an outfit that takes non-Jewish students on tours of death-camp sites in Poland to, as its website says, “teach … about the dangers of intolerance … and to promote better relations among people of diverse cultures”? One shouldn’t be so naïve as to think so!
No, while “the MRH does not mention Israel in their literature … it is nonetheless a Zionist project” (clever indeed!). And it is in including Muslim students in the trips to Poland that the MRH’s “Zionist politics … actually becomes more visible.”
How so? The subtle aim is to produce:
… a particular “good” Muslim subject. This “good” Muslim subject engages in Holocaust education, celebrates liberal values of tolerance and even uses the teaching of the Qur’an to promote these Western, liberal ideals.
And this in a manner that’s left unexplained:
… also produces the “bad,” intolerant Muslim subjects who do not engage in Holocaust education and by virtue of this non-involvement further prove their anti-Semitism which marks them as the enemies of civilization that must be attacked and destroyed.
So, after all, it’s a plot enabling Jews to attack and destroy more enemies of civilization!
And if the MRH is evil to such an extent, what of the March of the Living, a program that brings only Jewish students to Poland? Even worse!
In Ms. Peto’s telling, the MOL is “an entirely Eurocentric” project because it deals with Ashkenazi Jewish suffering in the Holocaust. “Herein lies [a] racist element of the MOL … the erasure of Sephardic and Mizrachi Jewish identity.”
This is tripe of the worst order, not least because many non-Ashkenazi Jews suffered in the Holocaust including the near-total destruction of communities in France, the Netherlands, and the Balkans. But for Ms. Peto:
It would be quite interesting and important to learn about how non-European Jewish youth experience this trip. Without first-hand accounts, I can only hypothesize their discomfort at being forced to identify with Ashkenazi Jewish history.
“Only hypothesize,” indeed. By this method, one can pretty much pass off any nonsense as academic work.
University of Toronto, are you listening?
And not only is the MOL a means for Ashkenazi Jews to “erase” non-Ashkenazi Jews; it enables them to do the same to the Holocaust victims themselves! These become, you see, “a racialized other to the participants on the MOL,” where:
… young, white Jewish participants encounter a Jewish Other, one who, unlike them, is excluded from whiteness and is subject to racialized violence. The MOL is structured in such a way that participants are meant to simultaneously identify with and reject the racialized Jewish Other in the degenerate spaces of Poland.
But enough of this garbage. One might ask: where was Ms. Peto’s thesis adviser, Prof. Sheryl Nestel, in all this?
Apart from the fact that the thesis is wretchedly written, with more use of the first-person singular than a therapy session, why did Nestel let her student cite only a thin gruel of crackpots like Norman Finkelstein, Ilan Pappé, Adi Ophir, and Marc Ellis, with no sign at all of ever having subjected herself to the challenge of a few dissenters from the Line? Why did Nestel approve such expression of blatant, subjective viciousness toward Jews and Israel?
The answer is that Nestel herself an adherent to the regnant academic trends with publications like “Mapping Jewish Dissent: Jewish Anti-Occupation Activism in Toronto” was most likely cheering Ms. Peto on.
And what of the University of Toronto? Does it want its name as a leading academic institution to be associated with a disgrace like Jennifer Peto’s thesis?
P. David Hornik is a freelance writer and translator living in Beersheva.