Queen’s professors were accused of antisemitism halfway through a teach-in on the current conflict in Palestine and Israel.
More than 200 Queen’s community members joined the teach-in via Zoom on Oct. 26. The event was organized by individual professors, with Queen’s faculty members and experts providing insight into the historical and ongoing conflict in the region.
Attendees heard from Queen’s faculty members Ariel Salzmann, associate professor in the department of history, who provided historical context. Participants then listened to Dorit Naaman, professor in the department of film and media, who discussed media tropes related to the conflict and how they shape political realities. Faisal Bhabha, associate professor at Osgoode Hall Law School, also spoke at the event.
“The goal was to foster critical thinking and dialogue about the conflict in the Middle East,” Sharry Aiken, event moderator and associate professor at Queen’s Law School, said in an email to The Journal.
Aiken’s personal participation in the teach-in was inspired by an interview with two Dartmouth University professors who encouraged students and faculty to analyze the current conflict more carefully, and think about ways students can foster productive dialogue moving forward.
One hour into the teach-in, a Queen’s community member accused the speakers of antisemitism in the Zoom chat. Other attendees proceeded to unmute themselves, levelling allegations of antisemitism against the speakers.
The event was recorded, and a transcript of the teach-in was shared with all registered participants. The Journal received a copy of the transcript from Aiken.
Attendees claimed the teach-in was fueling antisemitism that already existed on Queen’s campus. Jewish participants expressed feeling attacked by the presentation. Salzmann, a Jewish individual herself, was described by some attendees as not representing the views of the Jewish community on Israel. They deemed her presentation biased in favour of the Palestinian side.
Salzmann told outraged attendees it takes a long time to understand the entire history underlying the conflict between Israel and Palestine.
“I take it [for] most people, you haven’t taken the time to really understand what’s happening over the past 500 years, let alone over the past 50 or 100 years,” Salzmann said during the teach-in.
Naaman expressed her belief that discomfort doesn’t necessarily equate antisemitism.
“I think that feeling uncomfortable and hearing things that are new and difficult to hear, that isn’t the same as antisemitism,” Naaman said.
Prior to the interruptions from the audience, Salzmann, Naaman, and Bhabha explained before Oct. 7 Palestinians protested the Israeli government’s influence over the Gaza Strip peacefully but had been met with violence, citing the Gaza border protest in 2018 to 2019.
“From the Palestinian perspective the massacre is a culmination of occupation, severe oppression, and the human rights crisis in Gaza,” Naaman said.
Bhabha said the events of Oct. 7 blurred the lines between legitimate and illegitimate resistance, making conversations about Palestinian right to resist occupation difficult.
“Residents of the [Gaza] Strip have a right, according to most international law scholars and commentators, to resist occupation. Their right to resist is grounded in and bounded by international law, including the absolute prohibition on targeting civilians,” Bhabha said.
“It appears Hamas committed several violations of international law, several war crimes, and for that reason the actions of Oct. 7 are being described quite rightly as an atrocity.”
Following the teach-in, the Jewish Law Students Association (JLSA), and Gili Golan, president of Queen’s Hillel, sent an email to Aiken requesting a recording of the teach-in be released.
They were given a transcript, but Zev Winegust, president of JLSA, and Isaac Pekeles, vice-president (finance) of JLSA, said they want the full recording.
“This was an emotionally charged event, and we think having the totality of the context will give insight into how Jewish students were made to feel,” Pekeles said in an interview with The Journal.
Speakers used PowerPoints containing information not in the transcript, and some of the information presented could be misleading as the speakers used an article published five years ago to describe the current war, Winegust explained.
For Pekeles, Jewish students entered the teach-in hoping to have a meaningful conversation about the current conflict but left feeling unseen and unheard. Winegust and Pekeles are focused on supporting their peers.
“Our number one priority is that Jewish students feel safe and heard on campus,” Winegust said.
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