Controversy arises during teach-in on conflict in Middle East

Outraged attendees accuse professors of biased historical coverage

Image by: Herbert Wang
The teach-in took place on Zoom on Oct. 26.

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.


Israel, Palestine, teach-in

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Comments (8)

  • This is poor journalism –so unbalanced! The author should have made an effort to find someone among the two attendees who learned something from the professors.

  • “Jewish students entered the teach-in hoping to have a meaningful conversation about the current conflict” so unmuting your mics and accusing the speakers of antisemitism is a meaningful conversation?

  • It would be great if attendees other than the two complainants were asked for their views. And helpful context would be to point out that Prof Aiken is Jewish and Prof Naaman is Israeli-Canadian. And when some students unmuted to complain about antisemitism another student interceded who identified as Jewish to say that no one spoke for all Jewish people.

    The framing of this article makes it seem as though some students speak for all Jewish students and does not consider what the 200-odd attendees thought.

  • This panel showcased the very best of Queen’s! There were dozens of students, staff, and faculty in attendance eager to engage and ready to be challenged–in any number of directions. Why not speak to one of them? Why echo an accusation of antisemitism without defining the term or providing any evidence that it occurred? I heard criticisms of the ideologies and practices of the Israeli government, of Hamas, and of the European and North American powers who share responsibility for the violence, in the present and historically. But I heard absolutely nothing that would qualify as anti-semitic. The analyses were rich, complex, divergent, and deeply humane. We need more of this kind of conversation, not less.

  • I attended the teach-in. The speakers, 3 of whom are Jewish, did indeed criticize the actions of the Israeli military and the Israeli state. They also recognized (and clearly shared) the grief of Israelis about the Hamas attacks, and they acknowledged the violent antisemitism that propelled the establishment of the state of Israel in the first place. To those who considered the panel antisemitic, I would ask, is self-critique the same as self-hatred? To criticize the state of Israel is not antisemitic, any more than it would be antiCanadian to criticize the Canadian state. We should always expect our nations to practice justice, but they don’t always do it, and then it’s our right or even responsibility to criticize them. Furthermore, in order to decide what justice is, we can’t just look through our own eyes — we have to consider multiple perspectives. This is what this panel was doing and I appreciated it very much.

  • It seems like these students didn’t consider that there are many israelis including those who have family killed in oct 7th attacks or taken hostage have demanded and begged for a ceasefire…..

  • It is unfortunate that the headline and subheadline perpetuate the charged debate. With such an emotional topic, I would think it makes sense for journalism to evaluate more soberly.

  • I was an attendee at this event, which was wide-ranging and gave the 200-odd participants the opportunity to gain some context on the history of the region, analysis of media coverage, and relevant international law. The article makes it seem as though the entire audience was outraged, when it seemed to be about 3-4 attendees (one of whom disputed the allegations of anti-semitism and seemed to identify as Jewish). Presumably, this could be verified by the transcript.

    The moderator repeatedly explained why the event should not be recorded and why a recording would not be made available, and this was to prevent doctoring and circulation on social media. There is nothing sinister in doing this; it is to protect participants from the harassment, misrepresentation, and doxxing that has become all too common.

    The article provides no definition of anti-semitism nor does it provide any indication that there are debates around what counts as anti-semitism and that criticism of the state of Israel often is conflated with anti-semitism by those who wish to deflect or silence criticism of the state of Israel. Three of the four professors identified themselves as Jewish and/or Israeli, which helps to illustrate that there is debate on what is antisemitism amongst Jewish people and Israelis (as you would expect from groups of individuals that are not monolithic). Presumably, these professors have had painful experiences of antisemitism, and they expressed their grief and pain at Hamas’ attacks of October 7, and their commitment to ensuring that Jewish students can study in safety and dignity at Queen’s.

    This article is poorly researched and misrepresents the event, choosing the framing offered by a few students who complained (and perhaps the one that is most click-baity).

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