Hillel addresses anti-Semitic literature

A political comic in a magazine handed out at an event organized by the Queen’s Palestinian Human Rights association last fall was interpreted as anti-Semitic by Sara Berger, president of Queen’s Hillel.

Members of the association, however, said they never intended to promote anti-Semitism on campus.

“At an event at the beginning of the year they were handing out the Washington Report magazine, which had a section in the middle with comics that were anti-Semitic,” Berger told the Journal.

“There were portrayals of Jews with big noses [and] stars on their arms, holding money bags.” Ali Al Nasser, vice-president of the Palestinian Human Rights association at Queen’s, said the comics were misunderstood.

“People thought it was anti-Semitic, but the cartoon was actually drawn by a Jewish person,” he said. “The person in the [comic] is [Israeli] Prime Minister Ariel Sharon.”

Al Nasser said he did not want to come into conflict with Hillel over the comic.

“You don’t want to take this too far,” he said. “Yes, this is a picture of Ariel Sharon, yes, he has a big nose, yes, he has a lot of money, but that’s it.”

“We can’t get into clashes with [Hillel],” Al Nasser said, adding the association is not politically motivated.

“We’re a social group, we’re not a political group.”

The Palestinian Human Rights association executives did not see the allegedly anti-Semitic comic before the magazines were handed out, Al Nasser told the Journal.

“I actually haven’t seen the cartoon,” he said. “We just had those magazines and we just kind of looked through them but didn’t see anything anti-Semitic.”

Berger said she did not want to confront the association about the comic because there have been no conflicts between the two student groups.

“I just kind of wanted to forget about it because everyone’s been so civil and we didn’t want to blow up one minor incident,” she said.

Berger said the comic could have slipped under the radar of the association.

“They might not have seen it, it might have been an oversight,” she said. “We appreciate the restraint that they have shown.”

Professor Gerald Tulchinsky, former head of the University’s Jewish studies department, said in an interview with the Journal that anti-Semitism exists on campus, and that he had been approached by students who have experienced anti-Semitism.

“Stories come to me—not just stories,” he said. “I have had incontrovertible evidence that even a faculty member or two has made blatantly anti-Semitic remarks.”

Berger agreed that campus is not free of expressions of anti-Semitism.

“One hundred per cent it does [happen at Queen’s],” she said. “I don’t think anti-Semitism ceases to exist anywhere.” Berger said most of the incidents of which she was made aware were verbal.

She brought the literature she encountered last fall to the head of the Jewish studies department.

“I took [the comics] to the head of Jewish studies and they never made it past him,” she said. “He told me he’d take them to Human Rights and we never heard back.”

Rabbi Justin Jaron Lewis, head of the Jewish studies department, told the Journal he received the literature from Berger and then brought it to staff at Human Rights, where he sits as a committee member.

“I brought the material to the staff ... where it became part of a bigger discussion,” Lewis said.

“In general the Human Rights office has been discussing what we can do to defuse any tensions that might arise surrounding issues in the Middle East [and] what we can do to keep things civil [between student groups].”

Lewis said he informed the staff at Human Rights the literature came from an event put on by the Palestinian Human Rights association.

He said he did not tell them he wanted any specific action taken towards the group, and did not know if the Human Rights office contacted the association.

“I’m not sure if any contact was made, but [the literature] became involved in the ongoing discussion,” Lewis said.

Al Nasser said the association was not contacted by anyone from Human Rights about the comic.

Lewis is part of a Human Rights sub-committee that explores how to keep discussions of political and religious issues at a respectful level.

The sub-committee also discusses how to ensure there is open communication between student groups so confrontations are avoided.

Lewis said he thinks campus groups have related well to each other this year and is pleased that there has been no public conflict.

Margot Coulter, Human Rights advisor, said the Human Rights office is unable to speak about specific complaints in order to protect the confidentiality of all the parties involved.

Coulter said the procedures governing complaint follow-ups depend on the concerns of the complainant.

“In theory, whether a particular individual group [mentioned in a complaint] gets follow-up ... would depend on whether the complainant wanted it. We would resolve their particular issue that they have,” Coulter said.

She said if a group is specified in a complaint, the office would contact that group.

Emily Arvay, social issues commissioner for the AMS, told the Journal she did not remember any issues of the Washington Report being brought to the social issues commission for approval.

“I remember a couple of different magazines coming to me, but I don’t remember any particular one,” she said. “It could have been brought to me, but I do not recall the magazine.”

Al Nasser told the Journal he did not know if the magazine was brought to the social issues commission because the Palestinian Human Rights association was disorganized at the time the event was held.

None of the executives for the association have been approached by students who found their literature anti-Semitic.

Saleem Haddad, executive of fundraising for the association, said he received positive feedback from Hillel members about literature handed out at the Irshad Manji talk three weeks ago.

“I was approached by two members of Hillel who said they were pleasantly surprised,” he said. “They said they expected us to attack and we didn’t because we feel the sources speak for themselves.

“They’re all UN, Amnesty International [and] Human Rights Watch,” Haddad said.

Layal Sarrouh, executive of communications for the association, said the literature handed out at events is always documented.

“We always list where we found the information so people can go and do their own research,” she said.

Haddad said the association deals with human rights issues.

“Our mandate is basically to raise awareness about the Palestinian human rights violations committed by the Israeli defence forces,” he said. “We are against any type of killing—targeted killing, suicide bombing.

“We aren’t political in the sense that we don’t have any political affiliations, we just deal with the human rights issues in the area,” Haddad said.

Sarrouh said anti-Semitic incidents are a concern for all religious and cultural groups.

“At the end of the day, there’s no difference,” she said.

“I mean, vandalism, writing on people’s doors, it doesn’t matter who it is, it’s just wrong, whether it’s targeted at Jews, Christians, Muslims—we are all part of that.

“Our group has a huge cultural mix,” Sarrouh said.

“We completely sympathize with what’s going on [in Toronto] because Palestinians are Semites too, and of course as a human rights group we are against any form of human rights abuse and this is an abuse of human rights, this is racism,” he said.

“We would never say anything anti-Semitic or be as a group anti-Semitic. That would go against our mandate and go against our name as a human rights committee,” Haddad said.

The association has changed since first semester, Al Nasser said.

“It’s a different approach that we feel is more appropriate for campus,” he said, adding the group was previously composed of mainly international students from Palestine.

“What we have now is a group of Palestinian Canadians and [students from] other minority groups,” Al Nasser said.

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