The conference must go on, says US participant

B’nai Brith Canada, the Canadian Council for Israel and Jewish Advocacy (CIJA) and NGO Monitor – a self-appointed “watchdog” group in Israel led by Gerald M. Steinberg – have all condemned York University for hosting a multidisciplinary conference on ways of thinking about the future of the Middle East, wrote Ian Lustick, Bess W. Heyman chair in the Department of Political Science at the University of Pennsylvania in a guest column for the National Post June 11.

[Their] statements, plus these organizations’ letter-writing campaigns and other pressure tactics, are part of a pattern of misguided, “pro-Israel” attempts throughout North America to suppress debate and ignore the challenges and questions we Zionists must face, wrote Lustick.

The only criterion a self-respecting university can use when judging whether to host an event is whether what will be said will contribute to the ability of members of the community to improve their arguments. It cannot have anything to do with what will be argued, otherwise it places power in the hands of particular groups with particular opinions and agendas to decide what is right, what is worth considering as possibly right and what is illegitimate to even question.

Since liberal education begins with the freedom to ask new questions, this kind of demand threatens the principle of intellectual freedom at its core and demonstrates that those seeking to prevent questions from being asked fundamentally misunderstand the true meaning of a scholarly vocation.

As a scholar of contemporary Middle Eastern politics, I will be participating in the conference at York University for the same reason I attend any academic conference – to learn, Lustick wrote. I will learn from those with whom I agree, and I will learn even more from those with whom I disagree.

Shame on those who, in the name of academic integrity, would suppress an opportunity for colleagues to learn together about such a complex and important issue as the future of Israelis and Palestinians in the Middle East.

  • I have studied in the law library of Gerald M. Steinberg’s Bar-Ilan University in Ramat Gan, Israel, wrote Haim Ben-Yehuda in a letter to the National Post June 11. In Toronto, I have met Palestinian-American Ali Abunimah and American-Israeli Jeff Halper, and have heard them speak about their ideas for peace between Israelis and Palestinians.

One thing is clear: They have ideas for peace, which include an end to Israeli military rule in the West Bank and Jerusalem and recognition of the right of return of the Palestine refugees.

What about the future of Israel as an ethnically defined “Jewish state”, rather than a non-sectarian state with equal rights for all citizens? This is the very topic that the York University conference seeks to investigate.

  • Sharryn Aiken, an organizer of the Israel-Palestine conference taking place later this month at York University, says the aim of the gathering is to bring together academics with diverse ideas and to create a forum that will "facilitate lively exchange from diverse perspectives". Yet, the speaker bios and paper abstracts posted on the conference Web site tell a different story, wrote Eric Lawee, professor of Jewish studies in York’s Faculty of Arts, in a letter to The Globe and Mail June 11. They tell us that some of the participants lack academic credentials and that a disturbing number of the speakers have expressed virulent hatred of Israel in other forums, wrote Lawee.

Jim Turk, executive director of the Canadian Association of University Teachers, is right that universities need to be places where controversial ideas can be debated, wrote Lawee. But if academics wish to ward off political intervention in academic affairs, they must resist the growing trend to confer academic legitimacy on propagandists who trample on the most basic of academic values: pursuit of truth in all its complexity.

Goodyear defends academic funding questions

Cambridge MP Gary Goodyear makes no apologies for asking that a $19,700 grant be reviewed for [a] gathering looking for ideas to end Israeli-Palestinian bloodshed, wrote the Waterloo Region Record June 11 in a story about reaction to the Israel/Palestine: Mapping Models of Statehood and Paths to Peace conference being held at York June 22 to 24. Some speakers advocate eliminating the Jewish state, critics say.

Goodyear said he would raise the same kind of concerns the same way again, despite a call for his resignation from the Canadian Association of University Teachers (CAUT). “I have no intention of taking that request seriously,” Goodyear said.

Such a response proves Goodyear doesn’t understand the concept of academic freedom or his powerful position as a cabinet minister, said James Turk, executive director of the CAUT. “I’m not aware, (in) the history of granting councils in this country, of any minister doing what Minister Goodyear has done. Almost everyone understands that’s crossing the line.”

Goodyear said he’s received hundreds of e-mails from individuals and Jewish groups, complaining about some speakers at the conference.

  • A federal minister violated academic independence, critics say, when he asked a grant-giving government body to reconsider its pledge to fund a conference some groups consider anti-Israel, wrote the Toronto Star June 11.

After he was contacted by groups such as B’nai Brith, Gary Goodyear, minister of state for science & technologyh, phoned the president of the Social Science & Humanities Research Council of Canada and asked him to review a grant awarded to a conference at York University on the future of Israel and Palestine.

James Turk of the CAUT called it unacceptable political interference in academia.

  • In spite of the lofty commitments made by Mamdouh Shoukri, president & vice-chancellor of York University, to “academic freedom…rigorous thought and extensive research,” the Israel/Palestine conference on June 22 to 24 may turn out to be an exercise in deception, if only judging from the changes that have recently been made to its official Web site, wrote Salomon Benzimra in a letter to the National Post June 11. While the site initially promised to “rigorously examine all options for a resolution of the conflict,” it now focuses on the “one-state solution” (a euphemism for the eradication of Israel) as an alternative to the failed two-state solution.

I trust that Gary Goodyear, minister of state (science & technology), will reconsider the grant which has been provided to the York conference by the Social Sciences & Humanities Research Council of Canada, and that he will let it be known that Canada will not support this sham.

Writer draws hope from Solomon’s work

Three recent events give me hope, so I am not in terminal distress, wrote Rita Shelton Deverell in The Toronto Sun June 10 in a column about the difficulties blacks face in the education system.

The first was a memorial seminar on Equity, Diversity and Community in honour of Patrick Solomon at York University. Solomon, who was black, died this past fall of cancer. He was obviously beloved by colleagues and students. He was a pioneer of the Urban Diversity Initiative in the Faculty of Education, taught in Jamaica before moving to Canada, had a BA from Waterloo University, a MEd from Western, and a PhD from the State University of New York.

Patrick Solomon believed we could turn out a different breed of teacher and therefore build a different kind of school environment. And as long as student teachers learn from Solomon’s Urban Diversity Initiative that race does matter – even in Canada – but that they can change environments, eventually those dismal achievement stats for black children in Toronto will change too.

‘Last of dinosaurs’ leaves classroom

Maurice Elliott recently retired as a professor from York University’s Faculty of Arts, wrote Jim Thomas in the Whitchurch-Stouffville Sun-Tribune June 10, [and] symbolic of his academic aptitude is the vastness of his home library, containing more than 25,000 books.

“Have you read them all?” I enquired.

“I was afraid you’d ask me that,” he replied with a smile.

Elliott, who calls himself the last of the dinosaurs, joined the staff of York University in 1966, an enviable association that extended over 43 years. During this time, he taught at York’s Atkinson School of Liberal & Professional Studies and Glendon College. English was his specialty. “I loved it,” he says. “I enjoyed being associated with young people.”

As an orator at York, Elliott wrote 170 citations for honorary degrees.

York grad was a most interesting man

York grad Frank Zoretich (MBA ’77) passed away unexpectedly but peacefully at his home in Markham, wrote The Niagara Falls Review June 11 in an obituary. Zoretich was very educated and graduated from Niagara University, Purdue University and the Schulich School of Business at York University.

Zoretich obtained two master’s degrees, in chemistry and business, and also worked for NASA where he developed rocket fuels for the space program. He left for the automobile industry, was a NASCAR driver, he raced Ski-Doos in Simcoe. He was also a motorcycle rider, riding across Canada and the United States.

He loved golf, cooking and travelling. Frank was very well respected, carefree, loving, was a lot of fun to be around and had a passion for life that will be sadly missed by all who knew him, wrote the Review. He “Did it His Way”.

York grad doesn’t need to show off and neither does her Audi

She won Female Vocalist of the Year at the 2009 Canadian Smooth Jazz Awards in April. And the recognition threw the Toronto singer and songwriter into the spotlight. Music comes naturally to Daniela Nardi (BFA Spec. Hons. ’93) – and so does driving, wrote The Globe And Mail June 11.

“I’m pretty comfortable behind the wheel and I like to drive fast.” Nowadays, Nardi drives a 2009 Audi A4 Quattro Sedan. “I just love it. I love the smoothness of the car, its elegance and impeccable design,” says the charismatic 42-year-old. “It doesn’t need to show off…. It doesn’t need to scream at you that it’s a big brand. It’s overstated in an understated way,” says the married songstress who studied at the Royal Conservatory of Music and graduated from York University with a bachelor of fine arts in music.

New wind farm rules complicate deployment, says York prof

New rules forcing wind farms to keep their giant turbines at least half a kilometre from the nearest building will not affect a proposed local wind project, wrote the Ottawa Citizen June 11, in a story quoting the project’s developers that included comments by Mark Winfield, professor in York’s Faculty of Environmental Studies.

Winfield, an energy expert, wrote the Citizen, says the large buffers could affect wind projects in southern Ontario. “It clearly complicates the deployment,” he says. “It means the locations these things can go into will be restricted.”