What’s discussed openly in Israel is toxic in Toronto

“I feel like I am in exile in my own city and my own community,” says Sharryn Aiken the morning after a conference she helped organize and for which she was vilified by her Jewish community, wrote columnist Haroon Siddiqui in the Toronto Star June 28.

A Torontonian, she teaches law at Queen’s University in Kingston. It took her and three academics at York’s Osgoode Hall Law School 18 months to mount the three-day event, Israel/Palestine: Mapping Models of Statehood and Paths to Peace.

It was to explore, among other things, the notion of one state in which Jews and Arabs would live as equal citizens, sans their religious identities. The idea, not new, is anathema to those who see it as spelling the end of Israel as a Jewish state.

About 200 people from Canada, the US, Israel and Europe came. A quarter were Jewish. The dialogue was civil, Aiken reported from the meeting, which was closed to the media.

She said that many delegates, “first and foremost, the Israelis,” were outraged at the attempts to ban the meeting. Among them: Meron Benvenisti, deputy mayor of Jerusalem under Teddy Kollek (1971-1978), now a columnist for Haaretz, the liberal Israeli paper.

He opposes the one-state solution. He also opposes the notion of not talking about it. Of the Canadian critics of the conference, he told me: “If they want to be more patriotic than me, I have no use for them…. I am not going to take any lessons about Israel from people living here…. It’s hypocritical of them to use my national flag to stop dialogue.”

From the start, Aiken and her co-organizers – Bruce Ryder and Susan Drummond, professors at Osgoode, and Mazen Masri, a PhD candidate at the school – knew that they might draw criticism.

So they set up a high-powered advisory panel of 11, four of them Israelis. Besides Benvenisti, there were professors from Hebrew and Haifa universities. “I am not naive,” she said. “To allay anxieties, I did an outreach and met various Jewish groups” – to no avail.

At York, President & Vice-Chancellor Mamdouh Shoukri issued a statement May 21 affirming academic freedom. He also noted that the University opposes an academic boycott of Israel as “antithetical to the very purpose of a university.”

On June 5, Marshall Cohen, chair of York’s Board of Governors, and Paul Cantor, chair-designate, joined him in another statement: “These issues are discussed on a daily basis in all parts of the world, especially in the Middle East, including Israel. There is no reason why they should not be discussed at a university in Canada.”

The York Senate asserted the right of “universities to organize and host academic conferences free from government intervention.”

Meanwhile, Aiken was battling B’nai Brith. It had said one of the speakers was a Holocaust denier, attributing a statement to him he never made. “We had to get a lawyer to have that defamatory statement withdrawn,” and have B’nai Brith apologize on its Web site.

Overall, Aiken is left with “a deep sadness. I received a lot of hate mail. The extent of the vilification has been very painful…. I am not a self-hating Jew…. I am not anti-Zionist. I care about a continued safe place for Jews in Israel.”

She understands “the dynamics of diaspora”, where the more distant people are from a homeland or a spiritual homeland, the more orthodox they tend to be. “What is specific to the Jewish diaspora is that Israel has been instrumentalized by mainstream Jewish organizations as the primary marker of Jewish identity. Any criticism of Israel is perceived and interpreted as anti-Semitic.”

Thus, “critical dialogue becomes deeply threatening…. What is routinely discussed in Israel becomes a problem in Toronto. That’s terribly wrong," said Aiken. "In the long run, it will be counterproductive. Thoughtful Jews would be put off, especially the young.”

What happens to the gains unions have made for everyone?

Companies struggling to survive make tough choices, sometimes in agreement with unions, wrote the Toronto Star June 28 in a story about the effect of the recession on union contract negotiations. But the concessions they demand set the tone for profitable companies too, argues Norene Pupo, director of York University’s Centre for Research on Work and Society.

The bottom for both unions and working conditions depends on the length of the recession, says York University’s Craig Heron, a historian of the Canadian labour movement in the Faculty of Arts. “You find much more strength and leverage for unions during boom times and a much weaker ability to negotiate during down times.”

With unemployment rising – it hit 9.4 per cent in Ontario in May, the highest in 15 years – employers have a bigger pool of labour to choose from. During the Great Depression, workers who resisted wage cuts were replaced by the many waiting at factory gates for jobs, Heron notes.

Canadians are victims of “a politics of envy”, promoted all the more during the recession, says sociologist Pat Armstrong, professor in York’s Faculty of Arts. “People say, ‘Why should those workers get it if I don’t have it,’ as opposed to flipping it around and saying, ‘Why shouldn’t we all get it,’” she says.

Canada’s sun still rises in Japan

Canada ’s relationship with Japan is long, stable and important but in recent years has been taken for granted, said The Vancouver Sun June 27 in a story about trade relations.

“Unfortunately, from a peak of activities in the 1980s and 1990s, the level of two-way exchange has fallen dramatically,” wrote Charles McMillan, professor of international business in the Schulich School of Business at York University, in a recent paper. “It is time to rescue this critical bilateral relationship with some serious, concrete and high-level strategies.”

The conundrum for Canada is that Japan is still our second-largest trading partner and our largest in Asia. Its economic GDP remains bigger than the rest of Asia put together. “Two-way trade between Canada and Japan now approaches $27 billion, a significant sum by any standards,” McMillan wrote.

Drawing a legal line on the business of politics

In his ruling Friday in the Larry O’Brien case, Justice Douglas Cunningham seems to have given the green light to purely partisan horse-trading, while confirming the criminality of promising appointments to objective bodies for political advantage – perhaps forever altering the business of political patronage, wrote the Ottawa Citizen June 27.

“If I were a politician, I would be very careful about the way in which I approach the business of politics in light of the judgment,” said James Stribopoulos, professor in York’s Osgoode Hall Law School.

Secret police wiretaps flying under the radar

“There might be a lot more instances in which it is being used and that’s what’s troubling,” says James Stribopoulos, a professor in York’s Osgoode Hall Law School in Toronto, in a story by CBCNews.ca June 29 about the use of Criminal Code provisions to eavesdrop on a group of key suspects without court approval. “I think people would be alarmed to know there are no checks on the exercise of that power,” said Stribopoulos.

Osgoode grad is CEO of New Brunswick Power Corp.

Fifteen years ago, David Hay (LLB ’79) was a Canadian living the fast-paced life of a London investment banker, wrote The Globe and Mail June 29 in a profile of the graduate of York’s Osgoode Hall Law School. Then he and his wife made a lifestyle choice to come home and settle in New Brunswick.

Hay, 53, is now chief executive officer of New Brunswick Power Corp. at a key point in the history of Atlantic Canada’s largest electrical utility, just as the province positions itself as a hub in North American energy markets. With a three-year contract renewal under his belt, he is overseeing refurbishment of its nuclear power plant at Point Lepreau, and looking ahead to a possible second reactor.

No substitute for peer insight

As valuable as the vendor and teaching-assistant perspectives are in this discussion, I think the Post missed two key groups: students and employers, wrote Chris Irwin in a letter to the National Post June 27 responding to a debate about a peer-marking system that has been banned by the courts. Since students are the “customers” in this case, we should consider what would benefit them. As an instructor at the Schulich School of Business at York University, I would argue that peer insight can be as valuable as that of “trained and qualified instructors” for topics that require thought, which, correct me if I am wrong, is the aim of education.

York soccer star’s injury keeps him off Team Canada

Mike Mosher, Team Canada head soccer coach, will have to make do at the World University Games without injured York University midfielder Francesco Bruno, the reigning Canadian Interuniversity Sport player of the year, wrote Vancouver’s The Province June 29. “Frank certainly would have been a key guy but we’ve got a lot of good players, a lot of different options,” said Mosher. “I think we’re pretty balanced and deep.”

Retirement investing insights from Schulich prof

As retirement looms, Moshe Milevsky, a professor in the Schulich School of Business at York University, says investors should increase allocation to products that provide equity upside but they also need to protect against longevity and sequence-of-returns risk, wrote the National Post June 27. “It’s not just about stocks versus bonds, especially for those who are pensionless.”

Milevsky doesn’t blame fund managers or advisors who advocated heavy unhedged exposure to stocks in retirement. The concern isn’t so much the asset mix but whether equities in these products underperform the indexes and whether fund holders paid for money management “they could have achieved more cheaply and efficiently on their own.”

On air

  • Sarah Flicker, professor in York’s Faculty of Environmental Studies, spoke about her latest research on teen sexual health on Vancouver’s NEWS1130 Radio June 27.
  • Chris Robinson, professor in York’s Atkinson School of Administrative Studies, spoke about financial advisers on CBC Newsworld June 28.