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Reaction to the valedictory address at the medical school convocation ceremony

Ed. note: We have received a number of inquiries, both from students in this year’s graduating U of M medical school class, and from former students (now practising physicians), asking whether we would print responses to what occurred during the convocation ceremony on May 16. In addition to their being published here, they will also be published in the June 5 issue of The Jewish Post.

We will continue to print whatever responses we receive as (and if) we receive them. In the meantime, here’ are the first two responses we received, on May 23:

May 23rd, 2024
Hello,
My name is Gregory Jackson. I am a member of the 2024 graduating class from the
Max Rady College of Medicine.
Our convocation has garnered more publicity than I would have ever thought. The
valedictorian’s address and subsequent aftermath compels me to act beyond my
traditional comfort zone.
A classmate of mine, Dr. Irvine, stated in an interview with the CBC that “from my
perspective, there wasn’t any students that were graduating that were upset with what was
being said”. I happened to be seated beside Dr. Irvine during convocation. Since Thursday, I
have been truly shocked, disheartened and embarrassed by what unfolded and its impacts
on our community. I regret not walking out during the valedictorian’s speech.
Boisterous cheers from emboldened supporters drown out the gasps and stunned
silence during the valedictorian’s address, turning a day that should have been shared joy
into a day of shared embarrassment. While I know that I cannot convince my classmates
on our disagreements in geopolitics, I am dismayed that our convocation was hijacked to
espouse reckless personal and aggressive political views.
I am writing this letter to show support and patience for the Dean, Dr. Nickerson, as
he navigates an appropriate and firm response. Furthermore, I am writing to formally
dissent and dispute the notion that the Class of 2024 is unified when sophistry
masquerades as advocacy. In the current climate of fear and violence, I respect those who
wish to remain anonymous to maintain their safety. Most importantly, I wish to vocalize my
support to my classmates, faculty members, and people living in our community who are
threatened and alienated by such rhetoric; I hope that our community can heal and that we
can re-aYirm an environment in which our Jewish members are safe, respected and loved.
Faithfully yours,

Gregory Jackson

Dr. Peter Nickerson, Dean and Vice-provost, Rady Faculty of Health Sciences
Michael Benarroch, President, University of Manitoba president@umanitoba.ca
Mr. Ernest Rady,  3420 Carmel Mountain Road, Suite 100, San Diego, California, 92121
CBC News, talkback@cbc.ca
Joe Hutchison at Dailymail.com
Roberta Lexier, Associate Professor, Mount Royal University rlexier@mtroyal.ca
Winnipeg Free Press 
letters@freepress.mb.ca

I recall vividly that early morning September 1985 when I sat in my first class of Medical School at the University of Manitoba. The very first words spoken by the professor were ‘Primum non nocere’, which means ‘first do no harm’.

As physicians, we must use every means possible to gather an accurate history, using listening skills in a nonjudgmental fashion, and more often than not, creatively gathering collateral history from many sources. Dr. Gem Newman, to his credit, seems to be a passionate individual who cares about people. Unfortunately, the last few minutes of his speech made it clear that he cares only for some, on the basis of an incorrect history, leading to a disastrously incorrect diagnosis. He failed to take his own advice with respect to acknowledging one’s limitations rather than questioning if his opinion reflects fact. Nor does it seem that he consulted with those with more knowledge of the situation. His valedictorian address last week has caused harm: To the Jewish graduates, their families, as well as the Jewish community in the audience and abroad. To those who choose to believe the distortions of reality pertaining to the history of the region and current conflict. To those of us who know differently. To the truth. 

Sadly, the response by the University and the media did not address specifically why Newman’s speech was so offensive. For that reason I feel compelled to provide the counter arguments, even if the damage has been done by the hundreds of thousands of views of his speech. After all, he’s a doctor. He should know what he’s talking about. Right?

Newman stated: “ I call on you to stand in solidarity with Indigenous people everywhere.” He either does not know or chooses to ignore the undeniable fact that the Jewish people are indigenous to that region of the Middle East for over 3700 years. He insinuated that the Jews are settler-colonizers, ethnically cleansing the Palestinians. Let me be perfectly clear. There have always been Jews living in that area since Abraham moved his family from Mesopotamia. Over the centuries the population had diminished due to invasions of the land resulting in massacres and exile. However, some always remained. Biblical reference, Jewish writings throughout the ages, numerous archaeological findings and even the Qu’ ran support the historical claim of the land of the ‘Israelites’, meaning the Jewish people. Never mind the fact that the term ‘Jew’ comes from ‘Judea’, just as ‘Arab’ from ‘Arabia’. His remark echoes the libelous accusation that the Jewish people are recent ‘colonizers’ who took over land belonging to others.

Prior to control by the British after WWI, the Ottoman Empire had conquered what is now Israel in the 1500’s. By the mid 1800’s the land was desolate and sparsely populated, as numerous published reports of the time have documented. I will provide two examples: In 1881, English cartographer Arthur Penrhyn Stanley wrote: “In Judea it is hardly an exaggeration to say that for miles and miles there was no appearance of life or habitation.” Mark Twain, in the mid 1800’s, wrote that one could walk from one end of Jerusalem to the other in an hour, At this time Jewish people and organizations started buying back the land from absentee Arab landlords at significantly inflated prices. By 1864, the majority population of Jerusalem, where our first and second temples were built dating back over 3,000 years, was Jewish. Following return of the Jews, with the economic, industrial and technological advances brought with them, Arabs began immigrating to the area as well. THAT is how the population increased; both Jews and Arabs began to repopulate the land. Again, written references from that era along with deeds to the land purchased by individuals and the JNF confirm this. 

In 1948, the day after Sovereignty was granted to Israel, five Arab armies invaded Israel with the intent to exterminate all of the Jews and take over the new State. Arabs living there fled of their own volition or left by order of the Arab armies, with assurance that they could return to their homes after the Jews were gone. Lo and behold, Israel won the war against all odds. The 156,000 Arabs that remained became Israeli citizens, whose descendants are now 2 million, with equal rights as the Jews, Christians, Druze and every other citizen. Meanwhile 850,000 Jews were killed or forced to flee from many Arab countries across the Middle East, leaving their property and belongings behind. 

Newman also claims that Israel is waging a genocidal war against Palestinians. The only genocidal attack was perpetrated by Hamas and associated Palestinian terror groups on October 7, 2023. I am not making a false claim. Ghazi Hamad in an interview October 23, 2023, as well as other Hamas leaders have been very clear about their intentions to ‘repeat October 7 again and again and again’. I have collected many interviews and videos from across the globe with calls to Islamist extremists to kill every Jew they encounter, as a religious duty. These calls for ‘Jihad’ and ‘Intifada’ coming from extremist Muslim religious leaders has now spread across the globe, and is even chanted by those who don’t know which River to Sea they want to clear the Jewish people from. Despite these threats of global annihilation of the Jewish people, Israel has sent out 7 million leaflets in Arabic with maps of safe zones, supplementing this with millions of phone calls, text messages and voice mails. The IDF ‘roof knocks’, which is sending a dud bomb as a warning to evacuate the area. Unfortunately, Hamas and UNRWA not only told civilians to ignore these warnings, they stole car keys and even shot civilians trying to leave for safe areas as reported by Palestinians and captured on voice recordings and video. No other military past or present goes to the lengths that Israel does to minimize civilian casualties. 

This war is being fought in an unprecedented extremely complex war zone intentionally designed as such over the past 18 years.  There are over 700 km of tunnels exclusively for Hamas’ use and protection.  These terrorists fight in civilian clothes from hospitals, mosques, schools and civilian infrastructure, all of which lose protective immunity by law if used for such purposes. The referenced doctors, health care workers and journalists Newman insists Israel targets are not all altruistic innocents; many including hospital directors captured are longstanding members of Hamas. Rather than protecting their citizens, Hamas fight from beneath, beside and behind their men, women and children. The billions of dollars in aid funneled into Palestine over the years did not get spent on one single civilian bomb shelter. Despite this, Israel has still managed to achieve the lowest civilian:combatant death toll of ANY urban war hovering at about 1:1. This is even using the original Gaza MoH numbers prior to the exposure of manipulation of data at best, fabrication more likely, which led to the U.N. quietly backtracking and halving the number of women and children casualties. For seven months, those numbers had been broadcast to every news outlet and media source with impunity, and are still being quoted to this day. Not only are the numbers provided by Hamas grossly inflated, there are several analyses of the casualty data churned out by those terrorists that prove the patterns are statistically impossible.

You may also wish to verify the way the IDF conducts military operations with the Chair of Urban Warfare Studies of West Point, Major John W. Spencer. 
Another resource is Colonel Richard Kemp of the British Army. Their opinions regarding whether a genocide is being waged on the Palestinians carry significantly more weight than Dr. Newman’s, I would think. The IDF is not called the ‘most moral army in the world’ for nothing.

On to the ‘famine” in Gaza. As of this writing, Israel has allowed entry of 427,981 tons of food, 59,930 tons of shelter equipment, 541 tanks of cooking gas, 23,260 tons of medical supplies, 34,940 tons of water. COGAT provides daily updates on humanitarian aid that has crossed into Gaza. Plenty of video evidence is available of Hamas confiscating the aid, shooting and killing civilians trying to get aid, and charging up to ten times the value of the aid (intended as donations, not to sell) which many cannot afford. There are estimates that Hamas has made close to $500,000 profit from this despicable abuse. The pier that the US provided has been targeted by Hamas rockets during and after construction. Videos are also posted daily of bustling markets full of produce in Gaza.

Apart from the poor taste the valedictorian displayed by using the last few minutes of his speech to grandstand, the greatest issue I have is that his claims do not contain fact. This is exactly the way the blood libels began, were spread, and continue to be spread. We witnessed the result of this less than a century ago and vowed ‘never again’. Yet here we are on our way to repeating history that apparently was not learned, with the help of people like Dr. Newman. We lost over 1/3 of the world Jewish population in the Holocaust, and 85 years later our census is still lower than it was in 1939; a mere 16 million, whose voice cannot come close to the volume of our adversaries.

I agree with free speech, but there must be accountability. There must be truth.

Annilea Gunn, MD, CCFP, FCFP
University of Manitoba Class of 1989


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RBC freezes client’s bank account by mistake – and keeps it frozen without explanation

By BERNIE BELLAN (June 14, 2024) What would you do if, one day, you tried to use your debit card to pay for something or to take a cash withdrawal – and the card didn’t work? But then, after contacting your bank to try and find out why that’s happening, you’re simply told your account is frozen – without any further explanation? And, only after deducing that the bank froze the account of the wrong individual, does the bank finally admit its error.
Such was the case recently with an RBC client who happened to be a relative of mine and who enlisted my help in trying to figure out why their account had been frozen by RBC.

On May 1 I was contacted by my relative asking for my help. They couldn’t understand why their debit card wasn’t working. They told me that their card had stopped working five days prior. (It should be explained this individual does not have sophisticated knowledge how to deal with a problem of this sort and they simply thought there was a glitch in using their card that would be corrected in short order by the bank.)

After several days of not being able to use their card, my relative explained, they had phoned RBC on April 30, but were not offered any explanation as to why their account had been frozen. They were told, however, that the matter was in the hands of a Vancouver branch of RBC. My relative was even further puzzled. They lived in Winnipeg and had never even been to Vancouver. What did their account being frozen have to do with a Vancouver branch of RBC, they wondered?

The day my relative contacted me, I told them to come over to my house and that I would try and get an RBC customer service representative on the phone to obtain some sort of explanation as to why their account had been frozen. After getting an RBC customer service representative on the phone and explaining who I was, I asked permission to listen in on the conversation between my relative and the RBC customer service representative. The customer service representative agreed to allow that, but during the course of the conversation they said they were not able to offer any information as to why the RBC client’s card had been frozen.
Both my relative and I were totally puzzled. RBC had frozen their account but would offer no explanation for why that had happened.

Later that day, however, my relative contacted me again to say that they wondered whether it was possible their account had been frozen by mistake because they had the same name as another relative? That other individual does live in Vancouver, so it began to make sense to me. I don’t know that individual well, but was able to contact them after getting their phone number from someone who knew them.
I phoned that person but just got their voice messaging, so I left a message asking them to call me. In a few minutes that individual did call me back and did say, not only that they had an RBC account, but that they had some legal issues related to debts (without going into specifics).

Immediately it occurred to me that my Winnipeg relative’s account had been frozen by mistake and that it was this Vancouver relative whose account was the one RBC had intended to freeze.

I phoned RBC back again and said that it was apparent RBC had frozen the account of the wrong individual. When I gave a detailed explanation of what evidently had happened, this time the RBC customer service representative told us to go down to the branch where my relative does their banking, where we would be met by a banking representative.

At the branch we met with a very nice RBC representative who said they had been brought up to speed as to what had happened. The bank representative explained that my relative’s account had been frozen as the result of a court order that had been issued in Vancouver to freeze the account of someone with the same name. The representative said that my relative could still not use their debit card to access cash, but the representative would be able to give them cash that they could use until their account was unfrozen.

At that time I suggested that what RBC had done was an outrageous mistake and that RBC ought to offer compensation to my relative. The branch representative said RBC was willing to waive bank fees for my relative for six months – apparently worth something in the order of $80 altogether.
The representative also gave me the name of the law firm that had applied for the court order that had led to the wrong account being frozen.

I contacted that law firm the same day and explained what had happened to a lawyer from the firm. The lawyer told me that the court order that had been applied for and had been issued by a court specifically gave the number of the bank account that was to be frozen. The lawyer sent me a copy of the bank order.

It was apparent that someone at RBC had made a huge mistake. They had ignored the order to freeze a specific account belonging to a specific RBC client and instead had frozen the account of a totally different RBC client who happened to have the same name!
When I discovered how egregious a mistake RBC had made – after reading the court order, I contacted the same RBC branch representative who had offered to freeze the fees on my relative’s account and said that my relative expected a lot more in compensation for such an outrageous mistake than simply having bank fees waived for six months.

On May 22, the RBC branch representative wrote in an email to me:
“Your request for compensation has also been escalated to our RBC client care department. They will reach out directly.”

On June 11 we contacted the branch representative to say that my relative had not heard anything from the client care department. On June 12 the branch rep wrote to me to say that an RBC client care representative had indeed attempted to contact my relative – both via phone and email. The phone number that was given in the email though was no longer in service and when we checked with our relative they said they hadn’t received an email.

On June 12 we emailed the RBC client care representative to ask them to attempt to contact our relative again. We did not hear back from that representative. To date our relative says they have not heard anything from the client care representative.

The upshot is RBC made a huge mistake and froze an account of the wrong individual – causing them distress and frustration, and only after we were able to figure out what had led to the wrong account being frozen, did RBC unfreeze the account. And, even though we asked for compensation over a month ago, no response has been received from RBC.

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Record crowd of 50,000 turns out for pro-Israel Toronto event

By DAVE GORDON (June 11, 2024 / JNS) More than 50,000 pro-Israel people turned out for the UJA Walk with Israel in Toronto on Sunday, a record turnout for the event which is in its 55th year.
Adam Hummel, a lawyer in Toronto, told JNS that it was “remarkable and uplifting to see so many Jews come together” this year for the 5K walk (about 3 miles.)
“I was dumbstruck how many people were gathered and feeling the energy and community, especially when we have been struck by so much sorrow,” Hummel said.
Although it seemed in prior years that people attended out of inertia, this year was different, according to Hummel.
“It felt like people needed to be there,” he said. “Because of everything we have gone through as a community, and what Israelis went through, people needed to show up to stand with Israel.”
The event, a project of the UJA Federation of Toronto, moved from the heavily-Jewish neighborhood at the Bathurst Street corridor at Lawrence Avenue to the Federation’s Sherman Campus, which was rebuilt several years ago. 
Guidy Mamann also told JNS that this year’s event felt different.
“I’ve been to many, many walks for Israel since I was a kid,” the Toronto lawyer said. “Normally, people go because they want to have fun and see old faces, but I think this year it was driven by a need to go.”
“There was a sense of needing to go to this walk-a-thon because of the trauma we’ve been through together,” he said. “We needed to feel each other and see each other in large numbers. I think the community really needed that.”
Brendan Shanahan, president of the Maple Leafs, the Toronto hockey team, and the singer Montana Tucker, who sang the Israeli national anthem, were among the celebrities present.
“We are thrilled by the overwhelming support for the walk this year from our community and our friends and neighbors across Greater Toronto,” stated Jeff Rosenthal, chair of the UJA Federation of Greater Toronto. “To see a record-breaking turnout this year speaks volumes about our community’s pride, resilience and determination to show our city who we are and what we stand for.”
Exceptions for Jews
Michael Kerzner, the solicitor general of Ontario, and Melissa Lantsman, deputy leader of the Conservative Party, attended the event. Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Olivia Chow, Toronto’s first Chinese-Canadian mayor, reportedly were not present.
Chow, who had skipped what she called a “divisive” annual Israeli flag raising at City Hall the prior month, said in an interview with a popular Toronto radio station on Monday morning that she had a prior commitment and couldn’t attend Sunday’s event.
“She wasn’t missed,” said David Burstein, a Toronto dentist.
“It was one of the most outstanding communal Jewish experiences of my life, and I’ve lived in Toronto my entire life. The energy was fantastic,” Burstein told JNS. “The fact that they got the four hostages out the day before, really helped morale and added to the joy of the day.”
Kevin Vuong, a federal politician of Chinese descent, told JNS that he was disappointed that Chow skipped the pro-Israel event, which she attended previously as a federal politician.
Vuong noted that Chow told the Jewish community that “you’re never alone” after a shooting at the Jewish girls’ elementary school Bais Chaya Mushka in Toronto in late May.
Chow’s statement implied that “she stood with Toronto’s Jewish community,” Vuong said. “She lied.”
“It’s clear that if it was any other community, she’d have been there. No mayor, nor prime minister for that matter, would skip an event attended by 50,000 Canadians,” Vuong added. “Unfortunately, as we’ve seen in the aftermath of Oct. 7, these so-called leaders make exceptions when it comes to Jews.”
Vuong and his wife attended the event “to show our support for Jews both here at home in Canada and abroad, and that meant walking the talk and walking the walk.”
‘I was shocked at the depravity’
The politician had harsh words for the hundreds of pro-Hamas demonstrators, who used bullhorns and loudspeakers to broadcast anti-Israel chants and Islamic prayers and who reportedly sought to enter a place where the event was taking place and had to be barred by law enforcement.
“One thing I couldn’t believe was that pro-Hamas supporters brought in speakers and blared the rocket sirens that go off when Israel is under attack,” Vuong told JNS. “I was shocked at the depravity that someone would think to do that in the hopes of triggering participants.”
“Sadly, I was not surprised when other counter-protesters gave up all pretenses and started cheering outright for Hamas,” he added.
Hummel, the Toronto lawyer, called the protesters “pathetic, paltry and sinister.”
“We celebrate life and they clearly do not. We were there in blue and white with our children, singing songs about life. There was a world of difference,” he told JNS. “They were wearing black and had their faces covered.”
“They stood with swastika signs. Repulsive and pathetic,” he added. “The visuals could not have been starker of what we’re fighting for, and what we are fighting against.”
Mamann, the other Toronto lawyer, told JNS that some of the protesters tailed Jewish community members after the event in a harassing way.
“These people come clear across town and out of town to disrupt us. The police were on our side. But at the end of the day, the protection doesn’t finish when the walk finishes,” he said. “There are thousands of people trying to make it home, and there is still work to do.”
Ali Siadatan was among the non-Jewish Canadians of Iranian descent who participated in the event to voice their support for the Jewish state.
“I stand with Israel because I wish to live in a free world. Israel is at the epicenter of a global ideological war,” Siadatan told JNS. “Israel’s victory will push back the forces of Islam and Marxism. Israel’s defeat would encourage these very forces to explode in the West and in Canada.”
“Even the future of Iran very much depends on the victory or defeat of Israel against the regional forces of Islamic militancy,” Siadatan added.
At the end of the walk, JNS caught up with the rapper Nissim Black, who performed at the festival, which also had kid-friendly activities and musical performances.
“Incredible energy,” Black told JNS. “It was so special seeing all those people together celebrating Eretz Hakodesh,” the Holy Land.

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Women Wage Peace to hold Zoom meeting in June

The late Viivan Silver z"l

We received the following email about a group that will be holding a formative meeting via Zoom this month:

Dear Friends,
Many of you may have heard of the Israel-based group called Women Wage Peace
(WWP) – Nashim Osot Shalom, which Vivian Silver (z”l) helped found ten years ago.
Some may have read the recent article about the group by Sharon Chisvin in the
Winnipeg Free Press. The group now has over 50,000 members, many all over the
world, for example, in Germany, Australia, the UK. The group is non-political and nonsectarian.
There are Jewish, Arab, Bedouin, Druze, Muslim, Christian and secular
women (and some men) across the political spectrum. It has partnered with a
Palestinian Women’s Group called Women of the Sun, and the heads of the two groups
made Time Magazine’s list of women of the Year – ‘extraordinary leaders who fight for a
more equitable future”. We just learned that Vivian has been posthumously awarded
the Hessian Peace Prize in Germany for her efforts.
WWP believes in the active participation of women through all stages of negotiations
and that we all have common interests, desires and needs for a peaceful resolution of
the conflict. WWP recognizes the need for diverse voices; the more partners there are
in the process, the greater the chances of achieving a long-lasting peace.
We are writing to you now, as we are setting up a group in Winnipeg, to support and
amplify the work of this remarkable organization. Please let us know whether you
would like to be involved with a Winnipeg/prairie group. We welcome input from all of
you.

There will be an initial Zoom meeting on June 18 at 7 pm to give everyone a chance to get to know one another and to brainstorm. Even if you are too busy to be an active participant, your support, both moral and financial, will help. And, if you know others who would be interested, please let them know about this initiative.
A major goal of WWP is to implement activities aimed at promoting the vision of a
shared society and co-existence.
Shalom/Peace/Salaam-
Esther Blum and Chana Thau
Please RSVP to wwpwinnipeg@gmail.com as to whether you would like your name to be added to our mailing list as a potential member or to follow WWP events, also to obtain the link to the Zoom meeting.
For more info on WWP, go to www.womenwagepeace.org.il

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