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“Students Supporting Israel” suspended by University of Manitoba Students Union

Bassim Eid

By BERNIE BELLAN (Posted March 6, 2024) In October 2022 an art history teacher by the name of Erika Lopéz Prater was fired from her position at a small liberal arts college in Minnesota, Humline University, for having the temerity to show depictions of the Prophet Muhammed to students in her art history class

Lopéz Prater had warned students in advance that images of holy figures, including the Prophet Muhammed and the Bhudda, would be shown in the course and had asked students to contact her with any concerns, but she said no one did.

Aram Wedatalla

One student in the class, Aram Wedatalla, who was also president of the Muslim Student Association, however, claimed to have been deeply offended by the image of Muhammed that was displayed and complained to the university administration. Subsequently Lopéz Prater was fired from her position. As an adjunct professor, however, she did not have the protections granted to tenured professors.

Lopéz Prater later sued Humline on several grounds, including unfair dismissal and emotional distress, but a judge has since dismissed almost all elements of her lawsuit.

What happened to Lopéz Prater though and the ensuing controversy provided a salutary lesson in political correctness running amuck – and the power of members of certain groups to intimidate university administrations and student groups into total acquiescence to their demands to silence any type of discussion that some members of those groups may deem objectionable.

Such apparently was also the case recently at the University of Manitoba where a Muslim speaker by the name of Bassim Eid spoke to students at that university on Monday, February 26. The event was sponsored by two groups: Bridges for Peace and Students Supporting Israel.

According to a CBC report describing what happened at that event and subsequent to it, “Political analyst Bassem Eid, a Palestinian who is a regular commentator on Israeli TV and radio, gave a lecture at a Monday event at the University of Manitoba, organized by Bridges for Peace and Students Supporting Israel, called: ‘What led to the recent war between Israel and Hamas.’

” ‘When it comes to ideology, the Muslims are blind,’ Eid is heard saying during the event’s question period, in audio reviewed by CBC News. He can also be heard calling the ideology of Muslims ‘a major problem,’ saying they aren’t ready for change.

“Belkis Elmoudi, a Muslim student at the university who attended the event, says she couldn’t believe what she was hearing.

” ‘I knew I had to get out of there, because I did not feel safe,’ she told CBC News on Thursday (February 29).

” ‘I mean not only were those comments made, [but] no one stood up and said anything, so it just made me feel very isolated, alone and scared.’

Following Eid’s talk and the subsequent complaint made by Elmoudi, the University of Manitoba Students Union decided to suspend Students Supporting Israel, according to UMSU President Tracy Karuhogo, “while an investigation into the event takes place.”

We have attempted to obtain a response from someone from UMSU as to the reasons that Students Supporting Israel has been suspended.

We posed the following questions within an email on Monday, March 4:

“1. Is the suspension still in effect?

“2. If the answer to 1 is yes, can someone explain the reasons behind the suspension?

“3. Is it now UMSU’s policy to suspend an entire group because one student has a complaint about something related to that group?

“4. If UMSU does believe it was justified in suspending Students Supporting Israel, is there anything that would prevent any other student from asking that the Muslim Students Association at the University of Manitoba be suspended for any activities that a student might consider threatening? In other words, where do you draw the line?”

To date, we have not received a response. If we do hear back from someone from UMSU we will update this article.

We also emailed Jeff Lieberman and Adam Levy of the Jewish Federation, along with Gustavo Zentner, CIJA representative for Manitoba and Saskatchewan, asking them whether anyone from either group had attempted to intervene in the matter. (We also cc’d Haskell Greenfield, Head of Judaic Studies at the U of M.) In addition, we have reached out to a representative for Students Supporting Israel. Again, if we hear back from that person we will update this article.

We wrote:

“I’ve been trying to get more information about the suspension of Students Supporting Israel…the notion that the group has been suspended by UMSU is pretty outrageous. Does anyone know what the status of that suspension is?

“This all reminds me of a story I read last year about a Minnesota college professor who was fired from her position teaching art history at a very small college because she dared to show depictions of Muhammed.

“Apparently, even though she had told students in advance that she would be doing that – and asked whether anyone in the class objected, a Muslim student (who hadn’t spoken out prior) later claimed that they were traumatized by seeing those images.

“It all has to do with “trigger warnings”‘ and how any student can silence discussion by saying they’re traumatized by that discussion.

“Has the Federation or CIJA intervened in this matter?”

We received the following response from Adam Levy, Public Relations and Communications Director for the Jewish Federation:

“Hi Bernie,

“Thank you for reaching out regarding the suspension of Students Supporting Israel (SSI).

“Federation and CIJA have been actively advising and supporting SSI as they navigate this challenging time. We are hopeful that the investigation that has been undertaken by UMSU will clear SSI of wrongdoing, and not hold them accountable for Bassem Eid’s comments.”

We also received the following email from Haskell Greenfield:

“In his talk, Bassam made some generalizations about the ideology of Muslims. He has issued an apology since then. But the student union at the University acted precipitously, I would say rashly. They suspended SSI pending an investigation without contacting the SSI student club first. It is a recognized club for the University of Manitoba Students Union.  They suspended the SSI because a Palestinian student made a complaint. They did the suspension solely on the complaint and without contacting SSI to get their point of view. We believe that SSI is working toward explaining their side of the story and hoping for reinstatement. SSI did not make any negative statements about Arabs or Muslims or Palestinians. In fact the moderator at the event disavowed the statement afterwards, saying this does not represent SSI or his own beliefs.

“The same day SSI was suspended, a motion was also put forward by the executive of the University of Manitoba Students Union that would define a new form of anti-Palestinian racism. This very problematic motion prevents anyone from denying the ‘Nakhba.’ It would make denying the ‘Nakhba’ a racist act.”

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Honest Reporting Canada’s Mike Fegelman delivers Kanee Lecture

Honest Reporting Canada executive director Mike Fegelman (Keith Levit photo)

By BERNIE BELLAN Mike Fegelman is the executive director and editor-in-chief of Honest Reporting Canada. Honest Reporting was founded in 2000 in the United Kingdom. It describes its mission as “to ensure truth, integrity and fairness, and to combat ideological prejudice in journalism and the media, as it impacts Israel to ensure truth, integrity and fairness, and to combat ideological prejudice in journalism and the media, as it impacts Israel.”
On Sunday, April 7, Fegelman was the keynote speaker at the Jewish Heritage Centre of Western Canada’s annual Sol & Florence Kanee Distinguished Lecture Series.
Fegelman told the audience of about 250 at the Adas Yeshurun-Herzlia Synagogue that, before he was hired as Honest Reporting Canada’s executive director, “I knew nothing about Israel. I was hired because I was objective.”
Honest Reporting Canada “monitors news media 24 hours a day,” Fegelman said. With only a staff of six (including Fegelman), he said that they field on average 600-700 inquiries a day about alleged instances of media bias within Canadian media.
When HRC sees instances of what it perceives to be instances of unfair or biased reporting about Israel, it attempts to contact the journalist responsible for that “misinformation” or, as was the case with a particularly odious cartoon in La Presse of Israel Prime Minister Netanyahu depicted as a vampire, the paper itself was contacted and asked to issue a retraction of that cartoon and apology. (The cartoon has since been removed from La Presse’s website and La Presse did issue an apology.)

While Honest Reporting Canada might make the claim that its mission is to monitor news media in Canada for bias toward Israel and what it would regard as “unfair reporting,” however, after listening to Fegelman’s 45-minute talk – and especially to some of the responses he gave to questions from the audience following his talk, one might question the degree to which he himself is as “objective” as he claimed to be.
One particular subject was mentioned several times: the reporting by the Gaza Health Ministry on how many Palestinians have been killed in Gaza since Israel launched its retaliatory war following the Hamas-led massacre of 240 Israelis on October 7.
At one point Fegelman said that “we have to point out the fact Hamas provides no evidence to corroborate their claims (as to how many Palestinians have been killed). Media should at least acknowledge Israel’s claim that 15,000 of those killed are terrorists.”
Various reports, however, have cited Israeli intelligence officials as confirming that the Israel Defence Forces actually accept the Gaza Health Ministry’s figures for the number of casualties in the ongoing conflict. For instance, there was this report about what was reported on a Hebrew-language website in Israel: “Two Israeli intelligence officials who spoke to the Hebrew-language Local Call news website said the health ministry is mostly ‘reliable’ and their main source of statistics on civilian deaths in Gaza.”
Fegelman said that when it is reported that “33,000 Palestinians have been killed,” as reported by the “Gaza Health Ministry,” that health ministry “doesn’t distinguish between civilians and combatants.” Further, Fegelman asked: “Are some of the children killed actually child soldiers?” The problem is, absent any verifiable information from the IDF on this point, how do we know?
The problem, moreover, which Fegelman didn’t address, is absent any contradictory information coming from Israeli sources themselves about civilian deaths, what are media supposed to report?
So, when a questioner later said to Fegelman, “All people see on TV is dead babies. Can you give us some language to use in response?” Fegelman admitted “there isn’t an easy answer for the things Israel has had to do.”

My bringing this up is not to begin engaging in a series of “fact checks” on what Fegelman said during his talk. Rather, it is to show that “bias” and “unfair reporting” is something that can be continually argued – and perhaps by entering into a dissection of every instance of what Honest Reporting Canada might regard as anti-Israel bias, Fegelman – and the audience members who so strongly applauded his remarks, are all missing the larger picture, which is that Israel has, and is taking a terrible beating in world public opinion – not because of bias or distorted reporting, but because of the huge losses in both lives and property that Palestinians in Gaza have suffered – and the images that are there for the entire world to see.

One might argue that Israel had no choice: It had to deal such a severe blow to Hamas that the amount of destruction that has occurred in Gaza is justified, but to argue that “the war for public opinion is no less important than the war on the ground,” as Fegelman suggested at one point – well Mike, if that’s the case, then Israel has lost that war. The more honest assessment would be that, in an existential battle for survival, which is what some would argue is a fair description of the war in which Israel is currently engaged, then public opinion matters very little to Israeli decision makers.

Before entering into a more detailed description of what Fegelman had to say, I have to enter a particular objection toward what both he and several audience members had to say about the supposed “anti-Israel bias” exhibited by the Winnipeg Free Press. This subject has become one that has been raised quite a bit over the past few months within certain circles within the local Jewish community – especially after a controversial column by Jen Zoratti.
But, to say, as Fegelman did, that “the Free Press has an anti-Israel narrative on its op ed pages” – without providing any specific examples to warrant that accusation, is nothing more than an instance of Fegelman engaging in the kind of bias that Honest Reporting Canada accuses Canadian media outlets of exhibiting when it comes to reporting on Israel.

Still, in the interest of attempting to give readers the flavour of Fegelman’s talk, I will offer some of the remarks he made without entering into any further discussion whether what he had to say had merit.
Fegelman began by claiming that “media commentators are often parroting Hamas and are, in effect, becoming stenographers for this group.” He suggested we “need to challenge misinformation and disinformation.”
While Honest Reporting may have originated in the United Kingdom in 2000, “its genesis (in Canada) was just a few blocks away,” Fegelman explained. “We were founded (in Canada) by the late Izzy Asper,” he noted.
With specific reference to the Toronto Star, Fegelman suggested we have seen instances “of Canada’s largest paper calling for Israel’s annihilation” on its editorial pages by advocating for a one-state solution.

In reporting on the current Gaza war, Fegelman argued, “it’s increasingly difficult to tell who is the arsonist and who is the fire fighter?”
‘The media want to run with the most sensational story,” he said, “but part of our mandate is to educate journalists.”
“The sympathy for Israel following the October 7 massacre lasted all but a few minutes,” he suggested.
“This is a war between barbarism and civilization,” Fegelman said.
He referred to a famous remark made by Golda Meir with reference to the Yom Kippur War in 1973: “The world hates us when a Jew lashes out. The world loves us only when we are to be pitied.”
“The world is horribly indifferent to Jewish blood being spilled,” Fegelman observed.

We are making sure that when there are those who seek to libel the Jewish people, we have to fight back,” Fegelman said, “but knowing how to challenge disinformation is enormously difficult.”
Still, he argued, “We cannot let our opposition have a monopoly on discourse.”
“The war for public opinion is no less important than the war on the ground. If we lose, Israel will go down as the perceived villain.”
When it comes to civilian casualties, however, Fegelman claimed that “Israel deplores each and every innocent life that is taken.”
Saying that, in some ways, “Hamas is worse than ISIS,” Fegelman argued that “when hate becomes normalized, it becomes weaponized….We are in a genocidal propaganda war the likes of which we have never seen….Too many media outlets, whether it’s out of malice or of ignorance, have been spreading misinformation.”
When it comes to fighting back though, Fegelman argued, “We are not just passive victims – but like a muscle, if you do not use it, it becomes atrophied.”

Turning to the subject of social media, Fegelman observed that “Yesterday’s bigots used to be on the margins of mainstream social media; now they’re in the mainstream.”
“We cannot be afraid to tell the world what Hamas’s raison d’etre is – which is to seek an Islamic caliphate.”
But, what then “is the answer to media bias?” Fegelman asked. “We cannot rely on the old playbook,” he said.
Instead, he proposed five pillars of action:

  1. “We cannot project fear. We have to project resilience and instil Jewish pride.”
  2. “We must demand that we procure consistency” (from our elected representatives). Fegelman referred specifically to the recent resolution passed in the House of Commons when, among other things, Members of Parliament voted to restore funding to UNWRA.
  3. “We must demand that people speak up and speak out” against media when the media demonstrate indefensible behaviour. As an example, Fegelman pointed to the photograph of Hamas victim Shani Louk’s badly mutilated body in the back of a Hamas truck, which won a prestigious photography award. (It should be pointed out that Shani’s own father defended the photo as a “symbol” of an era.)
  4. “We have to make an alternative view impossible to ignore.”
  5. “We must avoid self-imposed limitations on our advocacy. We must not only project strength, we must possess it, too.”

As a result of “the obsessive magnifying glass being put on Israel,” Fegelman suggested, “terrorism is being accepted as a legitimate means of statecraft.”

Although many Jews may be in a state of despair these days, Fegelman told this story to illustrate how Israel has endured bleak situations before: When President Biden was a senator, he had occasion to visit Israel shortly before the Yom Kippur War, when he met with then-Prime Minister Golda Meir. After being shown maps which showed how precarious Israel’s security situation was, apparently Biden’s face showed how worried he was.
“Don’t look so worried,” Golda told Biden. “We have a secret weapon: We have no place else to go.”

In describing what Honest Reporting Canada has been able to accomplish, Fegelman said, “We have 60,000 subscribers.” (To subscribe to HRC’s reports, simply go to its website at https://honestreporting.ca and click on the “subscribe” button.) “We all have the power of agency,” he added.
“We may not see the elimination of antisemitism in our lifetimes,” he said, “but we have to push it to the margins.”
“If not now, when? The answer is now.”

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Did Israel make a mistake by invading Gaza?

By BERNIE BELLAN While the war in Gaza remains top of mind for almost everyone within the Jewish community, there is a disconnect between what is happening in Israel and how many in our community are reacting.
The impression I have is that much of the established Jewish community is in a constant defensive posture – continually reacting to what is perceived to be an unfair piling-on on Israel. Thus, when the House of Commons debated a resolution calling for a ceasefire in Gaza several weeks ago and a restoration of funding to UNWRA (along with a call to recognize a Palestinian state – which was removed from the resolution), voices from within the usual Jewish establishment circles, including CIJA and B’nai Brith, along with Jewish federations across the country, were quick to react negatively toward that resolution (which, by the way, had no practical effect).
And then, there has been the continued exchange of letters to the editor of the Winnipeg Free Press, with individuals ostensibly representing our community writing in response to other letters that are deemed to constitute unfair criticism of Israel. (My advice is not to react to letters to the editor by writing letters in response to something with which you disagree. It just leads to more letters from the other side.)
This past week, however, we witnessed what, to this point, is the worst blow to Israel’s image that has happened during what are now the five months of war in Gaza, when an Israeli missile (or a projective fired from a drone – it’s not clear what happened) killed seven workers who had been delivering food aid to Palestinians.
Is that the tipping point in this war? It might be too soon to know, but President Biden has to be wondering what can he possibly do to force Israel into accepting a cease fire? I know that many would argue that a cease fire will only give Hamas a victory, but the alternative is for Israel to be engaged in a prolonged and ever more dangerous war, not only with Hamas, but Hezbollah as well.
As I scour media around the world for insights into what is likely to happen in the coming days, the consensus is that Bibi Netanyahu wants the war to continue for his own selfish reasons: It will allow him to remain in power in Israel. A major part of his strategy is to point to his defiance of the US and say to Israelis that “we won’t be bullied by anyone.”
I had written shortly after October 7 that Israel was entering into a prolonged war similar to what the Iraqis, along with their Kurdish and American allies, had entered into during a nine-month campaign to remove ISIS from Mosul in 2017. I quoted from various military experts at the time who warned of the dangers of a total ground invasion of Gaza – how it would bog Israel down and inevitably lead to Israel having to reoccupy Gaza, but without achieving its ultimate goal of eradicating Hamas.
Those warnings have proven true. What Israel should do is withdraw from Gaza, yet continue to target Hamas’s leadership. It’s quite interesting that, in any talk of a ceasefire Hamas has apparently backed down on demands for the release of large numbers of Palestinian prisoners held within Israeli prisons, but has held firm on its demand that Israel promise not to target its leaders. That, more than anything, says what Hamas is really all about.
In the meantime, back here in Winnipeg, there isn’t any sort of open discussion within the organized Jewish community about how badly Israel’s image has suffered. Instead we’re called upon to show full support for Israel. Yet, as much as we might want to distinguish between support for the people of Israel, which most of us want to give, and support for what Israel is doing in Gaza, many of us are torn.
If only there were some way for our established Jewish organizations, especially the Jewish Federation, to allow for an open airing of the critical views of Israel that many of us hold – which may not be palatable to many others to hear. The alternative is to pretend that our Jewish community is unified (which it isn’t) and alienate even further, members of the community who feel disaffected by the entrenched preoccupation within established Jewish circles to defend Israel against what is perceived to be unfair criticism.

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How walking into the wrong synagogue service led to my rekindling memories of the Stall family on McAdam Avenue

Gerry Posner

By GERRY POSNER I often attend synagogue on Shabbat, though I do miss from time to time. Recently, I was back from a trip and was just not ready to return to my regular synagogue services. I planned to miss it. Then, an email surfaced on the Friday before that particular Shabbat. The sender, who was a good friend of mine, invited me to come to my shul where he was not a member, but there was to be a person speaking that day at the synagogue on a topic dear to him, relating to a tour he had taken not that long ago to Morocco. The speaker was his leader from that tour. So, I changed my mind and, sure enough, there I was at synagogue again – after a three week absence.

The service had two unexpected occurrences, at least for me. First, as I scanned the handout that was given to attendees prior to the service, i realized that nowhere was there any reference to a speaker. When I met my friend he was as perplexed as I was, so we set out into other areas of the Beth Tzedec Synagogue (and there are many there). As it turned out, there was another service going on at the same time upstairs in the gymnasium. Sure enough, there was the man who was going to be speaking.

However, that moment presented a definite dilemma for me. When I was in the chapel at the regular service, there on the handout was a notice that there was to be an “Oifruf “that morning for a Benjamin Stall – to a Rachel Calmas. The Calmas name meant little to me, but I was quite familiar with the Stall name. For anyone who has lived in Winnipeg at any time, the name Stall is almost immediately recognizable. There was once Stall and Son, well known to many in the business world and there members of the Stall family that lived on McAdam Avenue whom I knew from my Winnipeg days as a student about to enter university. Thus, I decided to return to the regular service.

Many readers may recall a tragedy that came upon three Jewish Winnipeg families in June of 1963 when a car accident in Alberta killed Samuel Corman and Morton Stall, also severely injuring Arnold Popeski, as well as ending the lives of three other young men, also from Winnipeg. Many in the Winnipeg Jewish community and indeed beyond were affected. I was for sure. As it turned out, arising from that tragedy was a relationship with the Stall family that had a major impact on my life thereafter.

Of the three boys – Corman, Stall, and Popeski, my most significant connection was with Samuel Corman, as my family and his family were tight and I was a good friend of his. I also was closely connected with Arnold from AZA, where we were both active. I was friendly with Morton, but I knew him the least, as he was in the north end and I was a south ender and, though we crossed paths,I didn’t really know the Stall family, that is – until the summer of 1963.
As it turned out, that summer I had a job as a Fuller Brush salesman. My territory included a good chunk of the north end, particularly in the area where the Stalls lived: 160 McAdam Avenue. Back in those days, women were usually at home during the day and not at work – at least that was my experience then as a door to door salesman. I could work at my own time and pace. Thus, I often had the time and desire to visit the Stalls that summer, even after the shiva. It was at the shiva where I first met a younger brother to Morton, Richard, who was well under ten years of age. I knew his sister Phyllis (hard for a teenage boy not to recognize a girl so pretty) and I knew of an older sister, Shelley (later Shelley Rusen).
But the people I really came to know were Nathan and Gert Stall, the parents of those four Stall children. I would pop into their home unannounced and, if it bothered them, they never mentioned it. I sensed that they welcomed those visits. I often interacted with Phyllis and Richard.

But then, in the fall of 1963, off I was off to the University of Toronto law school. Nate Stall had told me that he had occasion to come to Toronto on business from time to time and he would be happy to take me out for dinner if I wanted.
Well, that meant little to me at first, but as I settled in at my sister’s apartment for my first year away, I was more than happy to take up the offer to go with Mr. Stall for supper. When he called me in October 1963, I was delighted to go out with him. Now, not only did he take me for dinner, he took me to what was then the premier restaurant in the c -ity of Toronto and for years going forward: the Carmen Club. You could smell the steaks and garlic for blocks around. What a joy that was for me to eat so well and with a man whom I had come to know. I suppose, on reflection, I might have served as a kind of relief from the grind of a business trip and perhaps he connected me to Morton.
That dinner was followed by many other Carman Club dinners over the four and a half years I remained in Toronto. I loved our times together and he always gave my parents a first hand report on me. I saw him and indeed his wife Gert later when I returned to live in Winnipeg and we always had a bond. I never saw Richard after 1963, or if I did, it just does not make my memory pool. I did see Phyllis of course, after her marriage to Marvin Shenkarow. Also, from time to time I connected with Shelley and her husband, Aubie Rusen.

So there I was at synagogue and who was sponsoring the kiddush for the Oifruf for his son but Richard Stall and his wife Lisa Berger, another former Winnipege – related to the Berger family of doctors. It was quite the moment for me. I waited until after the service ended before going up to Richard and Lisa. It was hard to focus on the service as all those memories of the Stall family came flooding back to me.
Given that Richard is the last surviving member of the family, it was all the more significant. We had a good chat, including remembering that same day, March 23, was his late sister Phyllis’s birthday some 77 years ago.
I was so immersed in conversation that by the time I made it to the kiddush table, the lunch I had expected would be waiting there for me was gone. There are worse things, I suppose. I also met another son of Richard and Lisa’s, Dr. Nathan (for his grandfather) Morton (for his uncle) Stall. That name, Nathan Stall might well be familiar to readers as he was the go-to guy in the media for expert commentary on the impact of Covid on the elderly. He was on TV frequently. And now, Nathan Stall is already, at a young age, a prominent geriatrician. As well, not that long ago, he was a candidate for the Liberal Party in Ontario in the 2022 election. Although he did not win, he did very well, losing by only 1,000 votes.

As it turned out, the Shabbat that day was Shabbat Zahkor or “remembrance.”
Well, I certainly was into that Shabbat as I did a whole lot of remembering. And yet, the opportunity to remember and indeed engage in the past so meaningfully for me all came about when because I was supposed to go to another event that day – which I missed entirely. Strange how it all played out.

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