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December 2, 2012

Failing Grade for Carleton Report

Reuel S. Amdur

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Carleton University's effort at promoting intergroup harmony has been received on campus with something less than universal applause. The report of the Commission on Inter-Cultural, Inter-Religious and Inter-Racial relations on Campus relies on a survey of students, faculty, and employees. The Commission was chaired by former Senator Landon Pearson. An immediate issue arises with the response rate. Fewer than 12% of the students responded. Does that response rate itself tell us something? Perhaps that the concerns explored in the study were simply not salient, that people were not concerned? Then there is the question of sheer numbers. The report gives particular attention to Jews. Yet there were only 29 Jewish employees and 28 Jewish students in the sample.

In this study, respondents were asked, “How well do you think Carleton does at promoting good relations among people of different religions, cultures, or races?  Student responses were 21% very well, 62% reasonably well, and 17% in the two unfavorable categories.  Jewish respondents gave almost the same percentage—61%--to the reasonably well category, with only 11% in the very well group.  While 29% were more negative, so were 30% of Muslim students.

The Commission did a special additional survey of Jews at Carleton, but the survey results were not made public. “Respondents to the survey participated on the condition of anonymity and therefore the results have not been distributed.”  One can only conclude that the responders were so few in number that they would be easily identified if results were released.  However, at least some of the recruitment of Jews for the special survey was through Hillel, an organization whose attitude toward promoting diversity within the Jewish community is illustrated by their refusal to provide a venue for a discussion with Peter Beinart, a prominent if controversial Zionist whose strong opposition to the settler movement has been upsetting to many in the Jewish community.  The approach to Hillel was made by a Jewish Zionist faculty member.  But if 29% of a small number of Jewish students could lead to a special survey, how come a 30% result for Muslim students did not merit another such survey?

Background information on anti-Semitism contained in the report is seriously biased in a Zionist direction.  It uses the definition of anti-Semitism from the Inquiry Panel, Canadian Parliamentary Coalition to Combat Anti-Semitism.  Incidentally, the Coalition is not an official government organization.  Among the gems in this definition are: “Denying the Jewish people their right to self-determination, e.g., by claiming that the existence of a State of Israel is a racist endeavor” and “Applying double standards by requiring of it a behavior not expected or demanded of any other democratic nation.”  (We had been told that Israel was to be “a light unto the nations.”)

So on the basis of this sloppy report, what comes out?  The Commission recommends creation of a Jewish issues committee.  Will such a committee include Jewish participants in Israel Apartheid Week?  And what about a Muslim issues committee?  Other things are implied rather than stated explicitly.

The report raised question about faculty members participating with students in advocacy activities. As well, are teachers too one-sided in dealing with controversial issues?  Is this an opening for censorship?

Then, “Use of space on campus emerged as a second major policy/process issue.”  Is access to meeting rooms to be curtailed if the group wanting space does not believe that Israel has a right to exist as a Jewish state?

The report identifies the disrespect felt by some Jews relating to controversy around Israel.  They were also critical of “Absence of balanced debate on issues related to the Middle East” and expressed “Reluctance or fear of taking classes when the professor is known to be involved in anti-Israel activities.”  While no specific recommendations were drawn from these observations, what are the implications?  Since no Muslim sub-group was assembled for study, might we in any case guess that there was unease among Muslim students on these same issues, but from a Muslim perspective?

We should consider this study in the context of the work of that so-called Parliamentary Coalition.  They called a number of witnesses, including university presidents, to testify about how Jewish students were faring on campus.  The Coalition came up empty-handed in their efforts to find any serious problems.

If Carleton is concerned about intergroup relations, why did it not take more seriously the complaint by students Mark Klibanov and Nick Bergamini that they were chased and cursed outside a bar in Hull by Muslim Carleton students wielding machetes and crying anti-Zionist and anti-Jewish taunts?  The two said that they had seen the offenders on campus.

If the complaint is valid, steps should have been taken to deal with the perpetrators.  If not, there should have been serious consequences for the complainants.  In passing, it should be noted that Klibanov was made ineligible to run for student office at Carleton because of the submission of fraudulent election expense accounts.  Surely, this inflammatory “incident” constituted a serious challenge to intergroup harmony.

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