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Global College edited 1By BERNIE BELLAN

In our March 14 issue we reported on a controversial panel discussion which had taken place at the University of Winnipeg on Feb. 28 (also Erev Purim).

 

That story resulted in a fair bit of fallout, and we were contacted by a spokesperson from the university who wanted to lend some context to that panel discussion.

Following is an excerpt from my Short Takes column of March 28:

Our story about the panel discussion that was held at the University of Winnipeg on February 28, written by Myron Love, drew heavily upon a press release that had been issued by B’nai Brith Canada lambasting the event. That article referred extensively to the backgrounds of the three panelists who discussed the topic, “My Jerusalem”. Apparently, the panelists were chosen because they came from three different religions: Islam, Christianity, and Judaism. Yet, as Myron made clear, two of the panelists were Palestinian-Canadian, and the third, someone by the name of Rabbi David Mivasair, has, as Myron noted, “quite the track record when it comes to expressing hostility to Israel.”
Given the make-up of that panel, therefore, it should come as no surprise that B’nai Brith was strongly critical of the event. Unfortunately, we were not there to cover the event, so we relied upon B’nai Brith’s reporting. (We did have it confirmed though that someone who was in attendance took notes and reported back to B’nai Brith.)


Adding fuel to the fire, however, is what happened subsequent to that panel discussion. Apparently a video of the panel discussion had been posted to Youtube, but it was taken down rather hurriedly. We asked a spokesperson for the University of Winnipeg whether the university had anything to do with that video being removed, but we were told the university had absolutely nothing to do with it.


There were several other aspects to that panel discussion that were troubling. One was that one of the sponsors was Independent Jewish Voices, well known for its sharp criticism of Israeli government policies toward Palestinians. Another sponsor, however, was the Global College at the University of Winnipeg. It was the Global College that booked the room for the event.
We asked the university spokesperson what is the nature of the relationship between the Global College and the University of Winnipeg? We were told “Global College is a direct part of the University.”
In the article by Myron Love, we quoted Michael Mostyn, CEO of B’nai Brith Canada, as having criticized the U of W: “The University of Winnipeg should not be spending public money on absurd anti-Israel propaganda,” Mostyn said.
In response to that criticism, the U of W spokesperson wrote: “The university provided in-kind support in the form of a room for the event, so depending on how you want to interpret that, we either did or did not spend public money. (Apart from that only a portion of university operating funds are derived from public sources; fee revenue and private donations are a big part of our operation.) The university did not incur any direct expenses for printing posters, speaker travel, etc. That was provided by other groups.”
I continued my email exchange with the university spokesperson, who explained that B’nai Brith had indeed reached out to him prior to the event being held, expressing concerns about the event, but that communication did not reach him in time as he was out of the country when the communication landed on his desk – and it wasn’t opened in time. Thus, the suggestion by B’nai Brith that they were “rebuffed” by the U of W in attempting to have the venue changed for the event and changed to a different date is incorrect. The person to whom B’nai Brith addressed its communication - quite unfortunately, never received that communication in time.
That spokesperson admitted regret that the panel was not more balanced in its composition. He wrote: “I agree that not all perspectives were represented on the panel. The range of viewpoints on anything related to Israel within the Jewish and Christian communities are especially varied. And I would agree that having competing perspectives represented in an event is often good. However, I reject the notion that an event, an article, a documentary, or another communication is inherently flawed if it does not present all possible views. How many events related to Israel that are sponsored by mainstream Jewish organizations in Winnipeg actually present the full range of Jewish perspectives on the topic?
 “I also want to emphasize that the event was not planned as any kind of referendum on Israel, or a venue to attacking Israel’s policies or practices. It was designed to give a place for individuals to reflect on the meaning of Jerusalem for them, and how the US announcement was affecting them.”

Post script: Since my Short Takes column I have received further information about what happened at that panel discussion. Apparently the University of Winnipeg has invited certain individuals (and I only know who one of them is at this point) to gather together for a discussion of what happened at the panel discussion of February 28.) Here is an email that has been sent out by a representative of Global College:

Following the “My Jerusalem: Responding to the US Embassy Announcement” event on February 28, the University of Winnipeg received a variety of communications that strongly criticized  and strong supported this event. The following concerns were raised:
 
The event did not reflect a full range of viewpoints on the subject
The event provided a forum for voices from Jewish perspectives that are “marginal” rather than “mainstream”
The event was held on Purim, a Jewish holiday
The Global College rebuffed a request by B’nai Brith Canada to include an authentic Jewish perspective and move the event to a date on which the Jewish community could fully participate
Speakers at the event made comments that were antisemitic
A video of the event was posted on the internet, and then subsequently removed
 
The university committed to reviewing the event, and engaged in follow-up interactions with various parties, seeking to better understand various perspectives, and also to build better channels of communication.
 
As a part of the review process the university is inviting you to participate in a special meeting to address the nature of antisemitism, and the question of whether antisemitism was expressed at this event.
 
There is human phenomenon that individuals will hear the same words, but derive very different meanings from those words. The meanings that we derive from a given statement are shaped in part by our experiences, values, and personal and social identities. The meanings may or may not be what the speaker intended. And the speaker may or may not have any awareness of how the statement is received or interpreted.
 
Therefore, as a part of exploring what was said at the My Jerusalem event, we are inviting individuals with a range of backgrounds and experiences to view the video of the event and discuss it in a deliberate way. This invitation is being extended to organizations or individuals that expressed concerns about the My Jerusalem event, as well as event organizers and speakers.
 
This is an opportunity to collectively discuss not only what was said, but also to discuss and understand better the various meanings and interpretations that individuals give to what was said. We hope you can join us.

You will note from the email that the university does admit that  it has a copy of the video of the panel discussioin that was removed from Youtube. We will certainly try & find out how the university obtained that video. If, as the university spokesperson who contacted us said that the university had absolutely nothing to do with the removal of that video from Youtube, we would certainly like to be able to see that video but, so far, we have not been included among the group that has been invited to view it.  According to eye-witnesses who were at the event on Feb. 28, language used by the panelists would be considered highly anti-Semitic.