Re: U of M Prof’s concerns regarding nursing student suspension

A Response to Dr. Ben Baader regarding the suspension of nursing student by U of M for comparing Israel to the Nazis

The purpose of this letter to the editor is to respond to Ben Baader’s recent letter in support of Arij Al Khafagi in the Manitoban. She was recently suspended for the academic year from the University of Manitoba’s college of nursing for repeatedly condemning Israel’s military on her social media platforms, and in particular, posting an egregious cartoon that equated the Israeli military’s actions in response to Hamas’s barbaric attacks on Oct. 7 to those of Nazis during the Second World War. The accompanying caption stated: “The irony of becoming what you once hated.” As I don’t have access to any inside information on her case, I cannot comment further on it.

Yet she is only part of a hate-filled atmosphere that has been developing at the University of Manitoba. In a recent letter to the editor of the Manitoban, Baader describes the situation at the University of Manitoba in rose-coloured terms which inaccurately portray the actual atmosphere. As a result, as co-ordinator for the Judaic studies program at the University of Manitoba for the last 10 years, I wish to distance myself and the Judaic studies program from Baader’s view and letter in the Manitoban.

I also wish to distance myself and the Judaic studies program from the second unnamed faculty member associated with the Judaic studies program mentioned in the recent Free Press article who spoke anonymously in support of Al Khafagi.

Let it be known that neither of the two faculty members supposedly (since I don’t know the second person) associated with the Judaic studies program consulted with me prior to publication (nor did they need to, as it is in their right to freely express themselves, but it would have been good to have had a collegial conversation first). The first time that I saw or had any inkling as to what Baader would write was when it was already published in the Manitoban. As a result, I do not want the Judaic studies program to be in any way tarred by association with their myopic views of the world, and specifically regarding antisemitism.

It is incumbent on the University of Manitoba not to tolerate a climate of Jew-hatred, which has been on the rise across North America, including here in Winnipeg. The student code of conduct at the University of Manitoba is very clear: “As members of the University of Manitoba community, we all have the right to feel safe and accepted. We also have a responsibility to act with integrity, to be accountable, and to demonstrate respectful behaviour, online or in person.”

I can only assume that this code of conduct was considered by the University in deciding to suspend Al Khafagi. When she graduates from nursing, she will need to treat Jews who are Zionists that believe in the right of Israel to exist as a state within the region with respect and dignity, like everyone else. The suspension she has been given hopefully will enable her to reflect on this ethical responsibility, given her chosen career in the health care profession. Even though she has the right to criticize Israel, comparing the Israeli military to the Nazis crosses the line into antisemitism.

Furthermore, Baader’s refutation of the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) definition for antisemitism is fallacious as this definition allows for criticism of the state of Israel. It is the most widely accepted of all definitions of antisemitism. It has been enshrined into practice by federal and provincial levels of government in Canada, including the province of Manitoba. It is also accepted by more than 40 countries around the world. The IHRA definition of antisemitism is also accepted as of October 2020 by the largest Imam association in the world. The Global Imams Council represents Muslim religious leaders from all Islamic denominations. It was “delighted” that the government of Canada planned to outlaw Holocaust denial and distortion.

It is important to note the complete lack of public statements by Baader (or the other unnamed faculty member associated with the Judaic Studies Program) in support of Jewish students who feel targeted by the fact that they believe in the right of Jewish people to self-determination and believe that the chant “from the river to the sea” is a genocidal call for the elimination of the Jewish homeland.

I ask Baader, have you spoken to Jewish students about issues of antisemitism on campus, including those who are brave enough to wear their kippot/skull caps and Magen David/Star of David jewelry, as well as those who have taken these symbols off in order to try to remain invisible? Are you even aware that Jews are afraid to display any sign of their Jewishness on campus these days?

Baader, have you spoken to Jewish students who have seen inflammatory leaflets posted around campus, and asked them how they feel? To the best of my knowledge, Baader has not found the time to meet Jewish students once in the Hillel lounge to hear about their concerns about being identifiably Jewish on campus or to comfort them.

Baader (and your silent counterpart) – I wonder, where is your voice to speak out about Hamas barbarism and the growing climate of hostility on campus? Is it only out of concern for Al Khafagi and not the innocents who were murdered, raped and injured on Oct. 7, 2023?

Do University of Manitoba faculty members, such as Baader and the other unnamed person in the Free Press article, represent the larger Jewish community of Winnipeg? They can say what they want as dictated by academic freedom, but I maintain that the answer is no.

Baader (and his silent faculty partner) represent a far-left element in the Jewish community. They are not representative of the mainstream community, which is in fact very Zionist in its political orientation. We are proud to be called Zionists, as we follow it up with action — the Jewish community of Winnipeg has demonstrated exceptionally strong commitment to and support for Israel.

I maintain that the University of Manitoba’s campus must be a safe place for all — Muslim, Christian, Jewish and anyone else. Platitudes are not sufficient. Action needs to be undertaken by all to create and maintain the campus as a safe space.

I ask each and every one of you — what you have done to create a safe place for all? If nothing, then silence is tacit agreement to persecution.

As Martin Niemöller (a German Lutheran pastor in Germany after the Shoah/Holocaust during the Second World War) wrote in his famous poem:

“Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out, because I was not a Jew. Then they came for me, and there was no one left to speak for me!”

Niemöller’s argument was for the moral connectedness of all people and an argument against apathy. We all need to speak out to create safe space and learn to live together peacefully here on the Prairies and at the University of Manitoba. Anyone who tacitly supports racism and persecution (such as antisemitism) is as much to blame for tragic events as those who actively pursue it!

Haskel Greenfield is a professor in the anthropology department at the University of Manitoba, director of the Near Eastern and Biblical Archaeology Lab, and co-ordinator of Judaic studies at the U of M.