U of M prof’s concerns regarding nursing student suspension

Professor in Judaic studies reflects on antisemitism, political expression

Dear Netha Dyck, Michael Benarroch and Eleanor Coopsammy,

I am writing as a U of M professor in Jewish studies and Jewish history to protest against the suspension of Arij Al Khafagi, as it had been reported in the Free Press article from Thursday, Nov. 30 (“U of M nursing student suspended, accused of antisemitic posts”).

According to the information provided in this article, Al Khafagi’s posts are not antisemitic within the parameters of established definitions of antisemitism. They are not hateful or threatening, and they do not deploy stereotypes about Jews. They fall squarely within the realm of protected and common political expression, whether one agrees with them or not, or if one finds them distasteful. Antisemitism is real, but this is not it.

Considering Al Khafagi’s posts antisemitic means embracing a definition of antisemitism that is highly controversial. Such a politicized understanding of antisemitism has been adopted in recent years by significant segments of the Jewish world, and it considers critique of Zionism or Israeli politics antisemitic. It is unworthy of an academic institution to uncritically follow suit here.

The suspension of Al Khafagi is likely to lead to a dramatic polarization and radicalization on campus. The University of Manitoba has been immensely fortunate not to have been experiencing the type of confrontations, intimidations and hostilities in matters of Middle East politics and antisemitism among students and faculty that are common on campuses across North America. I am deeply concerned that this will change now.

What we need on campus is to foster a culture that allows for respectful, nuanced and intellectually honest discussions of these and other complex and controversial issues. In any case, we are to lead with educational rather than disciplinary initiatives. As a political act, the suspension of Al Khafagi is bound to create a hostile and divisive climate that forecloses productive intellectual engagement and undermines educational processes. Students may rightfully be on the barricades about Al Khafagi’s suspension.

I urge the administration to limit the damage already done and to immediately reinstate Al Khafagi as a student in good standing.

Dr. Ben Baader is an associate professor in the history department at the University of Manitoba, specializing in European history and Jewish history.