Anger over university for thesis calling Holocaust education racist

By Jennifer Lipman, December 7, 2010
Jenny Peto

Jenny Peto

A Canadian university has defended a controversial decision to accept a master’s thesis that described Holocaust education as “racist”.

Jewish groups have reacted furiously to the revelation that the University of Toronto awarded a degree to a student for a work titled “The Victimhood of the Powerful: White Jews, Zionism and the Racism of Hegemonic Holocaust Education”.

The essay looked at two programmes which take young people to the Nazi sites of Poland; March of the Living for Jewish students, and the March of Remembrance and Hope, which educates non-Jewish participants.

It was written by Jenny Peto, a Jewish pro-Palestinian activist who was involved in an occupation of Toronto’s Israeli consulate in 2009.

Ms Peto wrote in the thesis: “there are questions about the implications of white Jews taking it upon themselves to educate people of colour about genocide, racism and intolerance.”

She also called Jews are privileged white people who “cannot see their own racism” and attacked the “Zionist politics” behind the Holocaust education schemes.

The provost of the university, Cheryl Misak, said they had allowed the work out of “freedom of inquiry”.

She told Toronto newspaper The Toronto Star: “The best way for controversy to unfold is for members of our community to engage with the perspectives and arguments they dispute.”

But Jewish academic and former president of the Canadian Jewish Congress, Irving Abella, told The Toronto Star the university should have rejected the thesis. He said: “It’s not scholarship, it’s ideology. It’s totally ahistorical.”

He said the work was full of untruths and bordered on “antisemitism,” and added: “I’m appalled that it would be acceptable to a major university.”

Eli Rubenstein, March of the Living director, said the university should have asked Ms Peto to look at both sides of the debate.

Ms Peto did not interview any participants or staff from the programme in her research.

Last updated: 5:25pm, December 7 2010