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CAUT Bulletin Archives

May 2009

Rational fear or paranoia?

In his letter in the April Bulletin Alan Kaplan argues from his experience at an Israel Apartheid Week meeting that IAW creates an emotionally charged atmosphere and an “agitated audience”
which effectively suppresses free speech. Kaplan writes that he “felt physically unsafe” asking his question about the two-state solution (a question which, by the way, was both fairly asked and fairly answered).

I do not question Kaplan’s subjective sense of insecurity — if he says he felt unsafe, then he felt unsafe. Whether his fear was reasonable or paranoid is another matter. I was not sitting in the same part of the lecture hall as Kaplan, so I cannot speak about those in his immediate vicinity.

What I can say is that the general atmosphere at this and other IAW and cognate events I have attended was not at all threatening. The organizers make it absolutely clear that anti-Semitism, along with all other forms of racial and religious hatred, will not be tolerated. Of course there’s indignation and anger. But then, from my pro-Palestinian perspective, what decent person with a respect for the facts wouldn’t be indignant and angry?

Kaplan mentions “many initiatives on campus that support an open discussion about Middle East politics and that challenge our most cherished beliefs.” Maybe at Ryerson, but I’ve yet to come across one at my university (Toronto) where I would feel safe challenging cherished beliefs about Zionism and Israel without incurring the label “one of those new anti-Semites.” But perhaps that’s just my own paranoia, a possibility which a prudent thinker should always keep in mind.

Roger Beck
Professor Emeritus, Historical Studies
University of Toronto at Mississauga

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