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Israel given a pass

In her Oct. 27 letter, Addressing anti-Semitism, Leigh Halprin claims "critics of Israel have nothing to fear if they shine the light on other countries who are committing human rights violations." As a retired Winnipeg high school social studies teacher, I have an entirely different experience.

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Rather than being singled out for criticism, as Halprin argues the UN is doing, Israel received a free pass in Manitoba high schools. Teachers knew that they could give students the opportunity to research and discuss any country in the world in terms of human-rights concerns. It is part of the curriculum.

However, we dared not shine the same light on the state of Israel. Examination of this topic would certainly result in the charge of anti-Semitism.

It happened to me when I tried to introduce a debate about Israel and Palestine into our Hyde Park series. I was told by a colleague that debating the topic would be seen as anti-Semitic. If I went forward, I could expect a challenge from an outside organization.

It was clear that I would receive no support from my administrators, school board, provincial government or our own teachers society. Everyone in the system knew they, too, would be attacked. This is the strategy used by those that defend Israel and won't tolerate any criticism. It worked with me. The topic was dropped.

I very much regret I allowed myself to be bullied into self-censorship. My students deserved better. Social studies teachers currently in the classroom have told me that raising this topic for examination could still be a career-ending move. How sad.




Letter writer Leigh Halprin faithfully recites the claim the UN is anti-Semitic, in that Israel receives a lot of attention by the UN's Human Rights Council as compared to other repressive regimes, such as Iran and North Korea.

But what is the net effect of all this undue attention and obvious bias? It must be terrible.

Does Israel suffer under crippling economic and diplomatic sanctions, endless inspections by western nuclear agencies and the warmongering of the U.S. and Canada, as does Iran? Is it isolated and vilified, as is North Korea? Is it the target of countless CIA drone attacks that wipe out rural wedding parties, as is Pakistan?

No, instead Israel enjoys the blind power of the U.S. veto in the UN, receives billions of American -- and increasingly Canadian -- taxpayer dollars in military and economic assistance each year, violates the Geneva Convention and international law with impunity granted by its western apologists such as John Baird and Stephen Harper, and uses its powerful political lobbies in the U.S. and Canada to ensure this never changes.




It seems ridiculous to set up a scenario where we cannot talk about the human rights violations committed by one country or group of people unless we also talk about all other instances of human rights violations simultaneously occurring in all other countries.

We can and should continue to talk about how badly we can behave as human beings to each other -- one country at a time, or even one instance at a time. The important thing is to have the discussion. Not shut it down.




Letter responder Roslyn Silver's vivid Oct. 27 account of her visit to a western Negev kibbutz, near Gaza, evokes powerful personal memories of my months working as a volunteer in the Galilee, in the beautiful valley close to Kiryat Shmona.

Every workday was punctuated with the sound of sonic booms from Israeli Mirage fighters, and live practice tank fire heard from the distant Golan plateau. Although I was very fortunate in my stay during a conflict lull (often eating and working next to Druse Muslims), Katyusha rockets would regularly shake the valley, fired by hit-and-run PLO sentries.

That was 1978. Today, after two Lebanese wars, the Gulf war, and the current instability in Syria, the net effect is a far more dangerous Israel than I witnessed, complete with an intransigent UN Security Council and overt hostility by member nations that seem intent on keeping the Mideast pot boiling in perpetuity.



Theatrical maturity

In his Nov. 1 preview of Theatre Projects Manitoba's production of Carol Frechette's John and Beatrice, Kevin Prokosh makes more of the fact this season will not either première or recreate an original Manitoba work than the obvious value of what TPM is doing.

Speaking as a former TPM board president, I would argue that bringing two performances of Canadian theatre work, each translated from French, and each new to Winnipeg live audiences, speaks to the ever-growing maturity of the company and its ability to maximize use of local talent.

In a feeble attempt to be sensational, Prokosh opens his piece with a claim that the deceased founding director of the company would turn in his grave if he knew that only work written outside of Manitoba made up this season. In a spectacular avoidance of the obvious, he ignores the value of local actors, directors, stage managers, theatre students and others' involvement.

At least Theatre Projects has grown up and is able to embrace change and recognize its true responsibilities. Others might try the same.



Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition November 5, 2012 A10

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