Thursday, December 9, 2010

Jenny Peto's thesis: visiting 2 websites apparently equals research

I don't expect U of T to censor their students so they avoid anything controversial. I just expect them to uphold normal standards, and not give a student a pass just because they embrace a cause with the support of a thesis advisor.

You can read her thesis here:

I had always thought that a Master's thesis required some real work, including research. In fact, here are the thesis guidelines for OISE (which is part of the University of Toronto):

They note that the thesis should embody "original investigation" and "will constitute a contribution to knowledge of the field".

Apparently, in Ms. Peto's case, original investigation means glancing at two websites, since actually talking to anyone would be too onerous for her as a part-time student, as she explains on page 12.

Alas, even that bit of web-surfing proved to be a bit too much for her. She describes the March of Remembrance and Hope as being Jewish program for non-Jews. Apparently, she missed the fact that it is run through the Canadian Centre for Diversity - a non-denominational group. They were less than thrilled with the thesis. As quoted in the Toronto Star:

“She makes unwarranted claims and false statements about our philosophy, our goals and objectives and our methodology. . .We were shocked and offended to read the thesis,” said Carla Wittes, the centre’s programs director. “We are a non-faith-based organization concerned with educating people about the dangers of discrimination, and the Holocaust is obviously a prime example.”

She doesn't particularly seem to focus on the information that she does bother to pick up from the websites. Testimonials from a Rwandan-Canadian and Aboriginal-Canadian, for example, must be part of a plot to instill white, male Zionist values. She is oblivious to the irony of her work - she claims that it's bad for white Jews to teach about tolerance, but yet she feels that the comments of non-white trip participants need to be filtered through her (white, Jewish but anti-Zionist) worldview instead of actually speaking to them and allowing their own voices to come through.

The self-centred approach is repeated when discussing non-European Jews on page 86. Peto wonders how such a Jew would experience the trip, since she doesn't plan on actually speaking to one. Well, my husband is an Iraqi Jew, and we were on a similar trip together. No, nobody said that the trip is limited to white Jews. He wasn't bothered by Eurocentrism on the trip, but does have some issues with the fact that the "Israeli Apartheid" crowd often seems to forget that non-white Jews exist, that Sephardic Jews and even some Muslims were also victims of the Holocaust, that Nazi influence spread across the Middle East during WWII and that it directly led to the June 1941 Farhud (progrom) which killed 141 Jews in Baghdad, and that his father was also a refugee when he fled Iraq for Israel.

I should also add that our Anguish to Hope trip in 1993 (by the same organizers as March of the Living) DID deal with non-European Jews. We visited an aborption centre for new immigrants, meeting with and learning more about the recently-arrived Ethiopian Jewish community, and also met with Yemenite Jews in a Project Renewal community. We became friends with one girl from that community and kept in touch when she came to Canada for university. Of course, Ms. Peto didn't bother to find out such details.

Speaking of an ego-centric approach, the first section of the thesis is a rant by Ms. Peto against her Orthodox Jewish upbringing and (understandable) rejection by the community for her anti-Israel activism. Perhaps that would be appropriate for a coffee group, a memoir or a therapy session - but not a thesis.

On page 90, she assumes that the March of the Living is putting down Holocaust victims for being weak. She doesn't bother to find out about the testimony of survivors who accompany the trip - if she did, perhaps she would have learned about women like Anna Heilman, who accompanied our trip and described the her role in the plot to smuggle gunpowder to the sonderkommando, who used is to blow up a cremetorium during their revolt.

On page 97, she assumes that participants will never see a Palestinian. On our trip, we met with Arab-Israelis in their homes through Givat Haviva for a very frank and open discussion.

On page 98, she wishes that participants would use the trip experience to fight racism. Perhaps she did not notice the very first post on the March of the Living websites' participants section, which ends with a description of how 2 participants became Darfur activists.

1 comment:

Michael said...

Great critique of a less-than-scholarly screed.