Anti-Semitism's useful idiots

Barbara Kay, National Post · Wednesday, Dec. 22, 2010

I hope, after I have shuffled off this mortal coil, that none of my granddaughters will turn into useful idiots for a rotten political movement riddled with anti-Semitism. If they do, they are hereby warned not to "pull a Peto" on me.

Jenny Peto is the 29-year old student at the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education of the University of Toronto (OISE) who wrote a controversial master's thesis entitled The Victimhood of the Powerful: White Jews, Zionism and the Racism of Hegemonic Holocaust Education. Peto dedicated it to her grandmother, Jolan Peto: "If she were alive today, she would be right there with me protesting against Jewish apartheid."

Jolan Peto -- according to Jenny's brother David, who recently wrote a letter to the National Post -- saved children from the Nazis, experienced the brutality of Communism and "was also an ardent supporter of the state of Israel." A survivor of these evil regimes is hardly likely to agree that commemorative tours of Auschwitz for Jewish teens are a symbol of "hegemonic" manipulation or "white privilege." Her name was taken in vain.

Jenny Peto's actual thesis has been shredded by credible academics. Middle East Politics professor Brent Sasley panned its scholarship as "very poor" and Peto's definition of apartheid as "weak, underdeveloped and not well applied"; human rights activist Karen Mock said: "Such rhetoric and shoddy research have no place in the University of Toronto." UBC sociology Professor Emeritus Werner Cohn found Peto's thesis "to have [no] scholarly merit whatsoever" and even "to consist of hate propaganda, possibly in violation of the Criminal Code of Canada."

But Peto's jejune scholarship is less interesting to me than the cultural phenomenon she represents. Like a shocking number of other young Jews, she has thrown in her lot with today's left-Islamist alliance. One of their specious dogmas insists that the only good Jew is the Jew who loathes Israel. Thus, leftist Jews scramble pathetically to please their ideological masters with precious burnt offerings like their dead grandmothers. Believe it or not, Peto thought she was actually burnishing her grandmother's memory with her dedication.

She isn't unique. Career leftist activist Judy Rebick isn't as ignorant as Peto, but she sports the same taste for grave-robbing. Defending Naomi Klein's strident Israel hatred during the Toronto International Film Festival in 2009, Rebick claimed that her pogrom-surviving grandmother "would have been so proud of Naomi Klein." Appalled by Naomi Klein is more likely.

One thinks as well of anti-Israel groups flaunting their Jewish identity, such as "Independent Jewish Voices," led by conspiracy theorist Diana Ralph, and their anti-Zionist "seders" in which Jews are transmogrified into Pharoahs and Palestinians into oppressed Hebrews. All these deliberate shape-shiftings of sacred Jewish icons (the Exodus, Shabbat candle-lighting bubbies, the Holocaust) are attempts to banalize, if not outright deny, specifically Jewish history and values.

To understand birthright-bashing Jews such as Peto and company, you have to understand the leftist contribution to modern anti-Semitism, a contribution that would be anathema to the grandparents of any living Jew, including Peto's. That is the bogus notion that Zionism produces anti-Semitism; rather than the truth, which is that Zionism is a response to anti-Semitism.

The left is a conduit for the self-pitying Arabist narrative, and that is what the credulous Peto has internalized. If you have been brainwashed to believe that Zionism causes anti-Semitism and Zionism is oppressive, then you may even believe anti-Semitism is justified if it hastens Israel's redemption (read: dissolution).

I disagree with other commentators on one score: Peto is not a self-hating Jew. She is full of admiration for herself. She is unaware that her thoughts are unoriginal, that she speaks in predictable cliches and that she is lending herself to anti-Semitism laundering on a grand scale. You'll find ample evidence of her intellectual vacuity in a YouTube Israel-bashing address to her small audience of Peto-philes. It's particularly sad to witness her excitement that al-Jazeera gave her thesis its stamp of approval. (Bubbie! You didn't fight the Nazis in vain! They love me in Saudi Arabia!)

Of course, Peto herself is a sideshow in the educational scheme of things. The larger issue surrounding Peto's unworthy thesis is the obvious flight from integrity in her degree-bestowing institution. An embarrassed OISE administration is spinning Peto's rant as "academic freedom." But academic freedom is only credible when bounded by academic standards, here demonstrably absent.

And let us also recall that OISE is part of the University of Toronto -- my alma mater, incidentally. And so it is that entire institution that Peto is shaming.