Defend Jennifer Peto, a Brave Canadian Critic of Zionism

Canada is mostly a diluted version of the USA. But Canadians are justly proud of their country’s resistance to the abrasive style of American politics. In one respect, though, it is more extreme than the United States – it is the only country with a more fanatical Israel Lobby.

When the University of Toronto recently accepted a Master’s thesis critical of Jewish privilege, the Lobby, the media, and politicians, immediately condemned it as ‘hate’. Some of these legislators declared the University should not have awarded the M.A. to Sociology and Equity Studies student Jennifer Peto, an unprecedented interference of the government in academic freedom.

When a Jewish anti-Zionist like Peto is physically threatened by Zionists and denounced by politicians, the first thing is obviously to defend her and her freedom of speech. But there is a danger in giving extra credit to her argument because it has come under such vicious attack from the Lobby.

The extreme reaction of the Lobby to any criticism has the effect of encouraging narcissism in critics, especially Jewish ones – there is nothing like persecution to make people self-righteous, and Zionists know this better than anyone! To be a Jewish critic of Zionism in a Western country today is less risky than to have joined the white anti-apartheid activists in South Africa, who were on the receiving end of letter-bombs as well as abuse. Still, Peto is a brave woman, and her thesis honestly describes her difficult break with her Zionist upbringing.

Her thesis, ‘The Victimhood of the Powerful: White Jews, Zionism and the Racism of Hegemonic Holocaust Education’, is a development of the tradition of left-wing criticism of various kinds of ‘privilege’ – white, male, etc.1 She reviews How Jews Became White Folks.2 She thinks that race is socially constructed: “race, whiteness and ethnicity produce, and are produced by, nationalist discourses.” She uncritically repeats the idea that Israel is a US ‘client state’ but admits “the discourses that are used in defence of Israel are different than those used to excuse or deny American, Canadian and other Western imperial violence.” It’s not that complicated. Never mind ‘discourses.’ Is it in the interests of the other Western capitalist countries to give unconditional support to Israel, or not? In short, she has no critique of Jewish power.

Peto states, “My work is based in the understanding that Zionism – the belief that Jewish people have a right to a nation-state built on top of the ruins of Palestine – is a racist, imperialist ideology that can only effectively be challenged through anti-racist, anti-imperialist theory and activism.” I argue the exact opposite – I want to challenge her and the left in general to ask why this approach was so effective in the case of South Africa, and so ineffective against Israel. She has nothing to say about ‘the chosen people’ and the festivals which celebrate massacres of gentiles – she makes no attempt to answer the question “is Zionism an expression of Judaism”? She explicitly says, “Jews of European descent now enjoy white privilege,” which implies a) they didn’t used to enjoy privilege at all, and b) the privilege they now enjoy is not specifically Jewish. She compares Canada’s history of ethnic cleansing with Israel’s. This is not how to undermine Zionism.

A thesis is not a political manifesto, but obviously, Jennifer Peto is an activist, and her paper’s argument leads to certain conclusions, certain tactics, for the growing campaign to reduce uncritical support for the apartheid state in the rest of the world. Therefore, I think it is appropriate to criticize it from a tactical point of view.

My argument is, quite simply, that left-wing anti-oppression politics is inadequate for combating Zionism. Telling the white European majority of the Western countries that Jewish privilege is essentially a variant of their own is not only false, it leads logically to solidarity with Israel. Surely it would be more effective to point out that most Americans have no interest in supporting Jewish supremacy, rather than telling them they are ‘complicit’ in racism? Concern with the history of white European racism assisted the dismantling of apartheid in Africa, desegregation, affirmative action, busing and African-American studies, but it doesn’t lead to opposing the Jewish apartheid state.

The Palestine solidarity movement should be trying to drive a wedge between supporters of the Jewish state and everyone else. This involves emphasizing the differences between the former and the latter, putting forward the overwhelming case that a) Israel is morally worse than all the other Western countries, and b) most of their inhabitants, rich or poor, have no reason to support it. It implies showing, in complete contrast to the dogmas of modern leftism, how Western countries are the most egalitarian societies which have ever existed – except Israel. Trying to fit opposition to Zionism into the general framework of opposing oppression in general doesn’t work. For example, feminist and gay politics don’t aid opponents of Jewish apartheid; its defenders point out that Israel is by far the most liberal country in the Middle East. Analyses derived from Marxism are also unhelpful; Western support for Israel is not based on material interests, and the conflict in Palestine is about race, not class.

Instead of trying to fit the square peg of opposition to Jewish ethnocentrism into the round hole of political correctness, we should list the ways in which Jewish power is more powerful than white supremacy:

1. The open advocacy of white power – in any country – is taboo – no politician in the world does it
2. The open advocacy of Jewish power – in Israel – is mandatory for all Western politicians
3. The Western countries boycotted, and caused the end of, white apartheid, thirty years ago
4. The Western countries support Jewish apartheid today, uncritically and very expensively
5. Desmond Tutu has stated that Israeli policies are at least as bad as apartheid
6. Apartheid South Africa fought for US interests against Soviet-backed forces
7. Apartheid Israel has never fought for US interests
8. There has been no violence against Jews in any Western country for sixty-five years – unless you count Palestinian resistance, which is the result of Jewish supremacy
9. When US colleges, co-operatives and other bodies initiated a boycott of South Africa over thirty years ago, no white supremacists tried to stop them
10. When, today, US colleges, co-operatives and other bodies tentatively discuss a boycott of Israel today, right-wing Jewish activists issue lawsuits and stage protests, and left-wing Jewish activists try to undermine their efforts from within, complaining of ‘oppression’ and ‘anti-Semitism’

Jewish power is so much more important than white privilege that I argue that concern with the latter works, consciously or otherwise, to the benefit of the former. Critics of white privilege, for example critical race theorist Stanley Fish, often claim that Zionism is not a form of racism, by emphasizing how Jews have suffered at the hands of white supremacists.3 Peto boldly challenges the use of the holocaust to reinforce Jewish self-righteousness. She describes The March of Remembrance, a Zionist project aimed at making gentiles aware of the holocaust, but, because of her perspective, she doesn’t go so far as to see it as part of the culture of ‘white guilt’. I would criticize it as such, and advocate, and organize, open discussion about the holocaust and the rest of the larger Holocaust of World War II. Canada’s laws against questioning aspects of the Shoah are a clear expression of Jewish privilege. Opposing that privilege by defending freedom of speech means trying to overturn those laws as much as defending Jennifer Peto and her comrades against Jewish power.

  1. Jennifer Peto (2010) “The Victimhood of the Powerful: White Jews, Zionism and the Racism of Hegemonic Holocaust Education,” Master of Arts thesis, University of Toronto. []
  2. Karen Brodkin (1998). How Jews Became White Folks: and what that says about race in America. Rutgers University Press. []
  3. Stanley Fish (1994). There’s No Such Thing As Free Speech: And It’s a Good Thing, Too. Oxford University Press. []

Jay Knott wrote The Mass Psychology of Anti-Fascism. Read other articles by Jay.

19 comments on this article so far ...

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  1. bozh said on December 14th, 2010 at 8:42am #

    theft of palestine via murder and barring pal’n from returning to their homes appears particular and peculiar in some aspects.
    however, not in the most salient aspect: theft of land and expulsion.
    in this aspect, it does not differ from what serbia, u.s., indonesia in e.timor have done.
    we cannot ever accurately determine which of these conquerors were or are the greatest criminals.

    and do we have to right now? cannot we first call for destruction of israeli regime and only thereafter dwell on who was most brutal?

    i do suggest we do not split asunder jewishness into judaism, mosheism, talmudism, or zionism.
    to me, there is just one entity: jewishness or an unique cult.

    protestants appear, to me, its biggest supporters! to find out why, we need, i guess, to ask them! i can only guess why!
    i’ll reread this piece and see if need to expand my comment on uniqueness of some aspects of talmudic cult.
    bear in mind that if we wld just do that one thing: destroy the israeli regime, ‘jews’ wld infiltrate it.
    so, the rule number one is: no ‘jew’ wld be allowed to be a part of this struggle. tnx

  2. Liberte said on December 14th, 2010 at 9:05am #

    Bozh, wouldn’t it just be infiltrated by Beyonce Knowles or a Saudi Prince?

  3. bozh said on December 14th, 2010 at 9:08am #

    Peto states, “My work is based in the understanding that Zionism – the belief that Jewish people have a right to a nation-state built on top of the ruins of Palestine – is a racist, imperialist ideology that can only effectively be challenged through anti-racist, anti-imperialist theory and activism.”

    no cult ought to be called “racist”. and last of all, the mosheic cult! it comprises nearly all races and possibly a thousand of ethnicities.

    such people appear separatistic and united against any goyim land. they just cannot stand us goyim or be near us or in our company unless they can [ab]use us.

    comparing canada’s behavior towards indigenes and ‘jewish’ [cultish] behavior towards pal’ns appears a distort of reality.

    note, please, that she’s generalizing and not particularizing. when one generalizes, one leaves out [usually intentionally] the most important facts.

    i also affirm that, in order to destroy this cult [not people, tho] we need to take over congress or parliament; politicly, tho.
    no activism wld do! tnx

  4. bozh said on December 14th, 2010 at 9:26am #

    liberte,
    since u asked me about saudis being part of what i have in mind i can tell u, No, not ever! i do not know anything about knowles.
    anyway, just in case he’s an uncle, i also wld not allow any of these funni uncles in my peace party.
    no, i wld not allow a movement in either. tnx

  5. Don Hawkins said on December 14th, 2010 at 9:37am #

    Ok Bozh no movement explain a little further how could it work.

  6. bozh said on December 14th, 2010 at 10:12am #

    don,
    rich people have an agent; the only one that gets elected. we need also an agent. but a viable one and that is a party. nader cld form one and then field candidates for every office.

    a political party cannot be infiltrated. such a party wld stand for just bringing troops back home, abolish bases, healthcare-education for all.

    i’v been involved in two peace organizations- and believe me- u come across thousand and one goals being promoted.

    we also know that we’v had marches, protests, think tanks, movements, etc., and yet situation cldn’t be worse for many aliens and domestics.
    the cause? no representation in congress for the servant class! tnx

  7. Don Hawkins said on December 14th, 2010 at 10:18am #

    Ok then one party how.

  8. Ismail Zayid said on December 14th, 2010 at 12:00pm #

    Jay Knott says, in reference to Jennifer Peto: ” the first thing is obviously to defend her and her freedom of speech.” But this omits the fact that in Canada, and elsewhere, Peto is not allowed free speech if she , or anyone else for that matter, is to crticise Israel or its Zionist policies. The lesson we are being told is that Israel is above international law and, unlike all other states in the world, Israel has a unique immunity from criticism. The “Canadian Parliamentry Coalition to Combat Antisemitism” will shortly confirm that.

  9. hayate said on December 14th, 2010 at 12:35pm #

    “She uncritically repeats the idea that Israel is a US ‘client state’ but admits “the discourses that are used in defence of Israel are different than those used to excuse or deny American, Canadian and other Western imperial violence.” It’s not that complicated. Never mind ‘discourses.’ Is it in the interests of the other Western capitalist countries to give unconditional support to Israel, or not? In short, she has no critique of Jewish power.”

    In other words, another Finkelstein.

  10. hayate said on December 14th, 2010 at 12:51pm #

    “My argument is, quite simply, that left-wing anti-oppression politics is inadequate for combating Zionism. Telling the white European majority of the Western countries that Jewish privilege is essentially a variant of their own is not only false, it leads logically to solidarity with Israel.”

    Maybe with racist/fascist leaning rightwingers, it does, but not with normal people. Unfortunately, many people have been lead to believe israel, and Jewish zionism, are liberal and progressive. Putting zionists and israel in their correct setting – among the worst of the fascists in history – is necessary to combat the disinformation zionists befuddle the masses with. The only reason “that left-wing anti-oppression politics is inadequate for combating Zionism” is because a lot of those so-called leftists are zionists and have been sabotaging and neutralising the left for decades. That is where the ineffectiveness lies.

    “Concern with the history of white European racism assisted the dismantling of apartheid in Africa, desegregation, affirmative action, busing and African-American studies, but it doesn’t lead to opposing the Jewish apartheid state.”

    That’s because apartheid South Africa was a client state, a puppet of ziofascism, inc, and expendable, as all puppets are. The zionists have no masada complex over defending their quislings and walk away when things get grim. But israel is the “home country”, not expendable and the masada complex very much applies here to zionists. They’re not going to walk away this time.

  11. Deadbeat said on December 14th, 2010 at 2:36pm #

    hayate nails it. The reason why challenges to Zionism are ineffective has to do with the Zionists who have implanted themselves on the “Left” (the pseudo-Left) to sabotage and to neutralize it.

  12. demize said on December 15th, 2010 at 1:02am #

    Exactly. The “left” was split by crypto and not so crypto-zionists. It started when anti-militarist anti Viet Nam war activists suddenly became silent or tacitly approved of Israeli military aggression. It also split the domestic anti-rascist struggle sometime during the Brooklyn public school takeovers. This seems to have coincided with the outliving of usefulness for organized Jewish anti-rascist activity. It’s been dividing the left ever since. There is a strain of politically correct orthodoxy that aids this agenda ala having to give some perfunctory credence to the assinine rape charges against Assange who I don’t think is an agent of empire, willingly or otherwise, but I digress. The breaking of the coalition with ANSWER being another example, Chomsky theses on Israel being a mere imperial satrapy. I’m going off on a tangent but I think you’ll get my drift.

  13. Victor Fletcher said on December 15th, 2010 at 9:07am #

    from Toronto Street News‏
    To see messages related to this one, group messages by conversation.

    11:01 AM
    Reply ▼
    vic flet
    To gro.eciovtnedissidnull@snoissimbus
    Toronto Street News is a paper that questions Israel in every issue for years.

    We too, have suffered death threats, attempted smears, threats on our advertisers, outright fabrications by National Post newspaper, etc., etc.

    I know only too well what it is to be surveilled, interrogated, etc.

    In fact, I know the zionist community better than most because I am on the receiving end of a variety of threats.

    We are in our 12th year of publishing.

    The only way it can be sold is by the homeless as newsstands are not permitted to sell the paper.

    Even the homeless are surveilled and harassed for selling the paper.

    An immigration lawyer on Bay St. sent smears to my advertisers by trying to say a cartoon had people with hooked noses.

    I contacted the cartoonist who sells his material in Los Angeles dailies to ask him about this.

    He said there was no such intention. And there was none. The stereotyping was all in the lawyer’s head.

    I have contempt for these people. Jews don’t even know what a zionist really is but the zionists try to usurp the right to speak for all Jews.

    Our paper is 60% written by Jews and our owner is Jewish.

    Our PDF pages are available at: canadastreeetnews.com which is a websiste friend of the paper.

    I hope you can come out of academia and see where the rubber hits the road when it comes to publishing in Canada.

    You are incredibly naive.

    – Victor Fletcher / Toronto Street News
    Broadsheet sold by the homeless, handicapped, underemployed and dying on the streets of Toronto.

  14. jayn0t said on December 15th, 2010 at 6:18pm #

    Thanks for all the comments. This piece is at the top of the Google results. I’d love it if Jenny Peto got around to answering my piece!

  15. frederick said on December 16th, 2010 at 10:01am #

    Most and probably all so called christian church goers are of the House of Israel.These are the people that Jahshua was sent for..for he said ” I was not sent but for the lost sheep of the house of Israel”. The problem is that we have never been told who we are by the so called ministers of Baal,these priests of On and the shepherds of the flock. Most Jews are not true Jews but Edomites.In defence of the true Jews (and there is a few) they are as mixed up as the children of the house of Israel. I have heard that a non jewish man marries a jewish woman that the children would be jewish…that would NOT be true. This NWO that is promoted by these Edomites has one purpose and that is to eliminate the name of our Lord and Messiah Jahshua.Iwill say as David said….do not I hate them O Lord ?am I not grieved when they rise up against thee ? yes i hate them O Lord with a righteous hatred . As an american i will not speak against your PM even tho he is going the wrong way by giving the Devil signs etc. But…. i will speak against the Queen of Canada for she is a wicked woman and a worshiper of Lucifer/Satan as her father Winston Churchill. Get it in your heads there are two seeds lines of people today, one is of Satans and one is of Gods. One is of Jacob/Israel and the other is of Esau/edom..you choose.I do support ms Peto right in her search of the truth and I stand against these Edomites Jews or those that call themselves Jews BUT ARE NOT.

  16. jayn0t said on December 18th, 2010 at 5:09pm #

    The hysteria which Jenny Peto’s thesis has produced is revealing. One of Jonathan Kay’s articles in Canada’s National Post is entitled ‘EVEN the pc left are ditching Peto’. He describes a Jewish priestess of ‘diversity’ losing it when her ethnic privilege is criticised. PC leftism against white Europeans, men, etc., is tolerated, but when it turns against Jewish power, politicians and journalists fall over themselves to grovel by attacking academic freedom.

    Even Jenny’s brother has shafted her – in the letter pages of the National Post. He says their ex-grandma ran an orphanage for Jewish kids in Hungary ’til the Nazis showed up. However, the good woman did not succumb to bitterness, and did not teach her grandchildren to hate. From this, Jenny thought granny would support Jenny, but bro says no, she was ‘an ardent supporter of the state of Israel’. But she was completely free of hate.

  17. Deadbeat said on December 18th, 2010 at 5:33pm #

    she was ‘an ardent supporter of the state of Israel’. But she was completely free of hate.

    Sound just like the “Left”s” love of Chomsky — a “dissident” but an ardent PROFESSED supporter of Zionism.

  18. Rehmat said on December 28th, 2010 at 6:24pm #

    Incidently, Jennifer Peto, sort of repeated the statement made by a former Israeli cabinet minister, Shulamit Aloni (born 1928), during her August 14, 2002 interview with Amy Goodman (Jewish) of Democracy Now! : “Well, it’s a trick, we always use it. When from Europe somebody is criticizing Israel then we bring up the holocaust. When in this country (US) people are criticizing Israel then they are anti-Semitic. And the organization (Israel Lobby) is very strong and has lot of money. And the ties between Israel and American Jewish establishment are very strong – and they are strong in this country as you know. And they have power which is ok”.

    http://rehmat1.wordpress.com/2010/12/05/u-of-t-under-fire-for-thesis-on-jewish-racism/

  19. Mulga Mumblebrain said on December 28th, 2010 at 9:10pm #

    Rehmat, it’s not just when people are criticising Israel that the Holocaust is invoked. It’s also when Israel is planning another atrocity. Needless to say the use of the deaths of millions to justify the current crimes of a racist, gangster, mafia state is an insult to the sacred memory of the victims.