Victoria: Shouting Erupts During Talk on Israel
Shouting Erupts During Talk on Israel
by David Karp; 2007-09-27 - The Martlet Online
A talk by controversial professor Joel Kovel was disrupted by swearing and yelling by another professor.
Kovel, a professor at Bard College in New York state and former candidate for the U.S. Green Party’s presidential nomination, was giving a public lecture in [the University of Victoria's] Human and Social Development building on Sept. 24 about his views on the Israel-Palestine conflict.
Kovel, himself a Jew, compared Israel to South Africa during apartheid and argued that peace in the Middle East would only be achieved if a single secular state were established where Israel and Palestine currently are.
“I believe that Zionism was a very bad idea,” Kovel said. “It’s a bad idea because it really doomed the Jewish people to being in the position of a master race, which was exactly the opposite position from which they had been experiencing themselves.
“Instead of a genuine liberation, there was a reversal of the signs.”
Kovel was occasionally interrupted by members of the audience during his talk. “We really, really don’t need a Jewish state,” Kovel said. “Nobody needs a state that’s founded on a religion or an ethnicity, particularly under these circumstances. The world can do a lot better.”
That comment was interrupted by a sarcastic thank-you from a member of the audience.
“You’re not welcome,” Kovel replied, prompting laughter.
It was during the question and answer period that things got particularly heated. C.D. Mazoff, a retired professor from McGill University, became angry when meeting chair Theresa Wolfwood, director of the Barnard-Boecker Centre Foundation which organized the talk, didn’t select Mazoff to ask a question.
“Let him speak,” audience members shouted. After a verbal exchange between Wolfwood and Mazoff, Wolfwood chose another question speaker.
When Mazoff interrupted the questioner, Wolfwood yelled at Mazoff to sit down.
“I don’t think you like Jews,” Mazoff shouted. “I am an academic. I am a well-known academic - a professor at McGill.”
“Sit down and be civil please,” Wolfwood shouted. “Sit down and be civil.” She turned to address an audience member on their cellphone. “You’re calling security. Thank you.”
Mazoff continued to shout and began swearing, leaving his seat to approach Wolfwood and Kovel. Audience members formed a barrier around Mazoff so he could not reach Wolfwood or Kovel. At least one audience member swore at Mazoff.
Mazoff stormed out of the room. He later returned to his seat and Wolfwood chose him to ask a question.
“First, let me apologize,” a calmer Mazoff said. “I personally have experienced anti-Semitism during my youth. When I went to McGill the first time around I needed 10 per cent higher [to be admitted]. My grandparents were very sad all the time because their brothers and sisters had been killed, and my next-door neighbour had a tattoo on her arm because she survived Auschwitz. When you looked at me like that, I just thought, ‘You’re a Jew hater.’ That was my immediate reaction.
“You cannot talk about Zionism in the abstract,” Mazoff went on to say. “You must look at it in the context of what white people have done to my people for the last 2,000 years. We are scared shitless.”
Kovel empathized with Mazoff’s points. “I know the scars of racism,” he said, going on to criticize the United States foreign policy.
“But none of that says the state of Israel is OK,” said Kovel. “Elementary logic: two wrongs don’t make a right. The United States has done something wrong - surely you’re not saying we should concentrate on the United States and give Israel a free ride. The two of them are deeply tied together.”
“I understand and I agree with you there,” said Mazoff. “But I think Jews are frightened because every 50 to 75 years, white people turn against us.”
Although there was frequent shouting between the chairperson, audience and questioners, many spoke respectfully.
Kovel’s 2007 book, Overcoming Zionism: Creating a Single Democratic State in Israel/Palestine, was pulled from distribution last month by the University of Michigan Press, which distributes Kovel’s book on behalf of publisher Pluto Press.
“They presumed to be able to judge this book and say, ‘We find this book to be unacceptable. It’s beyond the terms of any acceptable discourse,’” Kovel said.
However, the book is for sale at the UVic Bookstore.
Although the Bernard-Boecker organized the talk, the Grad Students’ Society (GSS) was listed as a sponser, prompting one student to ask why during the question period.
“Our intention was to support bringing in a speaker that would raise debate,” responded GSS executive director Stacy Chappel. “It certainly has happened that way - not necessarily entirely in the spirit that I’d like to see, but I think it’s a very huge topic and it’s hard to get away from the intense feelings people have about it.”
Andrea Sorin, president of Israel on Campus, a student group which promotes and educates about positive aspects of Israel, said she disagreed with Kovel’s message. “I don’t support what he says. It goes against everything I stand for as a Jew,” said Sorin.
But she added that she didn’t have a problem with Kovel speaking at UVic, although she was disappointed her group wasn’t approached to bring in another speaker to debate Kovel.
“The university is an institution of freedom of speech - the President of Iran spoke today at Columbia,” Sorin noted.
Kovel said it wasn’t the first time he’d been heckled, but that his talks often went without incident.