Published in The Link 37.08 on Oct. 18 2016
On Friday, the Montreal Gazette published a new article called, “McGill Daily satire revives tensions over BDSmovement,” by their university reporter, Karen Seidman.
Seidman takes the angle that Jewish students at McGill University feel The Daily, one of the student newspapers, is thwarting their efforts to speak out about how the Boycott, Divest, and Sanction movement against Israel makes them uncomfortable.
Tensions escalated, she writes, after The Daily published a satirical piece titled, “White tears increase on campus,” which pokes fun at the sensitivity of white people towards confronting their own racial privilege.
It’s not a great satire, but that doesn’t excuse the story published in response at the Gazette.
In Seidman’s article, it’s not stated clearly why some Jewish students expressed discomfort about the satire, just that they expressed it. That isn’t to say that their discomfort isn’t valid—but for an article to be built around that discomfort, the connection between the piece and BDS tension needs to be clearer.
As it stands, the only connection to the movement in the satire is at the end of one paragraph that makes a reference to the BDS vote—a vote the anti-BDS side won.
Seidman quotes a former president of Israel on Campus McGill who says The Daily piece mocks those who oppose BDS, without saying exactly how. Then she quotes him saying Jews are the number one victims of hate crimes in North America.
That’s true, with context. Jews experience the most religious hate crimes in Canada and the U.S.
But presented as it is, at face value, it is a false statistic, and Seidman makes it seem like her source is misleading readers by not providing the background for this quote.
Numerically, according to statistics from the FBI and RCMP, it’s Black people that experience the most hate crimes. Would it have been so hard for Seidman to make that quoted fact true by adding “religious” before “hate crimes,” or by paraphrasing?
By omitting context for the statistic, she’s leaving her source out to dry, and holds back discourse. When you find out the fact is out of context, it makes a serious grievance from the Jewish community sound like a lie.
Plus, by conflating racial violence with religious violence, she devalues the unique aspects and histories of each—let alone simplifying the violence against people, like Mizrahi or Sephardi Jews, who experience both.
Violence deserves to be discussed honestly and openly, as do feelings of oppression. By encouraging the use of incomplete statistics, Seidman focuses discourse around the factual validity of people’s experiences of violence instead of around the violence itself.
As for The Daily stifling speech, Seidman uses an example of a student submitting a letter to the paper needing vetting as an example of silencing Jewish speech. She fails to mention that every letter submitted to any newspaper gets vetted—a fact a journalist should know.
It isn’t until later in the story that she says what vetting meant, in this case: having the hosts of Treyf, a Jewish podcast at McGill, take a look at the letter.
She uses scare quotes to say Treyf is a “Jewish advocacy group,” but it’s unclear who is saying that or calling it that—is it The Daily? Is it her source? Is it her? In any case, the quotation marks serve to make it seem like Treyf is not that, without even saying if that’s what they call themselves.
Plus, her source calls Treyf “debatably Jewish.”
Seidman takes this at face value. She doesn’t point out that Treyf themselves have taken on this name ironically (the Yiddish word treif means not following Jewish law). But she presents the quote as somebody saying that Treyf staff are not true Jews. She didn’t even try to contact them, and she still hasn’t—even though they invited her to on Twitter.
If it’s wrong to make a reference to a democratic vote in a satire, why isn’t it wrong to devalue another person’s faith because of their political views?
For somebody to hold anti-Zionist views and then to be labeled as “debatably Jewish” is deeply offensive.
She also says The Daily didn’t want to comment. If Seidman’s approach with them was similar to hers with The Link, we understand why they held back.
Seidman emailed The Link’s editor-in-chief (an author of this piece) asking what the policy is regarding publishing pro-Israel articles, on the grounds that The Link didn’t publish a letter written by a Jewish student about how uncomfortable BDS week made her feel.
In fact, the opinions editor received that letter an hour before Seidman reached out. And you can actually read it in this paper, right now.
Another issue in Seidman’s story is she presents the Jewish community of McGill as an ideological monolith—and generally neglects the diversity of voices. BDS doesn’t only implicate Jewish students, so why are only Jewish students—and Jewish students with one political position at that—quoted in this story?
The Gazette, as a mainstream newspaper, should not use an objective news story as a platform for a one-sided airing of grievances. A piece this biased belongs in the opinions section.
What Palestinian voices does Seidman try to include in her piece? Where is the angle that Palestinian students may feel uncomfortable about having groups, such as Israel on Campus, promoting a country that most of the world has asked to stop illegally occupying their homeland? How do Palestinian students feel about a mainstream newspaper misrepresenting their experiences to an audience far removed from their lives, and to a much larger audience than that of The Daily without bothering to talk to them?
The absence of a Palestinian voice in Seidman’s article reflects the broader absence of the Palestine narrative in cultural discourse—a main reason why the BDS movement began.
Seidman’s article reinforces existing divisions on campus, devalues genuine experiences of violence, and undermines the integrity of journalism in Montreal.
For a story about the real-life consequences of an article, Seidman’s piece is unaware of the consequences of its own existence. It was irresponsible journalism that the editorial board of the Gazette should publicly respond to, whether that be through a follow up or a formal apology to The McGill Daily.