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Professor's Lawsuit Against Several of the Major Jewish Organizations of Ontario:

A professor suing a host of Jewish organizations, along wth York University, for allegedly conspiring against him and defaming him by accusing him of anti-Semitism, has put out a press release. It states that he is suing the "Israel Lobby," and asserts that this "Israel Lobby" is composed of several major provinicial Jewish organizations, i.e., "Hillel of Greater Toronto, the United Jewish Appeal Federation of Greater Toronto, and the Canadian Jewish Congress, Ontario," and "their agents." He further alleges in the press release that "These rich and powerful people pretend to be friends of higher learning but are in fact its worst enemies. They think they have bought themselves a university [York]."

The background:

In 2004, Noble distributed flyers around campus, which made claims that directors and members of [York University] foundation had ties with pro-Israeli groups. The pamphlets [entitled, "The Tail that Wags the Dog", and, which, according to an article in 2004 in the Globe and Mail, "names members of the [York University]foundation's board of directors and their affiliation with Jewish groups"] also claimed that the university was biased and favoured Israeli groups. After the distribution of the flyers, a fax was sent by Hillel of Greater Toronto to the university with their concern that the flyers insinuated that "Jews control York University." Noble denied this was in the material he distributed. In response, a press release was shortly issued by the university, in which [university president] Marsden condemned the literature. The press release did not name Noble individually but did quote Dori Borshiov, the former president of Hillel at York, who expressed concern with the material that was handed out stating, "it is unacceptable for any students to be exposed to this type of bigotry."
Also see this story from the Toronto Star.

I haven't seen the original flyers, and I generally think university presidents should refrain from taking sides on speech-related controversies on campus, but I can't imagine how anyone could ever interpret any remarks made by the plaintiff as insinuating that Jews control York University. And it's not like the plaintiff had ever engaged in any other actions that even remotely suggest hostility to the Jewish community.

Humble Canadian (mail):
Conspicuously absent from your post, Professor, is the fact that Mr. Noble is himself Jewish. I think that's important because it shows that Noble is not just some anti-Semite (as the sarcasm at the end of your post seems to suggest), and may in fact (we don't know without the original pamphlets) be making a legitimate criticism of, or commentary on, the degree to which York's leaders' personal affiliations have affected their professional judgments (e.g., whether to permit protestors with a message contrary to that of the leaders' personal affiliations)... Just a comment.
12.6.2006 10:06am
Perry (mail):
Are Walt and Mearsheimer proud that they've encouraged guys like this to come out of the closet?
12.6.2006 10:30am
Steve:
Are Walt and Mearsheimer proud that they've encouraged guys like this to come out of the closet?

I guess when you have an axe to grind, time ceases to have meaning. While it's unlikely that Walt/Mearsheimer's 2006 paper was what caused this guy to pass fliers around campus in 2004, and while people have been accusing the Jews of controlling this and that since the days of Moses, I guess Walt and Mearsheimer are reviled figures, so why the heck not take a shot at them?
12.6.2006 10:35am
DavidBernstein (mail):
I don't see how it's remotely relevant that he's of Jewish descent.
12.6.2006 10:48am
Commenterlein (mail):
From the linked article:

"A York University professor has lodged a complaint with the Ontario Human Rights Commission, alleging that the school discriminates against non-Jewish students because it cancels classes for three days annually during Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur.

David Noble, a Jewish professor at York, filed the human rights complaint with the quasi-judicial commission after failing to convince university administrators that they should either cancel classes on all religious holidays or eliminate the practice."

Seems like a reasonable stance to me, whether one agrees with it or not. I fail to see how it suggests hostility to the Jewish community.
12.6.2006 10:48am
Mike BUSL07 (mail) (www):
Humble Canadian, an anti-semite is anti-semite regardless of whether he is himself Jewish. Some of the most vocal anti-semites are Jewish by descent, in whole or in some part. Check out Vladimir Zhirinovsky and Robert Fisk, to name a couple that spring to mind.
12.6.2006 11:03am
David Chesler (mail) (www):
David Noble, a Jewish professor at York, filed the human rights complaint with the quasi-judicial commission after failing to convince university administrators that they should either cancel classes on all religious holidays or eliminate the practice.

See a York U. calendar here. It seems that the university notes the High Holidays, and also note Christmas Eve, Christmas Day, and Boxing Day.

Is there an issue?

As always, one has to ask why the question of religious accomodation is only being asked now, but never came up when (for instance) Christmas is a holiday but significant non-Christian holidays, with significant impact on the student body, were not.

I understood that the Canadian model was generally about practical accomodations for actual members of the student body, rather than a normative separation of school and religion, at least as far as elementary and secondary schools.

I'm trying to understand the issues: It seems like Professor Noble is suing the Israel Lobby over its control of York U. for saying that Noble says there is an Israel Lobby that controls York U.
12.6.2006 11:18am
Hamas (mail):
Suing the Israel Lobby? Instead of randomly rocketing the place?

Quick, CC the General Counsel on this.
12.6.2006 11:37am
David Chesler (mail) (www):
Taking a more careful look at that calendar, for Christmas (Eve, Day, Boxing) and Good Friday, one star, "University Closed".
For the High Holy Days, two stars, no classes, university offices open. For Passover (less Chol Hamoed) three stars: no exams, but classes held and offices open.

The York relgious accomodation policy is here and their calendar of all possible religious holidays is here.

Article on Prof. Nobles conflict here.

Jewish holidays policy affirmed
A York University Senate committee has recommended the school continue its long-standing practice of cancelling classes on Jewish holidays, despite some professors' concerns it violates the school's governing law, reported the Toronto Star Sept. 21. York's Senate will receive a report Thursday from its committee on curriculum and academic standards that concludes it would be disruptive to hold classes on Jewish holidays on a campus where an estimated one in 10 students is Jewish.

However history Professor David Noble, who is Jewish, says he intends to teach on the three days in October usually cancelled for Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, despite York's policy, because York is a secular, public university. It was Noble's complaint last year that prompted the Senate to seek a report on the 30-year-old practice of cancelling classes each October. Noble says the practice violates a section of the York University Act of 1965, which states no "religious observances...be imposed" upon any member of the University community.

York spokesperson Nancy White disagreed with Noble's interpretation, reported the Star. "This section was intended to protect members of the University from being forced to comply with another religion as a condition of employment. But no one is making anyone go to any religious service," White said. She said suspending classes for all on Jewish holidays is a practical solution because of the number of Jewish students who would miss classes.

Canadian Jewish News quoted Chris Morley, a spokesperson for Premier Dalton McGuinty, who said cancelling classes on holidays "is a decision the University has the authority to make," adding that "it seems the York policy is reasonable." White told CJN that the Senate and administration reviewed the policy about 10 years ago and decided to continue with it. "In no way does this practice undermine the York Act. "

Prof. Martin Lockshin, an observant Jew who teaches humanities in York's Faculty of Arts and is a member of the University's Senate, told CJN that although the school has taken Noble's complaint very seriously, he would be surprised if the practice changed. He said the University is entitled to make rules about when classes are held. He added that the holiday policy follows a general York principle of respecting religious diversity, but more importantly, it avoids problems that would be created when many students and faculty can't attend class.


Does Prof. Noble teach class on December 25?
12.6.2006 11:39am
AppSocRes (mail):
The point is, that if a state-run University shuts down for the religious holy days of one religion it should shut down for the religious holy days of all others (or at least all others with practicing students on campus). If the University does not, it is clearly preferring the religious observances of one religion over those of another. To avoid this might require the University to shut down for much of Ramadan and certain other holy days for Muslims, all holy days of obligation for Catholics, and so on. I'm not even going into what might be required to defer to the beliefs of extremely orthodox Jews (Succot?, Purim?, Shemini Atzeret?, etc.) or Muslims (every Friday?). Better to get unstuck from this tar baby and revert to the old policy which respects all religions while deferring to none.

By the way, I was an undergraduate at Brandeis University where the university always closed for the high holy days and organized fall and spring breaks around Hanuka and Pesach. I have no problem with my private alma mater's deference to the Jewish religion of its founders and supporters. I would be upset if the University of Massachusetts started closing for the non-statututory religious holy days opf various student religions.
12.6.2006 11:50am
Mike BUSL07 (mail) (www):
Commenterlein, et al,

I don't think the objection here, on the part of DB, is to the perfectly reasonable demands made by the Profesor, but instead to the manner in which he sought them - insinuating an ill-intentioned cabal of Jewish organizations, seeing a boogeyman conglomerate where there is none. He comes perilously close to employing stock anti-semitic talking points, that all Jews are in alliance with each other, pursuing a sinister agenda.
12.6.2006 12:18pm
Steve:
The point is, that if a state-run University shuts down for the religious holy days of one religion it should shut down for the religious holy days of all others (or at least all others with practicing students on campus).

I think a rule that "we'll shut down for the holy days of any religion practiced by a substantial number of students" is completely neutral. The rule you propose would be overkill and create a heckler's veto.

Certainly, the school's policy should make clear that you won't be penalized for missing class due to religious reasons, even if you're the only practitioner of that particular religion on campus. But saying that the entire school should be able to take off the religious holidays of that single person goes too far.
12.6.2006 12:29pm
DavidBernstein (mail):
It strikes me as pretty obvious that if the government decides that all non-statutory religious holidays must result in canceled classes, or none, that the result will be none. I acknowledge that one can advocate for this position without being hostile to anyone, but I can also see how one can see at least the possibility that someone who files a grievance, then an appeal of some sort, and then a lawsuit to effectuate this policy, and threatens to meanwhile defy the policy while canceling classes specifically on Muslim (but apparently not Christian, Hindu, etc.) holidays, may just have some hostility to the Jewish community.
12.6.2006 12:43pm
David Chesler (mail) (www):
Better to get unstuck from this tar baby and revert to the old policy which respects all religions while deferring to none.

When was that policy in effect?

I'd applaud such a policy. I hope that just like the Boy Scouts of America, the Put the X Back in Xmas folks get what they are requesting.
12.6.2006 12:44pm
Jay Myers:
David Bernstein:

I can't imagine how anyone could ever interpret any remarks made by the plaintiff as insinuating that Jews control York University.

In one of the stories you linked to they had this quote:

"This… was all engineered by the Israel lobby," Noble told a campus newspaper. "They got York University to defame one of its own professors."

He's saying 'the Israel lobby' (in reality a Jewish collegiate foundation) engineered the university's actions and got the university to do the Jewish organization's bidding by defaming one of their own professors. So on one hand we have Jews and on the other hand we have a statement that those Jews make the university do whatever they want it to do. Are you sure that you can't imagine how that could possibly be construed as saying that Jews control the university?

What I find to be the most salient points are these.

"Students of any faith can be exempt from classes on their holidays without penalty if they speak with their professors in advance."

"About 10% of York's 50,000-member student body is Jewish."

Christians already have their religious holidays off so we are only talking about whether non-Christian gentiles are being harmed by being able to have excused absences but still having to miss classes on their holy days.

Is it unreasonable for the university to create a blanket policy not to have classes on those two days rather than have up to 5,000 students make special arrangements with their professors and then miss a couple of days of instruction? The disruption to the university's pedagogical mission is minimal and possibly less than not having the policy.

Is it unreasonable for the university not to make a similar policy for dozens of other religions whose combined representation in the student body is probably less than 5,000? Now instead of having to make up two days of instruction, the university will have to make up entire weeks worth of instruction. That seems like a major disruption to the school in order to accomodate only a few students.
12.6.2006 12:48pm
Steve:
Are you sure that you can't imagine how that could possibly be construed as saying that Jews control the university?

Someone is always guaranteed to miss sarcasm on the Internet.
12.6.2006 12:54pm
David Chesler (mail) (www):
Asked whether he is a secular or religious Jew, Noble said: "Those are not categories that interest me. I have a certificate of my circumcision… if you want to see it."

I got yer certificate. I got yer certificate right here.
12.6.2006 1:10pm
Hoosier:
Steve--

No! Do ya really think so?
12.6.2006 1:37pm
hey (mail):
Do remember that Canada isn't the US, especially with respect to religion. The Supreme Governor of the Church of England is also Queen of Canada and "Defender of the Faith" is part of her Canadian title in both official languages, so obviously the separation of church and state is a little less operable (also remember why there is a First Amendment... just a tiny bit of reaction against the British tradition of Establishment). Further, Ontario has a fully funded Catholic school system that provides JK to 12 education complete with mandatory religion classes and fairly decent Catholic indoctrination.

As to the issues with recognizing Jewish holidays and not others... Practically there are significant advantages to rcognising Jewish holidays. In the Fall term there is usually no effect to cancelling classes broadly, as the school is just ramping up when the High Holidays tend to occur. This year was aberrational with them so late, but even still there would have been minimal to no effect on assignments, midterms, etc. Passover is also well behaved, running close to Easter and usually being outside of the exam period. York and other Ontario Universities run from the first or 2nd week in Sept to late April/early May for the end of Finals (whole year or Winter Term). There's a week off for Christmas, and a week off in February/March for reading week (yes Spring Break is in the depth of winter).

To give similar treatment to other religions would be very problematic, as it would eat up a large number of instructional days in the heart of Fall Term (or a roving amount of days, for Muslim festivals) for Muslim, Sikh, Hindu and other religions. There would be substantial problems caused by Chinese/Korean/Japanese festivals in the Winter as well. Given the demographics of York especially and large metropolitan Ontario universities in general, the basic list of religions to accomodate would be Sikh, Muslim, Ismaili Muslim (lots of Ugandan refugees in Canada), Jewish, Chinese Buddhist, Japanese Shinto, Korean Buddist, Eastern and Western Christian. The Buddhist/Shinto holidays would mostly be cultural celebrations, as so many students from those background are VERY Christian but still celebrate "ethnic" holidays. This basic list would paralyse the school, and the no celebration option wouldn't work. Universities will accommodate any students religious holidays that conflict with assignment due dates and exams, as well as authorizing absences for any required attendance class (they have to make accommodations by law).

York could easily treat Jewish holidays how many other schools do, by treating it as every other "minority" religion and granting accomodations without the entire university getting time off. It likely doesn't do this out of a respect for the traditions that make York what it is (my personal abysmal opinion of it excepted).

York is convulsed by a large number of Jihadist and Jewish Leftist Anti-Zionist ("don't dare call us anti-semites") cranks as well as a large proportion of Jewish faculty and students (neighbouring communities are very, very, very Jewish, with streets in suburban developments near the university being named Chabad Gate, Esther Crescent, Crown Heights Cresecent, and New Israel Way). This is just a continuation of this depressing conflict.
12.6.2006 1:59pm
David M. Nieporent (www):
One thing to note about the long list of religions which potentially have holidays that the school would need to accommodate: not all religious holidays require that people stay home from school/work. Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, yes. Ramadan (selected as an example only because it's a holiday I know a little about), no. I don't know about all the Buddhist, Shinto, Sikh, etc...

Of course, for observant Jews, they would take off many more days than the High Holidays, but most of us only take those three days. (In fact, many non-orthodox Jews only take one day for Rosh Hashanah.)
12.6.2006 3:06pm
Crunchy Frog:
The school district my children attend has a curious "Fall Break" that starts on Columbus Day (second Monday in October) and runs the entire week. In most years, by an amazing coincidence, Yom Kippur falls within that week, but not this year. There is also two weeks off in the spring instead of just one, since Passover does not always track the same as Good Friday/Easter.

It's not just students missing class, but teachers as well, and therein lies the problem. Attempting to line up substitute teachers for half of the faculty would be a logistical nightmare and not a whole lot of actual instruction is going to take place, so why bother?
12.6.2006 3:28pm
The River Temoc (mail):
Are Walt and Mearsheimer proud that they've encouraged guys like this to come out of the closet?

Wow, talk about guilt by association...
12.6.2006 5:52pm
David M. Nieporent (www):
Crunchy, FWIW I think if you check a Hebrew calendar you'll find that it isn't the case that "in most years" Yom Kippur falls during Columbus Day week.
12.6.2006 6:18pm
plunge (mail):
"Conspicuously absent from your post" is David Bernstein's exceedingly long middle name.

And remember kids: Jews complaining that there is such a thing as Israeli lobby are inherently anti-semites. There is no such thing, no way, no how, and no one is allowed to point out that there is such a political spectrum or movement. Israel never takes controversial positions on anything, and non-profit groups never join in PR advancing these positions. Never.

But Jews who demand that all American Jews bow and scrape to kiss the New Testament, the glory of glory, praise Jesu... oh wait.... like Dennis Prager, those guys are hunky dory! I mean, that's not anti-semetic. It's only when people on the left criticize the policies Israel. Not when people on the right gleefully and loudly sing "throw the Jews down the well." In that case, you see, they are just being polite.

Welcome to Bernsteins' Alice in Wonderland.
12.7.2006 1:06pm