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Toronto university under fire for accepting thesis

TORONTO (JTA) — The University of Toronto has come under fire for accepting a master’s thesis that calls two Holocaust education programs "racist."

Written by Jenny Peto, a Jewish activist with the Coalition Against Israeli Apartheid, the thesis attacks the March of Remembrance and Hope, through which young adults of diverse backgrounds travel with Holocaust survivors to sites of Nazi atrocities in Poland, and March of the Living Canada, part of an international program that takes young Jews and survivors to Poland and Israel.

Peto argues the programs cause Jews to believe they are innocent victims. In reality, she writes, they are privileged white people who "cannot see their own racism."

The "construction of a victimized Jewish identity," she argues, is intentional; it produces "effects that are extremely beneficial to the organized Jewish community" and to "apartheid" Israel.

She further questions "the implications of white Jews taking it upon themselves to educate people of color about genocide, racism and intolerance."

Irving Abella, a well-known Canadian historian and former president of the Canadian Jewish Congress, told the Toronto Star that the thesis is "not scholarship, it’s ideology. It’s totally ahistorical; I found it full of untruths and distortions and held together by fatuous and very flabby analysis. It borders on anti-Semitism."

Abella added, "I’m appalled that it would be acceptable to a major university."

Holocaust survivors involved in both programs also have denounced the paper as hurtful.

In a letter to University of Toronto President David Naylor, retired University of British Columbia sociology professor Werner Cohn said the thesis "makes wild charges against [Peto's] fellow Jews without a shred of evidence," the Canadian Jewish News reported.

Peto, who was part of a group that tried to occupy Toronto’s Israeli Consulate in 2009, said the controversy is a smear effort by "right-wing, pro-Israel groups and individuals."

"This is not the first time I have been dragged through the mud by pro-Israel groups," she told the Star, "and I am sure it will not be that last."

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