Defending her Holocaust education is racist thesis -

Defending her Holocaust education is racist thesis

Peto says she was attacked for being a ‘pro-Palestinian activist’


Jenny Peto has broken her silence on her controversial master’s thesis in which she attempts to prove that Holocaust education is used as a subversive method of indoctrination to justify Israeli apartheid.

Peto’s paper, “The Victimhood of the Powerful: White Jews, Zionism and the Racism of Hegemonic Holocaust Education,” has garnered international attention for claiming that two Holocaust remembrance programs are essentially instruments of Zionist propaganda. Major news outlets picked up on the story and Peto’s paper was even debated in provincial legislature last month. Many slammed “The Victimhood of the Powerful” for supposedly spreading hateful messages, and others, including myself, decried the sorry state of academic affairs at U of T’s Ontario Institute for Studies in Education (OISE) for awarding a master’s degree to a polemic riddled with unsubstantiated claims and wild extrapolations.

But according to Jenny Peto, who sat down with The Varsity to discuss the recent backlash, her paper was attacked simply because she was purporting unpopular ideas. “I think that this is about who I am as a pro-Palestinian activist and what I have to say,” she said, “which is very critical of Israel, very critical of mainstream pro-Israel institutions in Canada, and critical of what I see as an abuse of Holocaust memory to justify Israeli apartheid.” In other words, all of that talk of misleading claims and spreading hate was really just a guise for mainstream intolerance of pro-Palestinian ideas. I know; this whole thing is doused with concepts of the subliminal and subversive—just try to keep up.

Peto also defends her decision not to interview a single person affiliated with the two Holocaust remembrance programs central to her paper. She uses countless secondary sources to back her opinion that the March of Remembrance and Hope (MRH) and the March of the Living (MOL) instill a sense of victimhood in their participants and/or reinforce the uniqueness of the Holocaust, though none of her secondary sources directly reference the trips. Peto’s only sources of information specific to the programs in question are the pictures and testimonials on their websites. But it’s OK, she says, because no one else really does interviews anyway.

At a master’s level, very, very few people do huge human subject research, because you can’t just interview one or two people. [It’s] the kind of research project that some PhD students, but mostly only faculty members with research assistants, undertake.

It’s a completely valid methodology and it’s completely acceptable, especially in the era of the Internet, to rely on publicly available information, such as websites, and doing a discursive analysis.

Perhaps it’s acceptable to omit human subject research for topics that–you know–don’t specifically require testimony as to what participants are being told once they get off the website and on the airplane. Or on the bus. Or walking through Auschwitz. None of that information is available through MRH’s or MOL’s website. And while it may not be typical of a master’s thesis to incorporate wide-spectrum interviews, it should certainly never be acceptable for a master’s thesis to be based on speculation, an unfortunate characteristic of Peto’s paper.

Of course, not everyone agrees. In fact, one of my old high school teachers popped up in my inbox last month to offer an admonishment for my analysis of Peto’s paper. But that’s the nature of delving into the divisive—someone’s going to criticize you. According to Peto, however, the criticism was unjustly sent her way (as mentioned earlier) because of what she stood for, not specifically what she said. “For the most part, all the [criticism] hasn’t actually been about the content of the paper itself,” she said. Oddly enough, though, when questioned by The Varsity about her critics at the National Post, Peto launched into the same sort of ad hominem attack she pinned on her detractors. “The editor in charge of comment is Jonathan Kay, who’s a very staunch supporter of Israel, who has done this kind of character assassination to many, many people before me and he’ll continue to do it to many, many people after,” she said. And there goes ad rem.

The most disconcerting part of Peto’s interview with The Varsity, however, was her admission that she is working with allied groups “so that things like this won’t happen again. So that a student isn’t basically thrown to the wolves.”

Excuse me? What is trying to be achieved, exactly? Shelter from the real world? Obscurity within the walls of academia? Freedom from criticism? While I concede that MPPs need not play academic advisor, papers such as this one should absolutely be available for public discussion. What better way to test the validity of an argument? Not so, says Peto.

This is an overreaction. I didn’t publish a book, I didn’t write a newspaper article, I didn’t make a movie. I wrote a master’s thesis that could’ve died in obscurity for perfectly honest reasons; I mean there are thousands of them produced in a year. It’s definitely trying to send a chill throughout the academic community and Jewish community.

D’aw. It’s just a little ol’ paper, right?

This attitude is extremely problematic. How are we to recognize the value of academic scholarship if its own authors are trying to downplay its importance? Yes, it hurts when big bad bullies take say something mean about your hard work, but the real world is lacking in academic advisors who will pat your head and stroke your ego. Theses at any level–especially the controversial–should be up for public discussion, and discussion should be encouraged. The best, most sound arguments will be able to withstand public pressure, even if it’s unpopular. Peto’s got it all wrong.


Defending her Holocaust education is racist thesis

  1. Thank you! Couldn’t agree with this more! As a participant on MOL, I was incredibly disturbed at the wide scale factual errors throughout her paper (which I read).

    One article I read pointed out her thesis advisor is also a pro-Palestenian/Israeli Apartheid believer. This definitely facilitated getting her work approved.

    However, shame on University of Toronto and OISE for allowing such a paper to be considered anything close to academic work, let alone a master’s thesis.

  2. Give me a break! Enough of this Zionist propaganda trash. Jenny Peto is one of the few honourable Jewish people who are willing to admit the truth about the Apartheid Zionist Regime.

    Stop the genocide!

  3. I support Peto over the Ontario Ledge any day of the week. What the MPPs did was a smear rather than taking up specific claims or engage in rational debate. It’s a totally hypocritical denunciation, something you’d expect in Stalin’s USSR or McCarthy’s USA. That’s what’s chilling in their response.

    Seriously. Take up the specific errors in the thesis rather than just braying about how it’s anti-Semitic. If you object to someone “hiding” their thesis inside an academic library, let’s see how YOUR thesis/argument’s claims hold up.

    Also, I love it when people who “have a friend” who has read an MA thesis SAY it’s riddled with errors, and expect others to take that at face value, especially right after they go after the advisor for being one-o’-them-Palestnians. It’s called “having a similar critical framework.” At the MA level, you seek out people who think like you to be your advisor. That’s what academic freedom means.

    Lastly — I have to say I wouldn’t trust Jonathan Kay to be a good critic of an MA thesis that is critical of Israel. If you call Israeli Apartheid Week “anti-Semitic” merely for being a conference centered around a legitimate point of view about Israel that organizers feel is in the public interest of both Palestinians and Israels, and just go after the supposed motivations of the conference organizers like you’re some kind of anti-semitism-sensing psychic, you’re just not a very credible critic.

  4. I read her thesis, not my friend. And exactly that. It’s riddled with factual errors and shoddy research. Look at Robyn’s original post about her thesis. I listed a large amount of errors in my comments.

    Jenny Peto is allowed her opinion. I have no problem there. But when an academic thesis is based on pretty much all factual errors, since she based her knowledge about these trips based mostly on photos, I have a huge problem with that. If she spoke to one person who went on either trip, the entire premise for her thesis will be destroyed. Hence why she “was unable to do so”.

    Free speech is one thing. Lies, to support your political ideology is another.

  5. what factual errors? a factual error is not an opinion you disagree with. i’m curious what statistic were wrong, what claims were false.

    i don’t think they exist. i think you have divergent opinions.

    i’m sympathetic to the claim that perhaps her research was less than rigourous. many of us ready academic articles in university published peer reviewed scholarly journals and are used to surveys. but she is right that it’s not usually needed for an MA thesis. and she’s also right that her academic skills are probably not the reason for the attack. no other MA thesis without primary research is under attack and there are a lot of shoddy ones out there (sadly).

    anyways, Robyn seems to want to play her own little angry version of Sarah Palin, and put people who criticize the occupation in the crosshairs, so i understand her agenda here. but why not debate the content? do you think holocaust education programs produce an unfair or exacerbated level of victimization? and does that level of victimization-perception promote uncritical support of israel?

    i actually disagree with Peto’s conclusion. i don’t think most white Jews in Canada or the USA feel they are personal victims or that another holocaust is just around the corner. i think that while learning about the holocaust can scare people and make them worried about history repeating itself, this is good. gruesome history and gas chambers should frighten. however, the point she makes about uncritical support for israel is accurate. in my view the solution is more education about what happened to Palestinians in 1948, and since the occupation of 1967 what is happening right now. less education on the holocaust is not needed. more education on the current occupation is.

    p.s. Robyn you should look up “purporting” in a dictionary. I think you mean “promoting”.

  6. at the very least, purporting is usually used with the auxiliary “to”.

    that is, “she purported to be a real journalist” or “her article purported to contain relevant content”.

  7. I listed a lot in my comments on Robyn’s original post on the matter. (I referenced that above.)

    But, just to name a couple, Peto claims the trip ignores all other groups besides the Ashkenazy Jew. She writes that they ignore Sephardic Jews, and more importantly ignore the existence of the Arab people in Israel.

    Both facts are very much not true. The March of the Living, which although is open to everyone, is designed to incorporate Jewish students (and Jewish young adults) from all walks of life and backgrounds.

    As well, these trips are often about making peace with Israel’s neighbors, and those around. There are often dialogue sessions, while on the trip, on finding peace with people of Arabic descent while on the trip.

    As well, she writes that we don’t go to certain areas that are predominantly Arabic on the trip so that we’ll feel they don’t exist because they don’t belong in Israel. This it not an opinion, but a fact on any student trip in the world. It’s foolish to bring students to an area where there are safety concerns. Nobody in their right mind would say that it’s 100% safe to bring busloads of Jewish students to the Arab quarter in Jerusalem. We learn as much as possible about the area, while ensuring that we can remain safe.

    She also writes that the purpose of the trip is to teach students “why we need Israel and must make it all ours”. If she spoke to anyone about the trip, she’d know that this is very much not the message being sent. Students are educated about “Never again” to all kinds of genocides. Many students come back and become strong advocates against Darfur and other areas.

    As I wrote above, Jenny Peto is allowed her opinion. I respect that. However, as a result of her shoddy research, she makes claims that are false to substantiate her thesis. Alright, an MA in sociology doesn’t need the same rigor as other fields. But, nowhere should a thesis at any level in any discipline be allowed to write comments that are completely false to support a political viewpoint. And that is where I draw the line.

    Jenny Peto flatly admits that in terms of her understanding of these 2 trips, she used photo albums and the trip’s primary website. All her other sources, whether credible or not, are based on Israeli Apatheid and other areas.

    Her thesis makes a claim through her analysis of these trips. It’s not just about Israeli Apartheid, with a small note about these trips. And that is why, as I said above, she deserved all the criticism she got.

  8. My response to Ms Peto, Abdullah and all who think in those terms is to ask them to watch this 5 minute video as it says all I would say in a discussion.

    Though I doubt any one will!

  9. Me thinks that Ms. Peto protests to much.She obviously has an agenda and appears to be taking after her mentor Sarah Palin in blaming evryones else in general and the media in particular rather than looking inward to discover what the criticism may be about

  10. Well in 10 seconds I found an out and out lie:

    “Palestinians who want to run for government office must pledge their loyalty to Israel as a Jewish only state, even though such a state excludes non-Jews by definition.” There is no such oath.

  11. Papers like Peto’s and all others should be readily available to the genral public for another far more important reason. To establish the academic quality of the work being accepted by post secondary institutions as eligible works for masters degrees. That work such as this is accepted suggests that wikipedia is a valid citation for a paper. The lack of depth is obviously not Peto’s problem since it accomplished the task it was assigned – the granting of a masters. OISE on the other hand in accepting this as an acedemic work shows that its masters degrees aren’t worth the paper Peto wrote on.

  12. Patrick Moynahan said every one is entitled to his opinion but not to his facts. Ms. Peto Master thesis is a political opinion statement. The fact that her parents were holocaust survivors don’t give it any more credence than a testimony of a convert that denigrates his previous religion. I fully agree with Marc L statement regarding the lack of value of Master degrees from Canadian post secondary institution,

  13. I live in Haifa Israel.
    every day i travel in the bus with people from all groups that live in Israel. I sit with all on the beach shop, walk, talk, should i now stop doing this so that Ms Peto`s claim about Apartheid will be true?

    Maybe Ms Peto does not know it, but Jews from North Africa were also closed in concentration work camps and were deported to be murdered in Europe.
    And she probably never heard of the Farhud in Iraq, where Iraqis murdered about 200 Jews [sometimes neighbor killed their Jewish neighbors] on 1st and 2nd of June 1941,incited by the Nazi propaganda.
    I could go on an on
    I shudder to think that such a kind of `work` is accepted as a MA,

  14. The concept of academic freedom means that Ms Petro is entitled to say anything she wants: one opinion is as valid as any other. If you don’t like her arguments you are free to mount counter arguments, none of which I have read here.
    For those of you who disagree with her conclusions would you be happy to see a Phd candidate, perhaps Ms Petro herself do an in depth study of her hypothesis.
    If proof were given would you accept it?
    From my personal stand point there were many genocides in the last century, Ukrainians, Armenians, Cambodians, and yes Jews. The Holocaust is not special; it is only the continuing propaganda of the Zionists that appears to make it so.

  15. Walter,

    By your logic, if I draw pictures of cats all over my calculus exam, or write that calculus is from the Devil, am I entitled to a passing grade because of “academic freedom?” Ms. Peto is entitled to her opinion, as vile as it is, and has the right to express it. However, that does not mean that opinion, or any opinion for that matter, should be accepted as a work of scholarly research.

    Whether you agree with her conclusions or not, I challenge any to read her thesis ( and then claim that it is based on anything more than the author’s opinion, as opposed to fact and . It may have a place in a book or a newspaper as an opinion piece, but scholarship is about the pursuit of knowledge and truth. To conflate opinion with fact by accepting it as scholarly research harms both.

  16. Walter,
    Just to add to Ryan Campbell’s comments, academic freedom means being able to express your opinion freely.

    However, academic freedom is not making false claims to prove your opinion. She essentially slanders two organizations by making claims that are completely unfounded. As well, people have listed tons of claims she makes that are flatly wrong.

    I find it shocking to read the countless people who defend her. This is no different to if someone wrote a thesis entitled “All Arabs are Terrorists: How they Attacked and Victimized America on 9/11”. If that was published, and the author sourced conspiracy websites only along with just random opinions that they have, without sourcing, guaranteed there will be tons of attacks on this work.

    Wake up. Academic freedom is one thing. Lies to support your opinion has no place in academia, or anywhere else. By supporting Jenny Peto, we are encouraging a society where one can write hate speech under the blanket of academic freedom. And that is scary.

  17. R,

    I don’t actually think academic freedom means being able to express your opinion freely. I think it means being able to examine any topic critically and fairly, and to express your conclusions based on the evidence you gathered. That is a higher standard than what applies to freemdom speech in general, where no such fairness need necessarily be in place. Obviously for any speech, there are still the limitations of slander, libel and hate speech.

    Point taken none the less. :)