Master’s thesis questioned on academic standards

Last month, the Canadian Jewish Congress criticized a U of T master’s thesis about Jewish “white privilege” and victim identity as being a “cry of anguish” on the part of its author and considered it not academically sound.

The debate surrounded Jenny Peto’s thesis, “The Victimhood of the Powerful: White Jews, Zionism and the Racism of Hegemonic Holocaust”, which earned her a master’s degree from U of T’s education division, the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education.

Led Rudner, an OISE alumni, said he read all 107 pages in a video posted on the CJC home page and on YouTube on December 10. “In actual fact, Ms. Peto’s thesis is really 107 pages of confirmation bias,” he said in an interview with The National Post.

Rudner suggested that the university has lowered its academic standards since he was a student studying for his bachelor of education degree. “I always thought that a thesis had to do with learning, with exploring new themes, with discovering things,” he said in the video.

He also accused Peto of deliberately discarding academic information that did not support her argument. “It’s not intellectual inquiry—it’s a cry of anguish or a cry coming from inside her that’s not a result of anything she has learned or of anything she has considered,” Rudner told The National Post.

Peto ultimately argues that one of the holocaust education programs, “March of the Living”, which Rudner had travelled to in Poland, contributed to the perceived victimhood of white Jews of European descent.

Rudner responded that not once on the journey did he feel like the program sent any messages that today’s Jews should take on a victim identity to acquire privilege in their day-to-day lives.

Peto has been a member of a group that occupied Toronto’s Israeli consulate in 2009 and an activist with the Coalition Against Israeli Apartheid, which condemns Israel’s label as an apartheid state.

Though Peto had no comment in response to Rudner’s analysis, her supervisor Sherly Nestel told The National Post that the CJC’s attack on Peto’s thesis was “truly disingenuous”.

“It is clear that their real objection is to the thesis’s critique of Israel and those elements of the Jewish community which offer the Jewish state unqualified support,” Nestel wrote in a statement. “Their goal is to bully students, academics, and university administrators into assiduously avoiding any collusion with criticism of Israel.”

Although the university’s provost office has declined to comment on the video, much ink has been spilled in the debate about the academic merit and appropriateness of the thesis. Academics as well as members in the Ontario legislature, including Eric Hoskins, the minster of citizenship and immigration, condemned the thesis along with all other forms of anti-Semitism. Many Jewish groups have voiced their condemnations, while others like Independent Jewish Voices of Canada are speaking in defence of Peto.

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