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Jewish group rejects B’nai Brith censorship of Manitoba high school exam

June 13, 2010

Independent Jewish Voices (Canada) condemns Manitoba Education Minister Nancy Allan for caving in to a demand to censor a question on the province’s Grade 12 final Language Arts examination. IJV-C also condemns B’nai Brith Canada for suggesting the censorship. Allen reviewed one question on the test and not only echoed B’nai Brith’s concerns but ordered the department to track down how the question got on the exam to ensure “this doesn’t happen again.”

Students had been asked to read an excerpt from an essay, “Over the Rocks and Stones,” by Canadian songwriter and performer Chantal Kreviazuk where the author despairs after watching the TV news on Israel’s bombing of Gaza, and seeing the suffering of six Gazan children rendered amputees, and their parents.

“His parents were at his bedside as the dressing was changed on what were then stumps just above where his knees once were. They held him down to help with the procedure as well as to comfort him as he screamed a scream that was like nothing I had ever heard in my life.” (p. 153)
The exam question was "Explain whether or not you think people in the entertainment industry have a responsibility for making the world a better place?" According to B’nai Brith, this literary passage and answering the question “might provoke anti-Israel hatred.”

B’nai Brith has a history of stifling criticism of Israel. Previously, the organization has run campaigns to limit or remove access by students to two Canadian-authored juvenile books, including (in 2006) the award winning Three Wishes, by Deborah Ellis (herself a Jew) and this year, The Shepherd’s Granddaughter by Toronto teacher-librarian Anne Laurel Carter (named book of the year by the Canadian Library Association.)

“It’s ironic,” says Larry Haiven, spokesperson for Independent Jewish Voices – Canada, “that these books bend over backward to portray Israelis, even Israeli soldiers, as human beings. But that’s not good enough for B’nai Brith. Will B’nai Brith not rest until every last thing in the least critical of Israel is expunged from our learning institutions?”

“But the ironies continue,” says Haiven. “When I visited the Jewish Museum in Paris in 2007, I saw Three Wishes (in French) for sale in their bookstore.” It’s got the endorsement of French Jews but apparently it’s too dangerous for Canadian students. It’s shameful that B’nai Brith Canada, a few decades ago one of the most active human rights organizations in this country, has descended to this level.”

Independent Jewish Voices Canada believes Canadians, especially students, should be encouraged to learn more and to debate about Israel’s illegal and often brutal occupation of Gaza and the West Bank. “Fairness does not mean that all points of view must be presented in any single publication” says Haiven, “Students should be presented with an array of viewpoints and evidence. And the continuing oppression of Palestinians in the occupied territories and even Israel itself, is a fact that cannot be ignored. The teachers’ job is to guide students, especially younger students. But censorship has no place in our education system.”

For more information contact:
Larry Haiven
Independent Jewish Voices - Canada
Phone: (902) 420-5082

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