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King's College - Taken by Israel

by Jim Guild

University of King’s College in Halifax is occupied Israeli territory -- they just don’t know it yet.

It took just two free trips to Israel to seal the deal.

Academic Vice-President Kim Kierans and journalism associate professor David Swick spent their Christmas-New Year’s break on an all-expenses paid (by Israel) jaunt to Israel. Swick was a last-minute replacement for Kelly Toughill, Director of King’s School of Journalism.

Joined by four journalism-school academics from Concordia University, Ryerson University and University of Regina, they were guided day and night by their government minders to see the wonders of Israeli journalism departments at four Israeli universities.

Kierans said they went also to the Knesset (legislature), the Supreme Court, Holocaust museum, to Haifa to see the Beit HaGefen Arab-Jewish Centre, and to Jaffa-Tel Aviv to see the Peres Center for Peace. They also met with Mark Regev, Prime Minister Netanyahu’s main spokesperson and CBC’s go-to guy in Israel.

Scheduled visits with a Palestinian journalist and an editor from Ha’aretz, a liberal Israeli newspaper, were inexplicably cancelled, she said.

“I see great opportunities for the University of King’s College to forge partnerships for student and possibly faculty exchanges,” Kierans said in a recent article in Canadian Jewish News (CJN).

“There is no doubt that King’s students would benefit enormously from a term of study in Israel and vice versa.”

Vice versa indeed.

Clearly, Israel has already benefited from King’s participation in this obvious (to most) propaganda-and-goodwill exercise.

The CJN article, written by Sarah Press (a Kings College graduate, Kierans said) also described a second Israeli freebie tour for a delegation of Canadian university professors and presidents (including UNB president Howard Edward Campbell). “The visits came about despite the anti-Israel fervour now playing out on campuses around the world,” the article said.

“Academic boycott, divestment and sanctions against Israel never came up during the visits,” Prof. Benjamin Ehrenberg, Bar-Ilan University (BIU) vice-president for research, said in the article. “The Canadians only spoke about efforts to establish good relations with Israel.”

Swick laughed when he heard this quote. “That’s a misrepresentation of what took place. We asked a lot of questions at the journalism departments and with Israeli journalists we met.” These included Joshua Mitnick, who freelances from Tel Aviv for the Wall Street Journal and other major newspapers.

A more sinister disclosure in the article concerns University of Regina President Vianne Timmons. Though “Timmons came to advance research collaboration with Israeli institutes, it is at her university that the students union recently passed a motion to support the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement,” the article said.

“The University of Regina Students Union is an independent organization,” Timmons said. “The University of Regina will not be endorsing this motion. We are not in favour of an academic boycott.”

With no apparent irony, Timmons said in the CJN article that “for the University of Regina, there is interest in the area of justice and police studies. There is much we can learn from the work undertaken by Israel academics.”

If it had occurred to the Canadian travellers to go to the West Bank to get a taste of the occupation or the perspective of Palestinians, they wouldn’t have had an opportunity. “Most days, we were kept busy from early morning to late evening,“ Swick said.

No interest was reportedly expressed by the King’s academics on the tour in Palestinian journalists, including the 20 killed by Israel since 2000 (according to the Palestinian Centre for Development and Media Freedom, Ramallah).

Asked how the trip came about, Kierans said the journalism school at Bar-Ilan University in Tel Aviv invited a number of journalism schools in Canada to a “journalism educators mission”. The government of Israel would pay the whole shot.

Kierans said that “Kelly (Toughill) and I and the university president discussed it and determined that it would be valuable to see what they were doing in journalism education and to look at possibilities for student exchanges.”

Then-President William Barker had gone on an Israel tour before for university presidents courtesy of the Israeli taxpayer and “he said it was interesting and we should go on this trip,” Keirans said.

Did they have any qualms about a free junket to a pariah state that routinely commits human rights violations and has illegally occupied Palestinian lands for more than 60 years?

“Kings is politically neutral, we welcome diversity and we embrace academic freedom,” Kierans said.

Many North American news outlets have strict policies against accepting free trips or meals from organizations or people they cover. The pay-your-own-way rule is meant to protect journalists from pressures that might bias their reporting.

Journalism schools, not so much, it seems.

Although, it is difficult to imagine them accepting a free flutter to Syria to get the inside scoop on investigative journalism in Damascus or an easy excursion to Iran or North Korea to see their journalism schools up close.

Remember when the university heads and the media exploded in 2007 when St. Francis Xavier professor Shiraz Dossa spoke at a Holocaust conference in Tehran.

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Topics: Peace/War
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