MONTREAL – Last week, I wrote about the controversial “Passover Against Apartheid” event held at Concordia University. To recap, the Concordia Student Union (CSU) partnered with the Fine Arts Student Alliance and campus group Solidarity for Palestinian Human Rights (note the absence of any Jewish groups) to host an art exhibit and discussion session on why Passover should be a time to support Palestinians “in the face of Israel’s apartheid state,” and to think about, “What blessings can we use to replace ‘Next year in Jerusalem?’”
Since the event came to light, several organizations and groups have condemned it as a form of cultural and religious appropriation, including B’nai Brith Canada, Concordia Hillel, Israel on Campus Concordia, and Friends of Simon Wiesenthal Center for Holocaust Studies. However, despite widespread criticism of its use of the Passover seder to promote a contentious political agenda, the CSU instead has doubled down in its support of the event.
According to a report by The CJN, CSU general coordinator Lucinda Marshall-Kiparissis responded to the criticism by saying, “This event was organized by a Jewish undergraduate student. I’m not sure how she would be appropriating her own cultural traditions. The CSU co-presents many different kinds of student events and initiatives over the course of a year.”
As I read this statement, two issues immediately came to mind.
Firstly, the event was organized by Marion Miller, a student at Concordia who, according to the event posters, “grew up in a white, settler, secular Ashkenazi Jewish and Acadian family in rural Nova Scotia.” I want to point out, however, that growing up in a certain type of household (though, since Ashkenazi Jews are actually indigenous to Israel they cannot and should not be described as “settlers”) does not necessarily mean you identify that way yourself. I grew up in a politically conservative family, for example, but I don’t typically identify as conservative myself.
To me, at least, the phrasing of the description of Miller’s background reads like something a politician would write when trying to gain credibility on an issue. Like when Hillary Clinton kept bringing up her father’s business making curtains to gain credibility with the middle class, despite her firmly being outside that realm herself.
It’s perfectly likely that Miller does in fact identify as Jewish, but even so, her event was both problematic and offensive to Jewish people who for generations have recited the Haggadah at Passover and sang together in unison, “Next year in Jerusalem!” Which brings me to my second, more serious issue with the CSU’s defence of this event: Marshall-Kiparissis apparently believes that because the event was organized by a Jewish student, it can’t be antisemitic. Allow me to assure you, you can indeed be Jewish and promote an antisemitic stereotype or notion.
If you don’t believe me, perhaps a few comparisons might help Marshall-Kiparissis and the CSU understand why the “Passover Against Apartheid” event was indeed antisemitic, even if it was suggested by someone Jewish.
Christmas is a Christian holiday that celebrates the birth of Jesus. In recent years, in a bid to be culturally and religiously inclusive – and in greater recognition of their religious rights – many companies have taken to having their staff say “Happy Holidays” as opposed to the technically-Christian “Merry Christmas.” Surely I’m not the only one who has seen memes decrying the changes, angrily proclaiming that “they” are “taking Christ out of Christmas!” This is, in fact, a fairly common complaint among devout Christians in North America. Now, nevermind that many of the companies to make that change are run by Christians; they’re still declared “enemies of Christianity.” See what I’m getting at?
Let’s do one more, and make it even more obvious. Let’s say I’m of Aboriginal descent, though I never learned about my culture or traditions. And in fact, I get angry when I see that some Aboriginal people in Canada receive higher education at no personal cost, or have different rights concerning fishing and hunting, or I don’t understand their ceremonies like the Sun Dance. So on National Aboriginal Day, I decide to host an event where “we’ll discuss Aboriginal history,” along with the reasons we think it’s “wrong” that Aboriginals “get free handouts.” We’ll also ask, what ceremony should replace the Sun Dance?
Do you understand why this is offensive now? Just because I’m Aboriginal, it doesn’t mean that I fully understand the issues, or that I’m not being racist. Membership within a group doesn’t mean someone can say or do whatever they want about it without repercussions or being offensive.
So, when Marion Miller says that she’s Jewish but wants to organize an event that promotes altering an ancient Jewish biblical text, falsely accuses the world’s only Jewish state of “apartheid,” and manipulates the Jewish holiday of Passover to support a contentious and political agenda, that doesn’t make the event any less antisemitic. You’d think that the Concordia Student Union would be cognizant of that, and – if every Jewish organization in Canada is condemning the event as religious appropriation – acknowledge that it made a mistake in allowing it to take place.
Marshall-Kiparissis and the CSU still have the chance to apologize. But it seems doubtful, at this point, that any Jewish person would be touched by the gesture.
Sara McCleary has written extensively on a wide range of topics while working as a news reporter and freelancer. She has also completed a master’s degree in history, and further graduate work in interdisciplinary humanities.