Thursday, May 13, 2010

Heather Reisman

Mount Allison University is according an honourary degree to Heather Reisman, head of Chapters-Indigo and key supporter of “lone soldiers” in Israel. This decision has come under some criticism, not the least of which is coming from faculty and students. As a member of the University’s Senate, I felt I would be called upon to go on record as to where I stood on this issue. Those opposed to the honourary degree link Ms. Reisman to policies of the Israeli government, particularly with regard to assaults on Palestinian civilians in Gaza. There is a petition that asks Mount A  to recind this honourary degree (or, not grant it) or, in lieu of that, asks Senate to express regret over the decision to accord the degree in the first place.

Frankly, I found this one  tough and still could be convinced by a good argument either way.  Having had a bit of time to think about it, now, the conclusion I draw is that I need more information. In my last post, I attempted to generate support for my position by flipping the argument around. In effect, I argued like this: you say X but what if X were different. Would you still agree with the principle you’ve staked out (in this case, I was asking Christians if they would support religious freedom if that freedom were used to deny equality to Christians in Canada).

Initially, I was against the honourary degree for Ms. Reisman, largely out of my rejection of Israel’s policy with regard to the occupied Palestinian territories and Israel’s willingness to accept a large civilian death toll among Palestinians and Lebanese in his quest to respond to Hamas and other groups. But ... is it fair to tar Ms. Reisman with this brush. The short answer is “maybe” but I don’t know. The connection is a philanthropic organization that she set up in Israel for “lone soldiers”: non-Israeli Jews serving in the IDF who elect to remain in Israel after their tour. Is that enough of a connection to reject an honourary degree that has already been approved by the University’s Senate.

In thinking this matter over tonight I was not at all sure. I still know precious little about Ms. Reisman. The fact that she wants to support the integration of soldiers into a civilian population may, in itself, not be a bad thing at all. Flipping the matter around, I wondered: how would I respond to a person who set up an organization to help Palestinians reintegrate into civilian life after they had been members of a military organization? My politics would lead me to support that person (as I suppose self-determination for Palestine). So ... the difference between my hypothetical supporter of Palestinians and Ms. Reisman is political perspective. The question, then, is do I trust my political perspective enough to over-ride a decision made through the proper channels (originally). Perhaps the people in charge of those proper channels erred. Perhaps the Mount A Senate (again, I am a member) erred. But, I don’t know that.

Those who want to rescind the honourary degree are honest, upstanding and good people. Like them I oppose the actions of Israel in the Palestinian territories. That is, I will confess, easy to do because those actions have been pretty horrific. Should Ms. Reisman be held to account for the action of a foreign government because she is interested in the integration of soldiers into civilian life?
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