A 22-year-old senior named Sarah Grunfeld complained to local Jewish groups that Professor Cameron Johnston had the audacity to exclaim “all Jews should be sterilized” in his “Self, Culture and Society” class.
Except that, had Grunfeld not tuned Johnston out before leaving the classroom in a huff, she might have heard him say “‘All Jews should be sterilized’…would be an example of an unacceptable and dangerous opinion.”
Luckily, Johnston managed to talk the Jewish community down from their calls to have him fired. The incident was “a very unfortunate misunderstanding,” said Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs rep. Sheldon Goodman.
Grunfeld, however, is not backing down from her claim that Johnston is an anti-Semitic Jew: “The words, ‘Jews should be sterilized’ still came out of his mouth,” she told the Toronto Star, “so regardless of the context I still think that’s pretty serious.”
Comment of note:
“‘Jews should be sterilized’” – Sarah Grunfeld, York University student campaigning to have Jewish professor fired.
The Toronto News notes that, before anyone had talked to Professor Johnston, “She contacted Oriyah Barzilay, the president of Hasbara at York — an Israel advocacy group on campus — who then sent a press release to media and other Jewish community groups calling for Johnston to be fired.”
The stupidity of this episode goes without saying. I’ve noted before that being taken out of context is hardly the fault of the individual in question, and yet careers can and have been jeopardised by someone else jumping to wrong conclusions.
We need a new word, since “say” in this context is ambiguous. Did Prof. Johnston say that all jews should be sterilised? Yes and no. Those words literally came out of his mouth. However, he does not believe that sentence to be true, and was not affirming it to be true. He didn’t really say that. Prof. Johnston couldn’t respond: “I didn’t say that all jews should be sterilised”, because he did. However, the sentence – “Though I literally said the words ‘all jews should be sterilised’, from the context it was clear that I do not believe and was not affirming the proposition: ‘all jews should be sterilised’” – is too long to be a sound bite. We need a headline-able comeback, something as punchy as “I didn’t say that”, but literally true in cases of quotations taken out of context.
Here’s the challenge. We need a single verb to put in this sentence:
I didn’t X that.
where X means something like: “affirm and believe, though the exact words that came out of my mouth – when taken out of context – seem to suggest otherwise”.
Some ideas: affirm, assert, claim, confirm, contend, declare, defend, endorse, profess, state, sustain, substantiate, support. These all seem a little weak. we need something stronger.
Finally, Oriyah Barzilay must resign. Anti-Semitism is a very serious thing, and a charge of anti-Semitism is a very serious charge. Likewise, a false accusation of anti-Semitism is a grievous thing – it needlessly damages the accused and cheapens the offence. Anyone willing to write a press release calling for a career to be ended over anti-Semitism while not making even the smallest effort to check the facts (in this case, the second half of the sentence in question) has so abused their position as a representative of the Jewish community that they must go. Those in a position to claim to be the victim of a hate crime must accept the full responsibility of a false accusation.
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