These are difficult times for Jewish and Arab students at U of T. Ever since the crisis in the Middle East exploded onto front pages, relations between the two groups have been strained.
There have been attempts at dialogue, but a strange event a couple of weeks ago has only upped tensions a couple of notches.
A political cartoon on the Israel-Palestinian conflict mysteriously disappeared from an Amnesty International human rights exhibit on campus. The librarian at the John W. Graham library at the Munk Centre for International Studies noticed the cartoon had gone missing.
That was one day after the Jewish Students Union (JSU) wrote both Amnesty and Munk Centre director Janice Stein to complain about its "hateful distortion" of current events in the Middle East.
No one's pointing fingers. And Shahid Mahmood, who drew the cartoon, figures there's no point in calling the police. It consists of two panels. The first shows a Jewish person in a body bag over the caption "Germany 1940." The second panel is of an Arab in a body bag over the caption "Israel 2000."
The JSU's point person on the matter did not respond to an e-mail from NOW and a request for comment made through the JSU's program director.
But in a letter to Amnesty International and Stein, JSU president Ron Somogyi writes that the cartoon "propagates hatred... (by) suggesting that Israel is conducting genocide against the Arab populations (and) minimizes the horror of the Holocaust and other genocidal events in history."
The letter goes on to ask for a public apology by both Amnesty and Mahmood and for the exhibit to be dismantled.
Mahmood says the JSU is missing the point. He says he wasn't trying to compare the Holocaust to the current conflict in Israel, but to make a more general point about "certain fascist tendencies toward human rights."
"I could have been very particular and labelled it "Holocaust' if that had been my intention," Mahmood says. "It really comes down to a basic element. Whether you're a Jew, a Muslim or a Christian, the fact is that people are dying."
A second cartoon that was also part of the exhibit was not included in the JSU's letter of complaint. That one, a drawing of the tombstone of the Arab boy shot near the beginning of the current conflict, asks, "What is real?" and answers it with the caption, "The violation of human rights Is-rael."
Mahmood had set up a Web site inviting comment on his exhibit.
Amnesty's campus rep, Diana Juricevic, says Amnesty had also decided to post the JSU's letter of protest next to the offending cartoon.
But that was before the drawing went missing.
Juricevic disagrees with the JSU's contention that Mahmood's cartoon represents "a gross misrepresentation of fact."
She says Amnesty won't be publicly apologizing for the cartoon. Ditto for Mahmood.
"They have every right to take out of that piece what they want, and admittedly it was quite provocative" says Juricevic. "(But) Mahmood, as an artist, has every right to express what he wants to express. If his piece fell within the hate laws of Canada, we wouldn't have displayed it."
The JSU has sent its letter of complaint to university president Robert Birgeneau and the Students Administrative Council equity commissioner, among others.
Meanwhile, university officials called by NOW were either out of the country or unavailable for comment. They seem to have washed their hands of the matter.