Without Borders

King’s journalism professors are enthusiastic about interacting with Israeli universities following an academic pilgrimage to Israel over the winter break.

King’s journalism professors are enthusiastic about interacting with Israeli universities following an academic pilgrimage to Israel over the winter break.
Journalism professors Kim Kierans and David Swick travelled to Israel for five days to visit four universities and talk to Israeli journalists. They were invited by Bar-Ilan University in Tel Aviv.
“Every time that you think of getting together with journalists in other places or journalism teachers, in my experience, there’s a spark that happens and it can be quite enriching and we can learn a lot from each other,” said Swick, who was a last-minute fill-in for School of Journalism Director Kelly Toughill.
“Over there, in Israel, their discussion is quite broad,” continued Swick. “It was so refreshing to see a broad discussion of these important issues (related to Israeli politics) from one side to the other. It was a real functioning, democratic media where you got full sides.”
“If you interview visiting Israeli activists who are against the government, you will take heat (in North America). … What a shock that in that country (Israel), the spectrum of discussion is wider than it’s really allowed to be here.”
Kierans said that this trip may lead to further interaction with Israeli universities, including student and faculty exchanges.
“There’s one university that emailed back and said that they’re interested (in an exchange),” said Kierans. “It’s a university that we were most impressed with as far as the journalism and the facilities and the fit. I have no idea if it’s going to happen or not.”
Toughill noted that evaluation of the trip and its possible outcomes has not yet begun.
Journalism students were divided over the idea of a potential exchange with an Israeli university.
“I think Israel is a really interesting place for journalists to be right now, and the opportunity to send students there would be fantastic,” said second-year student Emma Davie. “I don’t believe an exchange to Israel says anything about King’s stance on the Israel and Palestine debate.”
Fellow second-year Dan Malone disagreed.
“The school can be neutral by offering the same exchange opportunities at Israeli and Palestinian universities and letting students decide,” he said. “By deciding to study and thus live in Israel, a student is tacitly supporting the Israeli government.”
“You can’t be neutral when one side is responsible for your education,” Malone continued, noting that the Israeli government funds Israeli universities.
Toughill said the suggestion that one shouldn’t travel somewhere they disapprove of “concerned” her. She added that criticism is “premature,” as the exchange does not exist yet.
“Students will be presented with opinions they agree with and opinions that they find repugnant in all sorts of different countries and environments,” she said.
Yet the trip recently met with controversy when the Halifax Media Co-op published Jim Guild’s negative opinion piece, which suggested that it meant solidarity with Israel in the ongoing conflict between Israel and Palestine.
Toughill said that no such solidarity exists, stating that the King’s journalism school is neutral in the Israel and Palestine debate.
“He (Guild) confuses going on a junket as a journalist and going on a paid trip to explore journalism education,” said Toughill. “They’re two fundamentally different things that should not be confused.”
Guild later told The Watch that he didn’t understand how the School of Journalism could regard the trip as “innocuous.” Guild said that he thinks it “convenient” that the journalism school showed interest in Israel after being offered a “freebie” trip.
“I think this was a completely appropriate trip,” Toughill later said. “I have no regrets about it whatsoever.”
Toughill said that funding from host countries is “really common” for academic faculty trips. She noted that Canada is among the countries who sponsor such trips.
“I say loud and clear that (in journalism) it’s always a bad idea to take free stuff, so I weighed that out,” said Swick. “Here it was largely billed as something where you are in conversation with these people and you are not reporting. It’s a different context than reporting.”
Carleton University journalism professor Peter Johansen, who teaches a third-year ethics course at the Ottawa institution, agreed that since the professors went as faculty members and not journalists, there is no ethical issue.
“If the basis for concern is that people are uncomfortable with Israel’s politics, then that is a political, not an ethical, concern,” Johansen said in an e-mail.
“We were very clear,” said Kierans, “that this was not a political mission. It was an educators’ one.”
As for similar exchanges with Palestinian universities, Toughill says she has “a great deal of enthusiasm.”
Kierans agreed. “I would welcome an exchange with a Palestinian university.”

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