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Nili Kaplan-Myrth and my challenge of learning from history
Excessive control is not a constructive or fair response to trauma
On Tuesday, November 22, Kaplan-Myrth, a family doctor and a recently elected school trustee, will be trying to persuade the Ottawa Carleton District School Board to reinstate a mask mandate in our schools—this while the rest of Canada and most of the world have moved on. I am not familiar with the views of the other trustees, but it seems to me from the media and social media that Kaplan-Myrth has taken a clear leadership role in trying to convince the trustees to institute a mask mandate. During the COVID era and beyond, Kaplan-Myrth has given several media interviews and has had an active Twitter presence, speaking in the name of compassion and concern for children and vulnerable people in order to advocate taking tough stands on masking and vaccines.
Kaplan-Myrth has since made her account private, so it is no longer possible for everyone to see her Tweets (I did not ask for access). However, one can read various media coverage about her by typing her name into Google, and the following might also be an interesting example of her conversation style:
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If the school board approves of the masking mandate, then I will be living in a city in which thousands of children—in contrast to children living elsewhere in Canada and around the world—are in my opinion deprived of their full liberty and identity on a daily basis partly due to the unrelenting activism of Kaplan-Myrth.
If I correctly remember her Twitter feed from before her account went private, Kaplan-Myrth Tweets included some references to antisemitism and to Holocaust memory as causes that she cares about (although I do not recall her drawing direct connections between these causes and her opinions about COVID). This gives us something in common, as I also care deeply about these issues—and this is where my cognitive dissonance becomes intense.
There is a long history of antisemitism that has caused significant harm to Jews, and which reached an horrific climax with the Holocaust. Sadly, antisemitism persists today. As a group, Jewish people are keenly aware of the harms that can be done when one group asserts power over another (even though the harms being done today in the “free world” do not compare to the harms done by the Nazis). It is thus often a part of Jewish culture to believe that extra efforts should be taken to avoid promoting coercive actions that infringe on peoples’ rights. Coercion under the mask of compassion is not consistent with my personal understanding of Jewish culture.
Assuming, to the best of my understanding, that Kaplan-Myrth and I are both affected by the inter-generational trauma of the Holocaust and by the historical and ongoing problem of Jew hate in its various metamorphoses—why then are our views about COVID policies—and more broadly about the control that one human being has the right to exert over another—at such odds? Why do I view COVID culture as a quasi-totalitarian phenomenon while she seems to apparently interpret “compassion” as imposing mask mandates on children at a time when many, many people clearly do not want such mandates? My speculative opinion of Myrth-Kaplan’s behavior (based entirely on her social-media and media activity and on her strong advocacy for mask mandates at a time when the rest of the world is going in the opposite direction) is that she has internalized a view of the world that is essentially about power and control (under the mask of compassion) and that she might be seeking the thrill of being worshipped by some and vilified by others.
I could be wrong in my interpretation of her, but there is one thing that I can tell you as an empirical fact: the public behavior of Nili Kaplan-Myrth has not made my relationship with the internalized metaphorical bullies of antisemitism and Jewish self-hate any easier.
Kaplan-Myrth seems quick to claim harassment when people direct criticism at her. To be fair, it is entirely possible—and wrong—that in some cases she may have been a victim of hate speech or harassment. I categorically condemn any hate speech or any acts of violence. I am usually very sensitive to Jew hate in the metamorphosed quasi-intellectual form of, “I am not antisemitic; I am just critical of. . .”—such arguments sometimes enable people to channel Jew hate through exaggerated and distorted “criticism” of Israel or in other means. But when it comes to the behavior of Nili Kaplan-Myrth, while she deserves the safety, compassion and protection from crime that any human being deserves, I believe that the majority of criticism that has been directed toward her is legitimate, and I find her invocations of antisemitism at a time in which she is actively pursuing an agenda of control unhelpful to the important cause of confronting the very real problem of Jew hate.
Why do people who suffer from the same inter-generational trauma hold such different views? And what does it mean about the memory of that trauma? Has the history of suffering and living history of Jew hate become putty in our hands to shape into whatever idol we would like to worship—be it liberty or control in the name of “compassion”? I do not have evidence that Kaplan-Myrth is actively thinking about the Holocaust or about Jew hate as she formulates her suggestions about COVID policies, but her Tweets and other things she has said on the media seem to indicate that the living history of antisemitism matters to her (as it does to me)—and I find it disturbing that two people can share this deep concern in common and yet have such radically different views when it comes to the lessons from the abuse that has been heaped on the Jewish people over the centuries, when it comes to the meaning of compassion and when it comes to the amount of control that should be exercised on other people.
I would like to believe that beyond the subjective response to trauma that varies from person to person, there is objective reality and that the objective lessons from totalitarian regimes should make our alarm bells ring when we are confronted with excessively controlling agendas (even though the harm that has been done so far by COVID culture and its “variants” cannot be compared to the harm that has been done by totalitarian regimes). Why Kaplan-Myrth thinks so differently and acts so forcefully to enforce mask mandates is something that I cannot fully understand. This is a question that haunts me and that makes me very uncomfortable about what I have in common, for lack of a better description, with Kaplan-Myrth.
Source for bird image: https://www.pexels.com/photo/silhouette-of-bird-flying-under-blue-sky-11331461/
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