As we approach the start of Israeli Apartheid Week on campuses across the country, it is worth quoting part of our Prime Minister’s speech to the Israeli Knesset during his recent visit to Israel: “On some campuses, intellectualized arguments against Israeli policies thinly mask the underlying realities… Most disgracefully of all, some openly call Israel an apartheid state… Think about the twisted logic and outright malice behind that: a state, based on freedom, democracy and the rule of law… is condemned, and that condemnation is masked in the language of anti-racism.”
This argument — that criticism of Israeli government policies is inherently anti-Semitic — is of course not new. It has been part of the ideological defense of Israeli government policies since the founding of that country, and in Canada, this position has often been heard from elected officials. Most recently, Liberal MP Marc Garneau said that use of the term ‘Apartheid’ to describe Israel’s policies is anti-Semitic, to which NDP Foreign Affairs critic Paul Dewar responded affirmatively, “I’ve said that publicly before.” But none have so virulently and publicly displayed their pro-Israel bias as Stephen Harper’s Conservatives over the past eight years.
In 2009 Jason Kenney announced that anyone or any group that criticized Israel could expect to have government funding ended. Speaking at the London Conference of the Inter-parliamentary Committee for Combating Anti-Semitism, after accusing the Canadian Arab Federation (CAF) of anti-Semitism, Kenny made clear that anyone espousing such “hateful sentiments… should not expect to receive resources from the state, support from taxpayers or any other form of official respect from the government or the organs of our state.” Shortly thereafter the government cut off funding to the CAF, the Canadian Islamic Congress, and KAIROS.
KAIROS is a non-profit organization connected to eleven Canadian churches and church-related organizations, including the United, Anglican, Presbyterian, and Evangelical Lutheran churches, the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops and the Mennonite Central Committee. For 35 years it conducted international human rights and social justice projects funded by the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA).
The Conservative government subsequently also cut off funding to the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA). UNRWA was established by the United Nations General Assembly in 1950 to carry out direct relief and works programs for Palestinian refugees, including education, health care, relief and social services, and emergency assistance.
In 2009, Jason Kenney, along with former Justice Minister Irwin Cotler, helped set up the Canadian Parliamentary Coalition to Combat Anti-Semitism (CPCCA). The CPCCA was an ad-hoc group of twenty-one MPs from all parties in the House of Commons (the Bloc Quebecois subsequently withdrew, and one Liberal MP refused to sign the final document). Although its website, from the outset, professed its willingness to “voluntarily disclose all sources of funding,” such information, to date, has never been made available.
The underlying assumption of this group was that anti-Semitism was on the rise, especially on university campuses, where, apparently “Jewish students are being threatened and intimidated to the point that they are not able to express pro-Israel sentiments freely, or are even fearful to wear a Jewish skull cap or Jewish Star of David around their necks.” No evidence was provided for such charges.
Of the approximately 60 witnesses called for oral testimony, most argued in support of the CPCCA’s position. However, many of the organizations and individuals that wrote submissions questioning the coalition’s founding premises, including Independent Jewish Voices, were not called as witnesses. In October 2010, the government held an international conference on anti-Semitism in Ottawa and signed the Ottawa Protocol that, for the first time, directly linked criticism of the State of Israel to anti-Semitism.
Since that time, as most of us are aware, the global struggle against Zionist aggression and expansion has changed dramatically. The Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions movement (BDS) has grown exponentially and gained legitimacy in many parts of the world, while the concept of Israel as an Apartheid state has gained much credibility. In Israel itself, debates that were unheard of a short while ago have entered the public discourse, as Gideon Levy’s recent piece in Ha’aretz, “Eradicate the Jewish State,” indicates.
Here in Canada, our Prime Minister clings to a position that is almost creepy in its fawning over a foreign state. There is no flexibility or subtlety, and it completely ignores the reality of Israel’s violations of international law and its creation of humanitarian crises. Thus, it won’t be surprising to hear some specious charges from Harper et al. regarding anti-Semitism on university or college campuses next week. These charges are directed as much to administrations as to students, making clear to all that they are being watched.
But the times they are a-changin’, and it seems that — unlike the Mulroney Conservatives who did an about-face regarding Apartheid South Africa — our current elected representatives have determined to stay on the wrong side of history.
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