rabble blogs are the personal pages of some of Canada's most insightful progressive activists and commentators. All opinions belong to the writer; however, writers are expected to adhere to our guidelines. We welcome new bloggers -- contact us for details.

Two Jews, three opinions? Not when it comes to discussing Israel

Please chip in to support rabble's election 2019 coverage. Support rabble.ca today for as little as $1 per month!

You can change the conversation. Chip in to rabble's donation drive today!

In a recent Globe and Mail column on Stephen Harper's trip to Israel, Margaret Wente quotes a Jewish friend: "We're not sheep … Jews don't do anything en masse." In many ways, this is true. Jewish tradition has long valued debate. Hence the joke "two Jews, three opinions."

Except, that is, when it comes to one topic -- Israeli government policies. Here no diversity of opinion is tolerated. Ironically, more open-minded debate on this topic occurs in Israel than here in Canada, where anyone critical of Israeli government policy is almost certain to find herself described as an anti-Semite. If she is Jewish, the tag is "self-hating Jew."

Those of us in Independent Jewish Voices (IJV) are proud to be Jewish. We are also proud of our tradition of advocating for the rights and freedoms of all. It is this tradition that led many Jews to support the Civil Rights movement in the United States and the struggle against Apartheid in South Africa. Today, however, the mainstream Jewish leadership in Canada goes out of its way to prevent any discussion of rights and freedoms denied to Palestinians.

This is not hyperbole.

Last fall, the Palestinian Awareness Coalition (of which IJV is a member) ran an ad on Vancouver transit featuring maps showing the shrinking of Palestinian territory and the parallel growth of land held by Israel. The ad also noted that there are five million Palestinian refugees in the world today. Within days, major Jewish organizations vigorously opposed the ads, charging, among other things, that they incited hatred towards Jews, made buses unwelcome and unsafe spaces for Jews, and, most absurdly, were deliberately placed in buses running through Jewish neighbourhoods during the Jewish High Holy Days.

In Toronto, under pressure from Jewish community organizations, the transit authority flatly refused to carry a similar ad sponsored by Canadians for Justice and Peace in the Middle East.

Need a place for a public event? Don't count on a Jewish community space unless the speaker is guaranteed to adhere to the accepted position on Israel. In 2009, Israeli peace activist and Nobel Peace Prize nominee Jeff Halper had his talk at the Gelber Conference Centre in Montreal, sponsored by Independent Jewish Voices, cancelled at the last minute by the Federation Combined Jewish Appeal (FCJA). IJV was banned from ever renting a conference room there in future. Similarly, the Jewish Community Centre of Ottawa refuses to rent space to IJV, since it "advocates for positions that run counter to the objectives of the Jewish Federation of Ottawa."

In 2011, the United Jewish Peoples' Order in Toronto organized a talk by Auschwitz survivor Dr. Hajo Meyer, "Never Again for Anyone," at the Morris Winchevsky Centre. The day before the event, they received a letter from the Canadian Jewish Congress (subsequently renamed the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs) and the United Jewish Appeal, threatening to "sever ties" with the Winchevsky Centre. In this case the organizers did not buckle under.

However, this past November two speakers had their talks cancelled for Le Mood, a Jewish cultural event and one of the largest gatherings of Jewish youth in Montreal. When pressed as to the reason, the festival director told one of the speakers that they were not willing to create a platform for people whose mission went against the beliefs of their funders, the Federation CJA (Combined Jewish Appeal). A month later, Jewish activist and spiritual leader Penny Rosenwasser had a talk scheduled for the Jewish Book Festival at the Jewish Community Centre of Greater Vancouver arbitrarily cancelled by the JCC's Executive Director.

Debate and dissent are essential components of a democratic society. We must not allow anyone to deny others the right to legitimately criticize the actions of a state, whether in Egypt, Ukraine, Russia, Iran, the United States or Israel. It is a strange world indeed when Canadians are freer to criticize their own government's policies than those of the government in Israel.

Like this article? Chip in to keep stories like these coming!

Joanne Naiman is Professor Emerita, Sociology, Ryerson University (Toronto) and a member of Independent Jewish Voices (Canada).

Thank you for reading this story…

More people are reading rabble.ca than ever and unlike many news organizations, we have never put up a paywall – at rabble we’ve always believed in making our reporting and analysis free to all, while striving to make it sustainable as well. Media isn’t free to produce. rabble’s total budget is likely less than what big corporate media spend on photocopying (we kid you not!) and we do not have any major foundation, sponsor or angel investor. Our main supporters are people and organizations -- like you. This is why we need your help. You are what keep us sustainable.

rabble.ca has staked its existence on you. We live or die on community support -- your support! We get hundreds of thousands of visitors and we believe in them. We believe in you. We believe people will put in what they can for the greater good. We call that sustainable.

So what is the easy answer for us? Depend on a community of visitors who care passionately about media that amplifies the voices of people struggling for change and justice. It really is that simple. When the people who visit rabble care enough to contribute a bit then it works for everyone.

And so we’re asking you if you could make a donation, right now, to help us carry forward on our mission. Make a donation today.

Comments

We welcome your comments! rabble.ca embraces a pro-human rights, pro-feminist, anti-racist, queer-positive, anti-imperialist and pro-labour stance, and encourages discussions which develop progressive thought. Our full comment policy can be found here. Learn more about Disqus on rabble.ca and your privacy here. Please keep in mind:

Do

  • Tell the truth and avoid rumours.
  • Add context and background.
  • Report typos and logical fallacies.
  • Be respectful.
  • Respect copyright - link to articles.
  • Stay focused. Bring in-depth commentary to our discussion forum, babble.

Don't

  • Use oppressive/offensive language.
  • Libel or defame.
  • Bully or troll.
  • Post spam.
  • Engage trolls. Flag suspect activity instead.