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Yves Engler has been described as "Canada's version of Noam Chomsky" (Georgia Straight), “one of the most important voices on the Canadian Left today” (Briarpatch), “in the mould of I. F. Stone” (Globe and Mail), "ever-insightful" (rabble.ca) and a "Leftist gadfly" (Ottawa Citizen). His latest book is The Ugly Canadian: Stephen Harper's foreign policy.

The big lie: Anti-Semitism at Concordia

| December 24, 2015
Photo: Doug/flickr

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The big lie is a propaganda technique generally employed when telling the truth would be unfavorable to your side. It goes like this: never admit doing any wrong and instead always insist on a story that portrays your side as the good guys. What really happened is irrelevant. The key is repetition. Do it often enough and loudly enough until most people believe you. While the big lie is most often associated with authoritarian governments, its use is actually quite widespread.

For example, the Montreal Gazette recently published a front page article claiming Jewish students at Concordia University were "feeling like the target of a hate campaign." The reason cited, as far as this writer can tell, was simply that many students were standing in solidarity with Palestinians. At the end of November, the student group Solidarity for Palestinian Human Rights organized BDS Week. Without citing a single incident of actual racism, the Gazette painted a picture of the discussion series as hateful.

Reporter Karen Seidman simply quoted an individual decrying "a hostile environment on campus" and another who denounced "speakers slandering Israeli tactics and spewing hate." In her article, Seidman also labelled a referendum held last year in which undergraduates voted to support the boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) campaign against Israel as "contentious" and downplayed its significance by saying only "a tiny fraction" of the overall student body participated.

So why is this a big lie? First, the side favored is portrayed as a victim of "hate" with no evidence presented except criticism of the Israeli state causing hurt feelings. Second, and most important, the article blissfully ignores any historical background that would present Palestinian sympathizers in a positive light or even provide context for what they are doing. It abjectly fails to even get any comment from any supporter of BDS. The reporter writes that she tried and failed to get a comment from the organizers, but it should surely not be beyond a reporter's ability to get an alternative pro-BDS voice. 

And while portraying a rather modest week of solidarity events as hateful, the reporter also ignores how a well-funded Concordia institute has engaged in an effort to erase Palestinians from historical memory. In 2011, multibillionaire David Azrieli gave Concordia $5 million to set up the Azrieli Institute of Israel Studies. The institute established the first minor degree program in Israel studies at a Canadian university.

This wasn't a disinterested, apolitical donation. Azrieli, an Israeli-Canadian real estate magnate who died last year, was a staunch defender of Israel. He did not hide his affiliation, happily asserting that "I am a Zionist and I love the country." During the Nakba, the 1948 ethnic cleansing of Palestine, he was an officer in a largely Anglo-Saxon brigade of the Haganah, a Zionist military force. Led by Major Ben Dunkelman, a Canadian veteran of the Second World War, the Seventh Brigade played a leading role in the infamous Operation Hiram.

Dozens of villages in the north of Palestine were depopulated and destroyed during that offensive. The operation, initiated in October 1948, included several massacres of Palestinian villagers. As many as 94 Palestinians were killed in the village of Saliha alone. A Jewish National Fund official, Yosef Nahmani, noted in his diary that between 50 and 60 peasants in Safsaf were killed and buried in a pit after the village's inhabitants "had raised a white flag."

In his book The Ethnic Cleansing of Palestine, the Israeli historian Ilan Pappe notes that few brigade names appear in the oral testimonies that have been gathered about the Nakba: "However, Brigade Seven is mentioned again and again, together with such adjectives as 'terrorists' and 'barbarous.'" Confiscation of history Since opening at Concordia, the Azrieli Institute has proven a potent advocate for Israel on campus. In June, the institute hosted the Association for Israel Studies' annual conference. After attending the conference, the right-wing Israeli academic Gerald Steinberg described Azrieli's $5 million donation as part of a "counterattack" against pro-Palestinian activism at Concordia.

The institute is largely designed to erase Palestinians from their historical connection to their homeland. Its website fails to even mention the word Palestine. In a December 2014 letter to the Montreal Gazette, Nakina Stratos noted: "Browsing through the website of the Azrieli Institute of Israel Studies, I was not able to find the words 'Palestine' or 'Palestinian people.' How can an institute that teaches about the history of Israel not mention Palestine on its website? This, to me, intersects with the far-right Israeli narrative, which is a total confiscation of Palestinian history, and an attempt to erase the concept of Palestine from the dictionary of the Middle East."

But rather than investigate how Palestinian students feel about a richly endowed university institute that erases their existence, the Gazette's education reporter chose to focus on assertions of persecution by those who would do the erasing. The perpetrators of oppression and their supporters instead become victims. Those who stand up for the oppressed are portrayed as bullies. That is the big lie at work.

Photo: Doug/flickr

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