Murray Dobbin
Conservatives have 'zero tolerance' for protest of Israeli apartheid? Protest must be powerful!

| May 15, 2015
Image: Stephen Melkisethian/flickr

The CBC's recent revelation that Conservative Public Safety Minister Steven Blaney has called for "zero tolerance" of criticism of Israel and that Canadian hate laws could be applied to those campaigning for BDS -- Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions -- against Israel is repugnant enough. But the truly disturbing irony in this outrageous declaration is that the more extreme the Israeli government becomes, the more illegal settlements it builds, the more explicit its open contempt for world opinion and the more outrageous Netanyahu's statements, the stronger is the support from the Harper government. It raises the question: is there any action, including the actual expulsion of Palestinians from Israel and the Occupied Territories that Harper would not support?

The government now denies ever considering charging BDS activists with hate crimes. But there is no denying what Public Safety Minister Steven Blaney said at the UN General Assembly in January, declaring that Canada is taking a: "zero-tolerance approach to anti-Semitism and all forms of discrimination including in rhetoric towards Israel, and attempts to delegitimize Israel such as the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement."

Then foreign affairs minister John Baird implied the same thing in the same month, signing a memorandum of understanding with Israel promising to fight BDS -- "the new face of anti-Semitism."

The line no one is willing to draw

When governments such as Canada's and the U.S. provide carte blanche for virtually any action Israel undertakes, including the deliberate slaughter of civilians in Gaza, it simply signals to Netanyahu and his right-wing coalition allies that they have not yet crossed a Western democracy "red line." This was confirmed this week in Netanyahu's appointment of Ayelet Shaked, one of the most virulent racists in the Knesset, as justice minister (she has no law degree). It was an appointment that left most commentators open-mouthed -- but in reality it was just more step towards a red line no one is willing to draw. Another member of Shaked's Jewish Home Party was given the education portfolio, giving the party enormous clout in running the West Bank.

In a July 2014 Facebook post, Shaked called for the genocide of the Palestinian people: "What's so horrifying about understanding that the entire Palestinian people is the enemy? … in wars the enemy is usually an entire people, including its elderly and its women, its cities and its villages, its property and its infrastructure." In the same post she declared war on Palestinian mothers: "They should go, as should the physical homes in which they raised the snakes. Otherwise, more little snakes will be raised there."  Under Article 3 of the UN's Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide, this kind of statement ("Direct and public incitement to commit genocide") is listed as an act that is "punishable" under the Convention.

If she were a Canadian making these repulsive comments here, she would, presumably, be arrested under Canada's hate laws, which the Harper government brags are amongst the toughest in the world.

Equally disturbing is the evidence revealing how Israel's political elite legitimizes an overt racism amongst ordinary Israelis with such declarations: the repulsive Facebook post attracted 5,000 "likes."

Why BDS is necessary

But back to the original Harper target -- the BDS campaign. It was begun by a majority of Palestinian civil society groups on July 9, 2005 (a year after the International Criminal Court declared the Israeli separation wall illegal) with a request to their international counterparts "to launch broad boycotts, implement divestment initiatives, and to demand sanctions against Israel, until Palestinian rights are recognised in full compliance with international law."  

For all the righteous indignation spewed out by the Harper government against the BDS campaign, the fact is that if Western nations like Canada, the U.S. and the EU were serious about forcing Israel to the bargaining table, a BDS campaign would not be necessary. Virtually every authority on the so-called peace process now acknowledges that it is dead unless something can make it in Israel's interest to negotiate.

Israeli exceptionalism, backed by the financial and military might of the U.S., demands of the Palestinians that they compromise on all their most important objectives before Israel will negotiate. In other words, Israel will only negotiate after the Palestinians have given up virtually all their negotiating objectives.

Indeed, during the recent Israeli election, Netanyahu declared towards the end of the campaign that there would never be a Palestinian state so long as he was prime minister. For most observers, this was at once shocking and simply a statement of what Netanyahu had always made clear by his actions: his continued building of settlements throughout the West Bank, his refusal to consider (even in negotiations) East Jerusalem as the Palestinian capital, his stunningly brutal bombing of Gaza and his repeated insults directed at U.S. President Barack Obama regarding Israel's responsibilities in reaching a peace settlement.

Prime Minister Harper would have Canadians believe that criticizing Israel or boycotting it is inherently anti-Semitic. But you can see why he might want to back off actually changing the law. The spectacle of police arresting Jewish Canadians who support BDS and charging them with anti-Semitism is apparently too much even for the reckless Stephen Harper.

Comparisons to South Africa's apartheid regime

How does one determine if a campaign such as BDS is legitimate? The gold standard for such boycotts, because it was successful, was the BDS campaign against South Africa. Ironically, it was a Progressive Conservative prime minister, Brian Mulroney, who played an important role in the freeing of Nelson Mandela and the campaign to isolate the apartheid regime.

If apartheid was worthy of an international BDS campaign then there can hardly be any argument that Israel, too, is a legitimate target. The similarities between the two regimes is frighteningly similar. Indeed, many experts on Israel's system of hafrada, or separation, claim it is far more brutal and deliberately humiliating than anything devised by the racist regime of Pretoria.

While Harper and his ministers have in the past railed against the use of the term apartheid to describe Israel's treatment of Palestinians, some of Israel's most revered leaders had no difficulty using the term.

Former prime minister Ehud Barak stated: "If there is only one political entity, named Israel, it will end up being either non-Jewish or non-democratic... If the Palestinians vote in elections, it is a binational state, and if they don't, it is an apartheid state." Shulamit Aloni, who once served as minister of education under Yitzhak Rabin, wrote: "The state of Israel practises its own, quite violent form of apartheid with the native Palestinian population." And in November of 2007, Israel's then prime minister Ehud Olmert said: "If the day comes when the two state solution collapses, and we face a South African style struggle for equal voting rights, then as soon as that happens, the State of Israel is finished."

No wonder Stephen Harper wants to bury the notion that Israel is an apartheid state -- because it is actually far worse. South Africa never established the kind of brutal settlement structure that has existed in Israel for decades. While the races did experience separate "development," white communities were not connected with special well-paved roads which Black citizens could not use. As Shulamit Aloni described: "Wonderful roads, wide roads, well-paved roads, brightly lit at night -- all that on stolen land. When a Palestinian drives on such a road, his vehicle is confiscated and he is sent on his way." International law makes it the responsibility of the occupying power to provide civilian governance to those it occupies. Yet four million Palestinians are governed not by civil law but by Israeli military law, which is enforced by soldiers. Decades of the "peace process" has accomplished absolutely nothing.

Far from being an outrage and an expression of the "new anti-Semitism," the BDS campaign is a non-violent movement which seeks to put a high financial price on the continued and flagrant violation of international law by a rogue state. To participate, go to Canadian Boycott Coalition for Justice in Palestine/Israel and for a list of products to boycott, go here.

The last word goes to Desmond Tutu, Nobel Peace Prize winner and another prominent observer who has described Israel as an apartheid state:

"Realistic Israeli leaders have acknowledged that Israel will either end its occupation through a one or two state solution, or live in an apartheid state in perpetuity. The latter option is unsustainable and an offense to justice. We learned in South Africa that the only way to end apartheid peacefully was to force the powerful to the table through economic pressure."

Murray Dobbin has been a journalist, broadcaster, author and social activist for 40 years. He writes rabble's State of the Nation column, which is also found at The Tyee.

Image: Stephen Melkisethian/flickr


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