A response to Michael Ignatieff on his statement about Israeli Apartheid Week

| March 9, 2011

Dear Mr. Ignatieff,

Your statement of March 7, 2011 re: Israeli Apartheid Week is deeply unethical. I say this not simply because of your unethical support for Israel, but because the statements you make in condemnation of Israeli Apartheid Week betray a deep lack of intellectual integrity.

The first paragraph of your statement states, "Israeli apartheid week... is a dangerous cocktail of ignorance and intolerance." However, the critique of Israeli apartheid is informed by data, observation, scholarship, and UN resolutions and reports. Scholars, activists, international advocates, civil society leaders and UN officials have observed that the occupation, checkpoints, walls, relocations, and home demolitions committed by Israel in Palestine have created a system of racial separateness and dominance. Thus, they have applied the term "apartheid" because of its obvious and internationally recognized applicability. Therefore, it does not reflect ignorance. If you were ignorant of these facts, I understand why you made the mistake you did in your statement. Now that you know, please rescind your statement and issue an apology or retraction.

Why does your party believe that Israeli Apartheid Week reflects intolerance? Israeli Apartheid Week seeks to raise awareness about a system of separateness and dominance as well as its policies and violence. It is a critique of the policies and practices of a state, it is not a critique of Jewish people. When you equate it with "intolerance" you reflect the ignorant and anti-Semitic view that the State of Israel is the same entity as "Jewish people" or the global Jewish Diaspora. Of course, it is not. Israel is a state, Zionism is a political ideology/movement, and many Jewish people worldwide staunchly oppose the policies and practices of Israel. There is a movement of called "not in my name," founded in South Africa by former Anti-Apartheid activist of Jewish origin Ronnie Krasils, that is critical of Israeli occupation. The existence of this movement proves that Zionism does not automatically speak for Jewish people, and that to criticize Israel does not automatically implicate one in anti-Semitism. Please explain to me, then, the basis of your claim that criticism of Israeli apartheid is a cocktail including intolerance against Jewish people.

On the Liberal Party website you are quoted as having said, "By portraying the Jewish state as criminal, by demonizing Israel and its supporters, and by targeting Jewish and Israeli students for abuse on our university campuses, the organizers and supports of Israeli Apartheid Week tarnish our freedom of speech."

Israel is committing criminal acts, according to the International Court of Justice, the General Assembly of the United nations, and most recently 14 out of 15 security council members who voted that the settlements in the Occupied Territories are illegal. Israel targets civilians in military engagements, imposes collective punishments on the entire Palestinian population, builds civilian settlements on occupied land, operates a discriminatory judicial system in Palestine, and has constructed a "separation barrier" establishing a structured apartheid in the West Bank. How does it "tarnish freedom of speech" to foster open dialogue on these criminal acts, bringing these violations of human rights and international law into the realm of public debate?

In your view, drawing attention to the criminal acts of Israel is intolerant and tarnishes freedom of speech. But please tell me -- what if the State of Israel does commit these crimes? How can we fight to stop injustices if it is automatically anti-Semitic to talk about them? Do you actually mean to say that it is OK for a state and government to side-step criticism by writing off its detractors as racists? Do you actually mean to say that it is ok for a government to ignore the real content of a critique, using morally-charged rhetorical grandstanding to distract from the real substance -- in this case, the charge that criminal things are happening in the occupied territories? Do you actually oppose the right of Canadians to talk openly? If Israel is, as you claim, innocent of the charges, then why must the accusations be silenced? can't they be engaged with? If you are against "portraying the Jewish state as criminal", what is your response to the internationally condemned crimes of the State of Israel?

I have attended several Israeli Apartheid Week events and I have never heard an anti-Semitic word, a single act or speech of hatred, nor anything even approximating an incitement to "target Jewish and Israeli students for abuse on our campuses." What I have heard are systematic, rational, and well-researched analyses of what is going on in the Occupied Territories and Israel. Therefore, when I read your sweeping claims about the safety of students on campuses, I cannot help but feel that you are being deliberately hyperbolic for political purposes. For that reason, and for all the other cheap tricks of poor logic and manipulative rhetoric employed in your official statement, I accuse you of deploying simplistic truisms and rhetoric to mobilize frenzy, stifle debate and insulate Israel, an internationally recognized violator of human rights, from criticism. I cannot speculate as to why you would do this, but the implications of your actions are serious.

If you continue to condemning critique of the genocide happening in Palestine, you and the party you lead are complicit in that genocide. This makes you an active and powerful accomplice in a human rights tragedy, perhaps the biggest human rights tragedy of my generation. Many have brought this to your attention, including leading Canadian scholars and activists who will be speaking publicly this week at Israeli Apartheid Week in Toronto. You have every opportunity to educate yourself. Therefore, history will not permit you the defence of ignorance or innocence.

I was elected to represent the approximately 20,000 students of Queen's University. If I ever used the influence of my office and the power of my public voice, as you have, to insulate from criticism the perpetrator of a mass-slaughter, I would have a very difficult time sleeping at night. Please reconsider your position and come down on the right side of history. Use your voice to support the brave scholars and activists, Jewish and non-Jewish alike, who are using their voices and bodies to speak out against genocide and injustice in Palestine. Attend Israeli Apartheid Week in Toronto and listen with an open mind. You may suffer politically; however you will finally have a reason to be proud of yourself.

Thank you in advance for reading carefully and responding thoughtfully to my questions and concerns.

Sincerely,

Nick Day

Rector

Queen's University at Kingston

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Comments

This article proves two things; Nick Day is an ahistorical idiot and that lefties are nothing if not the authors of their own satire.

 

The comment by MRoss proves two things; MRoss has no real argument to rebutt this well written article and that zionists are losing the PR battle. 

Nativeinsurgent:

Here's my argument: Nobody but a complete imbecilic ahistorical ideologue could make the statement, "Israel's treatment of Palestinians represents perhaps the biggest human rights tragedy of my generation" and retain even a shred of a modicum of a rodent hair's width of credibility. I love how you lefties ignore Zimbabwe and Rwanda (and a hundred other conflicts) so you can indulge your poorly disguised anti-Semitism. My guess is that there's no element of "western imperialism" outside of the Near East for you to rant about, so you pick on the Jews.  How clever, how progressive.

What an embarrassment to Queen's. What an absolute plonker.

wrong again. i'm constantly making connections between the on going genocide of indigenous peoples in north america and the peoples of palestine. but i'm sure you have no idea what i'm talking about since you STILL didn't even make an actual argument (rather you just state that you think he's not credible).

and Ps. Zionism is a form of anti-semitism. get real. No one is arguing that all Jewish peoples are zionists, that in itself is just a fallacy. Anyone can be a zionist, just as there are more groups than Jewish peoples in Israel. 

Pps. Its STILL clear that zionists are losing any credibility when you make statements like your above comments. Especially when they contain no legitimate critiques other than randomly calling people  imbeciles and anti-semities regardless of what they are saying. Thanks for supporting BDS!!

Good luck with your project. I can't quite crunch the numbers that make it a genocide when there are more Pals today than there were 60 years ago. Such hyperbole only proves my point that Day is an ahistorical imbecile. I suppose it's the same logic that has you declare that Zionism is a form of anti-Semitism. Try opening a book instead of parroting the non-sequitorial blather of those who think rabble has anything intelligent to say.

But seeing as you're looking for linkage, maybe as an Aboriginal you should start a policy of suicide bombing those nasty European settlers across Canada? That'll get you lots of news coverage and support from the "progressives". Hell, you might even be invited to address the UN's General Assembly!

 

To Nick Day, 

I would like to respectfully remind you that while you have the absolute right to voice your opinions, you are like you said representing over 20,000 Queen's Students. And by signing your name as the Queen's Rector, you are indeed appearing as a figurehead of the Queen's Student population. That said, I ask that in future you be more careful in drawing the line between the approriateness of demonstrating political activism when you are representing the student body at this university.

Dear Nick,

I'm a Queen's student and I take issue with you making statements like this in the name of your position with the school. Say what you want on your own behalf, but leave the rest of us out of it.

QStudent is right. F*ck you.

Dear Nick Day,

I hear NOW Magazine is hiring. You seem like a qualified candidate.

Best,

SHu

Thanks Nick Day for a thoughtful, respectful, well-written letter. To MRoss, two, or three wrongs don't make a right.  Israeli government policy directed towards the Palestinians deserves serious questioning if not condemnation.  Thank you to the organizers of the Israeli Apartheid Week for creating just that opportunity.   

To equate this criticism of the Israeli state with anti-semitism defies all decent notions of democracy and free speech.  Where is Michael Ignatief coming from here?  

To the Israeli State, do what is required by international law:  namely, respect the 1967 border and get out of the occupied territories.   Require Israeli citizens to cede this illegally occupied Palestinian territory!  

Palestinians have clearly suffered greatly. Israel is no doubt guilty of extensive human rights violations. However, anti-Israel activists have proven themselves just as ideological and detached from reality as Ignatieff and the pro-Israel camp. At the beginning of Nick Day's letter, we are told that Israel is engaging in apartheid. By the end, it is guilty of genocide. While there might be some credence to the former, there is no evidence to support the latter. The statement that the Isreali-Palestinain conflict is "the biggest human rights tragedy of my generation" is indicative of profoundly limited knowledge of world affairs. Day's careless and hysterical rant suggests that he is driven more by self-righteous indignation than any objective analysis of the situation. It is odd that this type of emotional invective does not extend to other conflicts. Gaddafi (who was the darling of global anti-imperialism until he made his deal with the west several years back) has killed more Libyans in a week than Israel has killed Palestinians in a decade. Iran secretly detains, tortures, and rapes far more people than Israel and systemically represses minorities to a far greater degree than Israel. Egyptian Muslims have massacred Copts in recent days - a situation which threatens to deteriorate further. Women are treated worse than animals in countries ranging from Saudi Arabia to Pakistan. The official and only acceptable religion in all other Middle Eastern countries (except for Lebanon) is Islam. Yet for some strange reason, these atrocities and rights violations do not ignite the passions of anti-Israel activists. Fanatical anti-Zionism, it seems, is driven by something deeper than a consistent concern for human rights. That anti-Semitism, whether conscious or unconscious, might have something to do with this is not implausible.

well written aritcle, you have written about the feelings' of millions of Canadians in regards to liberal leader's ill thought comments.  I ask fall the good Canadians to let these corrupt politicians know that they will not get our votes in the federal election.      To let the liberals, and conservatives know that we will not participate in the elections, and these elections are illigitimate, when our politicians are corrupt, and are only interested in their election financing, and nothing more.   They have no moral values, and this is  the biggest danger to our democracy, and not criticising Israel .    I am not voting, and asking the people to let these corrupt politicians  know that we will boycott the elections in canada, because it's funded by corrupt money or blood money.  

Nick Day you are an embarassment to Queen's University. As if the university didn't have enought bad press lately with homecoming and student deaths you needed to go and do this. You an inept nincompoop who has no business speaking on my behalf.

You know what was a real genocide? The Holocost. Millions were systematicly exterminated simply because a few evil men said so. And have you heard of apartheid that happened in South Africa for 50 years? You devalue the meaning of these extremely strong words when you use them to label a situation like the one in Isreal.

I will be passing around petitions to have you removed as rector of Queen's University and I'm sure I won't be alone. Do yourself a favour and step down before you are further humiliated.

Mike

Sci' 13

Nick Day, you are entitled to your own twisted and dishonest opinions but why do you bring shame upon your office in order to pander to the anti-semitic hate mob?

It is enablers like you who promote dishonesty and intolerance in what are supposed to be our institutions of higher learning.

Shame on you and your ilk.

Dear Nick Day, 

To offer you the best possible thanks, encouragement and consolation I can think of following the scorn and insults leveled at you here, I quote what Edward Said wrote about Eqbal Ahmed, a politics professor and activist who died as you may already know, five years before Said himself, (and like him, far too soon) in 1999.  From the foreword Said wrote for a book called EQBAL AHMED: CONFRONTING EMPIRE: Interviews with David Barsamian, published in 2000 by Pluto Books:

"But what also needs mentioning is that to struggle for Palestine as Eqbal did was to have none of the material or even intellectual rewards of the struggle. Palestine is a thankless cause, one in which if you truly serve you get nothing back but opprobrium, abuse, and ostracism. Eqbal suffered all these. His outspoken, uncompromising solidarity with us cost him dearly, not only in hours and days and months of wasted effort; not only in the disappointments, the deaths and disfigurements, that have distorted our lives, perhaps irremediably; not only in the endless surrenders and humiliations, the failures of reason and planning, but also - and this must be emphasized, since Eqbal himself would never say it - in the cost to him, in his profession, in his career, maybe even in his writing. Palestine is the cruelest, most difficult cause to uphold, not because it is unjust, but because it is just and yet dangerous to speak about as honestly and as concretely as Eqbal did".  

And to think, all you had to do to get a comparable measure of opprobrium was write a letter to Ignatieff. Well done, indeed.

Rahat Kurd

(Very happy former Queen's student! Yay!)

Hah. Don't all these apologists for Israeli apartheid and Israeli atrocities and Israeli War Crimes know that the recently retired Israeli diplomat, Ilan Baruch, characterized the view which identifies criticism of Israel with anti-Semitism as "simplistic, provincial and artificial". He couldn't continue to stomach the lies and the BS and left early. Can't really blame him.

Baruch wrote:
"Identifying the objection expressed by global public opinion to the occupation policy as anti-Semitic is simplistic, provincial and artificial," he wrote. "Experience shows that this global trend won't change until we normalize our relations with the Palestinians."

When "liberal" Canadian politicians are on the political right of a right wing regime, what do you call them?

 

As a Queen's graduate student, I think those who see themselves 'misrepresented' by Nick Day - as if a rector can represent all 20,000 equally - it's worth placing Ignatieff's letter in context. I just don't mean Ignatieff coming down on the wrong side of history regarding the invasion of Iraq or condoning certain forms of torture.

When it comes to Palestine solidarity, academic freedom, free speech and freedom of assembly have been violated repeatedly by Canadian university administrators, sections of the mainst...ream press and powerful politicians. IAW posters have been banned at numerous campuses with the phrase "Israeli Apartheid" even being banned for a time at McMaster. Administrators at UofT have been exposed by access to information requests in trying to prevent Palestine solidarity events on campus. More recently, Jenny Peto's recent MA thesis at OISE has been slandered repeatedly in the mainstream press, by politicians and even sections of the academy.

These attacks on academic freedom, free speech and freedom of assembly are completely unacceptable and indefensible. Michael Ignatieff has joined this attack. In responding to this, Nick Day has done his job as rector to defend these principles - whether or not you agree with his political views regarding the Israeli occupation of Palestine. Queen's students should take up the challenge, attend IAW and see first-hand whether or not Ignatieff is correct. You might learn something. It is, after all, a university.

As King said, "Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere."

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