Independent Jewish Voices (IJV) Canada is demanding that Minister of Citizenship, Immigration and Multiculturalism Jason Kenney apologize and retract his defamatory statement in which he condemned Israeli Apartheid Week (IAW) and its organizers as anti-Semitic.

IJV Canada is a proud sponsor of IAW. Does the Minister believe IJV Canada is also anti-Semitic?

The planning of local IAW events involves Jewish organizers (including IJV members), underscoring the absurdity of Kenney’s implication that the week-long education event is anti-Semitic. And ironically, his claim that IAW “disregards the rights and safety of Jewish students and professors” itself disregards the rights of Jewish students, professors, and community members to voice legitimate criticism of two governments — one in Israel and one in Canada — which both misleadingly claim to speak for them.

And while rooting his opposition to IAW on the pretence of ensuring “academic discourse can take place freely,” attacks on free speech like this latest from Minister Kenney make it much more difficult for academic discourse to take place freely.

Kenney’s claim that IAW organizers are “singling out the only liberal democracy in the Middle East for condemnation” is highly dubious. Firstly, if anyone is singling out Israel, it’s Kenney himself. He’s singling it out for exemption from international law. It’s time for an end to the impunity Israel enjoys in its continued violation of international law. Secondly, we agree with Palestinians living in Israel who are still waiting for democracy (not to mention respect for their rights). IJV members were in the streets in Canada in solidarity with the movements for democracy in Egypt, Tunisia, and elsewhere in the region. We don’t remember seeing you or others in your caucus there Mr. Kenney.

Mr. Kenney claims that “organizers of Israeli Apartheid Week use the cover of academic freedom to demonize and delegitimize the State of Israel.” Firstly, academic freedom is not a cover. It’s a principle, and one which Kenney clearly opposes. Secondly, if anyone is delegitimizing the state of Israel, it is the Israeli government through its wanton killing and collective punishment of civilians, ongoing human rights abuses, warmongering, occupation, and segregation.

Kenney claims that IAW is “overrun by hatred and intolerance.” IAW organizers and speakers welcome constructive discussion and diverse views. It is apologists for Israeli government crimes who spew hatred and intolerance.

Mr. Kenney has a long record of undermining free speech. He was a driving force for the Canadian Parliamentary Committee to Combat Anti-Semitism (CPCCA), which IJV and others have exposed in a recent video as a front group for the pro-Israel lobby. IJV Canada believes that the purpose of this extra-parliamentary committee is to undermine free speech in this country.

Mr. Kenney has also championed the defunding of human rights and social justice groups like the Canadian Arab Federation, KAIROS, and Palestine House for taking (real or perceived) positions critical of federal government policy regarding Israel / Palestine. He attempted (and failed) to ban George Galloway from entering Canada for public speaking events and he has actively sought to deport war resisters, to name just a few examples.

It is not anti-Semitic to criticize Israel. In fact, as a Jewish human rights organization with members and Chapters in major Canadian cities, we believe that we have a moral obligation to do so.

Calling Israel’s policies an apartheid régime is a legitimate political position. Those who claim otherwise simply provide cover for Israel’s violations of international law and don’t seem to care much about free speech.

But we will not be silenced.

We stand with IAW and its organizers. And we will continue to work hand in hand with the movement for Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions, until Israel complies with international law.

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