I apologize for referring to you so informally, but that’s how I knew you back in the ’90s when we both sat on the Parent Advisory Council of the Toronto Board of Education, some years before you entered the political arena. What I remember most about you from that time was that — although we certainly didn’t agree on everything — you were always an excellent negotiator, helping our committee move to consensus despite our differences. And you always showed empathy for diverse points of view.
It is therefore most disappointing for me to learn that you recently agreed to go to Israel, stating, in an interview with the Ron Csillag, that “[our] relationship with Israel is very strong at the national-to-provincial level. We’re going to continue to work with them and to support Israel in all its strengths… It’s not for lack of desire that I haven’t been to Israel. It’s more of a scheduling issue…” In response to a question regarding the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions Movement (BDS), you stated, “I’m not going to weigh in.”
Kathleen, I’m sorry to state the obvious here, but by publicly announcing a planned visit to Israel — not to mention expanding economic ties between Ontario and the State of Israel — you have weighed in, taking the side of an apartheid state. You are intentionally blinding yourself to Israel’s repressive policies and its repeated flaunting of international law.
According to the recently released UN report, the Israeli attack on Gaza in 2014 killed over 2200 Palestinians (including 551 children), injured over 11,000 (including 3436 children), damaged or destroyed schools, hospitals, UN shelters and thousands of homes, with at least 100,000 people remaining homeless. The facts on the ground speak for themselves.
Moreover, on a daily basis, Palestinians living in both Israel proper and the Occupied Territories are the victims of a wide spectrum of discriminatory practices. Adalah, the Legal Center for Arab Minority Rights in Israel, launched the Discriminatory Laws Database in 2013. This list describes more than 50 Israeli laws enacted since 1948 that directly or indirectly discriminate against Palestinian citizens of Israel in all areas of life, including their rights to political participation, access to land, education, financial resources, and criminal procedures.
Kathleen, I know from working with you that you are a moral and caring person. You would understand as well as anyone that there comes a time when we have to stand for what is right and just, shoulder-to-shoulder with those who have cried out for our help. The BDS movement has been growing rapidly around the world in response to this cry. It began in 2005 when 171 Palestinian civil society organizations banded together to raise international awareness of their cause. Since that time, the movement has expanded to include hundreds of campaigns on six continents.
As Bishop Desmond Tutu explained last year:
The withdrawal of trade with South Africa by multinational corporations with a conscience in the 1980s was ultimately one of the key levers that brought the apartheid state—bloodlessly—to its knees. Those corporations understood that by contributing to South Africa’s economy, they were contributing to the retention of an unjust status quo.
Those who continue to do business with Israel, who contribute to a sense of ‘normalcy’ in Israeli society, are doing the people of Israel and Palestine a disservice. They are contributing to the perpetuation of a profoundly unjust status quo. Those who contribute to Israel’s temporary isolation [via BDS] are saying that Israelis and Palestinians are equally entitled to dignity and peace…
I grew up after the Second World War, wondering how the murder of so many innocent people could have happened. I’m now a lot older and wiser, and understand how people — both then and now — often choose to avert their eyes from what they do not want to see.
Kathleen, now is the time for you to show your support for BDS. I appeal to you, as a politician, as a mother, as a caring human being, to — at the very least — cancel your planned trip to Israel. And, please, should you refuse to do so, don’t say later that you didn’t know what was happening in Israel/Palestine. We’ve all heard that excuse before.
Joanne Naiman is Professor Emerita, Sociology, Ryerson University and a member of Independent Jewish Voices — Canada.