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Yesterday, the Liberals, Conservatives and NDP debated how much each party dislikes the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions campaign against Israel. The Liberals and the Conservatives argued that Canada should condemn the campaign. The NDP argued that despite how odious the party finds the campaign, that free speech should be defended. Only the Bloc argued that the campaign is legitimate criticism of Israel.
Canada does have a special relationship with Israel. Aside from the hundreds of thousands of Canadians who have personal ties with Israel and Palestine, our countries were both built on expelling one population to make way for another. Many Western nations share this as a basis of their history and the ongoing colonization that exists in all of them should be challenged, condemned and resisted.
In Israel, this looks like disobeying international law and building settlements in occupied territory. In Canada, it looks like forcibly displacing Indigenous communities to get at the resources below the soil. The tactics and rhetoric used to justify these actions might differ, but the result is largely the same.
So it should surprise no one that Canadians who thirst for justice see Israel/Palestine as the location of their activism, most certainly Canadians whose own history is linked to the mass expulsion of Jews across Europe and Russia in the 1800s and 1900s, and especially after the Holocaust.
These are living histories, just like the ongoing trauma of the genocide on which Canada has been built is a living history. Perhaps this is why I find it so disgusting that Israeli exceptionalism is the norm among Canadian politicians. After all, it's easier to use Israel as a proxy to defend Canada's own actions at home, rather than face the hard truths contained in the Truth and Reconciliation Report. I have written about our shared histories before.
There is no greater parliamentary cheerleader for Israel than Jason Kenney. Yesterday, he rose in the House of Commons for the first time since his party's defeat to vigorously defend his nation-state BFF. In case you missed his performance, here are nine things that he said that should not be ignored. After all, Kenney was responsible for Canada's war effort. There's a direct line between his opinions and average people hurt or killed by the West's war machine.
1. "One reason that today's motion is so important is that the BDS movement represents a new wave of anti-Semitism, the most pernicious form of hatred in the history of humanity."
I don't think getting into a debate about what form of hatred has been worse than others is useful, and it serves no one to talk about anti-Semitism in this way. The transcontinental slave trade and anti-Black racism was pretty bad. And the genocide of millions (probably tens of millions) of Indigenous people across the Americas was bad too. Let's not forget, of course, how poorly women have fared in the history of the Western world as well. Using histories of dehumanization and hatred in this way is poor form, to say the least.
2. "Sadly, in recent decades and years, we have seen the development of a new form of anti-Semitism, which often takes the form of a kind of ideological fusion between movements of the extreme left and Islamist movements that seek, together, to obliterate the Jewish democratic State of Israel as a representation of what some call the "collective Jew".
Jason Kenney set this line up with information about how the “old anti-Semitism” led to the Holocaust. There's nothing really to debate about that: age-old hatred against Jews paved the way to make the Holocaust possible (while many elites in the rest of the world looked the other way).
But his attempt to then link the old anti-Semitism to the BDS call as being a conspiracy of Muslims and progressives to eliminate Israel is dishonest at best (and conspiratorial and dangerous at worst). BDS movements in Canada are comprised of many different kinds of people, Jews included, who want international pressure to be applied to Israel to convince them to respect international law. They're the same people who are condemning Canada’s arms sale to Saudi Arabia, by the way.
3. "Criticism of Israel is not anti-Semitic and saying so is wrong, but singling Israel out for selective condemnation and opprobrium, let alone denying its right to exist or seeking its destruction, is discriminatory and hateful, and not saying so is dishonest."
Here's the original Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions call. You'll note that there's literally nothing that seeks the destruction of Israel here:
1. Ending its occupation and colonization of all Arab lands and dismantling the Wall
2. Recognizing the fundamental rights of the Arab-Palestinian citizens of Israel to full equality; and
3. Respecting, protecting and promoting the rights of Palestinian refugees to return to their homes and properties as stipulated in UN resolution 194.
If Kenney really wants to get into a game of who's being dishonest, he might find that he can't win.
4. "I have travelled campuses across the country to encourage Jewish students and other allies and supporters of the democratic State of Israel, and I have been harassed physically, shouted down, and rendered unable to speak against Israel apartheid week at Canadian university campuses."
Jason Kenney, the anti-abortion religious crusader, was responsible for changing Canada's refugee system in ways that denied help to people in dire need. He separated families. He defended removing refugee access to health care. He vigorously promoted bombing Iraq and Syria, where thousands of civilians have been caught in the crossfire and killed or injured.
If Jason Kenney thinks that he can show up on a Canadian campus and not face the legitimate criticism of his parliamentary record, he's living in an alternative universe. Kenney, of all people, should face hostility and criticism. It's the price he pays for using his office to inflict suffering on so many people.
5. "That is why, as minister of citizenship and immigration, I removed government funding from Palestine House in Mississauga and from the Canadian Arab Federation, which had been, under the previous government, receiving settlement funding to integrate newcomers but whose leading members had repeatedly given expression to the most vile anti-Semitic sentiments, including support for the BDS movement."
That's right: he removed settlement funding for agencies because he disagreed with their political positions they had taken on issues directly happening in their homeland including actions that were generating refugees and immigrants who need to access resettlement services in the first place. When a government punishes organizations financially because they disagree politically, that's an attack on free speech. What’s worse, the refugees and immigrants who would have been helped by this settlement money have been left in the lurch.
6. "Le Marcheur is a shop on Saint-Denis, in Montreal. That is where Amir Khadir started a boycott. I go to that store to buy my shoes. When there was a boycott against Sodastream, that was the first time I bought Sodastream products."
That's great Kenney. You also held a Cabinet post and attacked organizations who support Palestinian rights. You're not an average guy. Don't pretend that your support for Sodastream is the extent of your support of Israel. Worth mentioning: Sodastream is operating in territory that Israel is occupying in contravention of international law. In September, they announced that they planned to close their West Bank facility and re-open in Southern Israel. I guess Kenney should have purchased more Sodastreams.
Funny how when Russia does that to the Ukraine, Kenney is on the other side.
7. "I find it appalling that a provincial ally of the Bloc Québécois, Amir Khadir…"
Too funny. Khadir isn't quite a provincial ally of the Bloc, whatever that even means.
8. "…Québec solidaire, a party that unfortunately has some NDPers among its members…"
Unfortunately or fortunately, it's hard to say. It's worth noting that Hansard's translation corrected Jason Kenney, who got the name of the party wrong. He had condemned "solidarité Québec."
9. "By the way, MNA Amir Khadir's constituent is a Jew, a Canadian Jew. I find it appalling that a Canadian politician is organizing the boycott of a store in his own riding because it sells goods made by Jewish men and women. If that is not anti-Semitic, I do not know the meaning of the term"
Aside from the strange way this came out in translation (Kenney's French was pretty garbled), It's bad form to call someone who protests Israel's human rights abuses anti-Semitic, Kenney. Especially a politician with whom Kenney would disagree on pretty much everything.
Perhaps I'm being unfair by singling out Jason Kenney. He was hardly alone in the overblown, hyperbolic language that marked yesterday's debate. But, as is true with Israel, the United States and Canada, those who purport to be the most righteous, deserve to be examined the closest.
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