rabble blogs are the personal pages of some of Canada's most insightful progressive activists and commentators. All opinions belong to the writer; however, writers are expected to adhere to our guidelines. We welcome new bloggers -- contact us for details.

Why can't we have a real, open debate on Israel and Palestine?

Please chip in to support more articles like this. Support rabble.ca for as little as $5 per month!

Image: Flickr/Tijen Erol

Last month, The Vancouver Sun printed a remarkable apology to Independent Jewish Voices (IJV) Canada. The Sun editorial board had published a piece in August claiming that IJV -- a Jewish organization -- had denied the Holocaust and encouraged terrorism against Israelis. The only problem was, they were dead wrong.

The Sun produced the apology after IJV contacted Postmedia through its lawyer. In its retraction and statement of apology, the Sun suggested it had been influenced by certain "advocacy groups," and indeed, their false accusations did resemble allegations made on an undated pro-Israel lobby Website. The Sun's remorse seemed short lived, however, as the apology came off their website after only about a week.

The fact that a Postmedia editorial board could so offensively err -- or smear -- is mind boggling. Worse, it is destructive to Canada's political debate on Israel.

To further the irony, a pro-Israel media organization with the Orwellian name of "Honest Reporting Canada" (HRC) chose not to take action on the Sun's slur against IJV. HRC is relentless in prodding Canadian media to give a flattering view of Israel: one recent campaign attacked a CTV reporter on a turn of phrase about the Netanyahu government's readiness to negotiate; another recent campaign pressured a McGill student newspaper to allocate more space to "Jewish nationalism."

Yet the Sun's disinformation and insult to IJV didn't warrant a mention from "Honest Reporting Canada."

Unfortunately, Canada's public debate around Israel has frequently been dirty. In October, Rebel Media shamefully accused Canadian human rights advocates of, literally, using Nazi techniques -- "Kauft Nicht Bei Juden" or "Don't buy from Jews" -- in their activism. In August, B'nai Brith Canada published a book review asserting that rabble.ca was "racist, white supremacist and antisemitic." B'nai Brith later removed the offending passage and article, but only after a challenge. These are just the recent examples.

Not only does such an attitude sully the exchange of ideas, it gives the impression to outsiders that the whole debate is just a vindictive "he said, she said." For many Canadians, it feels messy, emotional and irrational, and many will simply disengage.

In his book, I'm Right and You're an Idiot, Canadian public affairs consultant James Hoggan decries the frequent inability of opposing advocates to find common ground for discussion. Hoggan attributes this sorry state of political debate to the excessive righteous indignation of some actors. Ultimately, Hoggan explains, a self-righteousness develops to the point where such people cannot imagine that their opponents are motivated by anything other than evil.

Hence, with such a mindset, some find it legitimate to label critics of Israel -- even Jewish celebrities like Bernie Sanders and Jon Stewart -- as "pro-Hamas," "self-hating Jews," anti-Semites, or worse.

To be sure, there may be isolated oddballs within the Palestinian solidarity movement, but the mainstream movement is laser-focused on human rights issues. Arguing otherwise is like assuming that because a few Trump supporters are white supremacists, then all Trump supporters must be white supremacists.

While the "evil incarnate" line of attack gets a lot of traction with like-minded partisans, it does little to enable broader discussion or understanding.

Unfortunately, even Canadian politicians fall victim to the extreme rhetoric, and when they do, they too sound parochial and vicious. A failed Ontario bill which sought to outlaw the boycotting of Israel attributed all sorts of mayhem to this nascent movement. The sponsors of the bill argued that a boycott of Israel endangers "academic freedom," creates a "climate of anti-Jewish speech" and leads to "violence on campuses." Really?

A more restrained debate is not only about "being civil," or even about intellectual integrity. It's also about the quality of Canada's democracy. In his definition of democracy, Stanford professor Larry Diamond citesthe need to have the active participation of all citizens in civic life. Yet this common sense conclusion is undermined when the public discussion is invaded with rancorous and offensive language -- language which inevitably paralyzes the debate. It is made even worse when such language is then aped by the media and politicians.

Like any good policy debate, the discussion around Israel and Palestine needs to be supported by a strong historical understanding, comparative analysis and current facts. Politicians should arm themselves with the knowledge that they need to form a humane and balanced policy -- consulting with reasoned voices from all sides of the debate. When they travel to the region, Canadian politicians should spend comparable time with all parties to the conflict, and seek to understand the legitimate grievances of all sides.

But given the venomous tone taken by some partisans on Israel-Palestine, one can easily come to the conclusion that the goal is not to further the debate or even win the debate, but to prevent the debate.

Perhaps the best way to determine if this is true is to accept the challenge launched by IJV itself. In its interest to stimulate the discussion in Canada, this proud Jewish organization has a longstanding offer to publicly debate any pro-Israel organization willing to step up. None have come forward thus far. Any takers now?

Thomas Woodley is the president of Canadians for Justice and Peace in the Middle East.

Like this article? Please chip in to keep stories like these coming.

Image: Flickr/Tijen Erol


Thank you for reading this story…

More people are reading rabble.ca than ever and unlike many news organizations, we have never put up a paywall – at rabble we’ve always believed in making our reporting and analysis free to all, while striving to make it sustainable as well. Media isn’t free to produce. rabble’s total budget is likely less than what big corporate media spend on photocopying (we kid you not!) and we do not have any major foundation, sponsor or angel investor. Our main supporters are people and organizations -- like you. This is why we need your help. You are what keep us sustainable.

rabble.ca has staked its existence on you. We live or die on community support -- your support! We get hundreds of thousands of visitors and we believe in them. We believe in you. We believe people will put in what they can for the greater good. We call that sustainable.

So what is the easy answer for us? Depend on a community of visitors who care passionately about media that amplifies the voices of people struggling for change and justice. It really is that simple. When the people who visit rabble care enough to contribute a bit then it works for everyone.

And so we’re asking you if you could make a donation, right now, to help us carry forward on our mission. Make a donation today.


We welcome your comments! rabble.ca embraces a pro-human rights, pro-feminist, anti-racist, queer-positive, anti-imperialist and pro-labour stance, and encourages discussions which develop progressive thought. Our full comment policy can be found here. Learn more about Disqus on rabble.ca and your privacy here. Please keep in mind:


  • Tell the truth and avoid rumours.
  • Add context and background.
  • Report typos and logical fallacies.
  • Be respectful.
  • Respect copyright - link to articles.
  • Stay focused. Bring in-depth commentary to our discussion forum, babble.


  • Use oppressive/offensive language.
  • Libel or defame.
  • Bully or troll.
  • Post spam.
  • Engage trolls. Flag suspect activity instead.