This past weekend, an unusual amount of media coverage surrounded a meeting of the Ontario University Workers’ Coordinating Committee in Windsor.
As a subgroup of the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE), these provincial meetings are usually an opportunity to coordinate the bargaining efforts of CUPE locals in the university sector across Ontario. At this meeting, however, delegates also voted on a resolution in response to the latest Israeli military attack on Gaza.
The motion, calling for research and education into ties between Ontario universities and the Israeli military, passed with a strong majority after a forum and debate were held on the topic.
CUPE Ontario President Sid Ryan explained that the motion was simply an adjunct to Resolution 50, which had already been approved by the union’s membership at a convention in 2006. That resolution called for research and education on a boycott, divestment and sanctions strategy to counter the Israeli government’s apartheid-like policies, similar to the strategy adopted by the Canadian trade union movement that helped bring an end to South African apartheid. University workers at this meeting were implementing that policy by applying it to their own workplaces: universities.
A small but committed group of protesters gathered outside the hotel, bussed in from Toronto by an organization known as the Jewish Defence League. They waved Israeli flags and carried signs ranging from "Defeat Islamo-Fascism" to "Israel belongs to the Jews." One sign depicted the president of CUPE Ontario as a Nazi and placed the union’s logo next to a star and crescent. On Saturday, a member of the group burst into the union meeting holding placard signs, and yelled at stunned delegates.
The Jewish Defence League, or JDL for short, is an extreme right-wing Zionist organisation. The group was founded in 1968 by Rabbi Meir Kahane, a one-time member of the Israeli Knesset whose party was declared racist and banned from the legislature in 1986.
Kahane openly advocated the use of violence and the ethnic cleansing of Palestine by force, and argued against democracy in the Middle East because, in his words, "democracy means equal rights for all, irrespective of racial or religious origins."
His group has since been implicated in numerous bombings and murders over the years, and they are considered "violent" by the FBI. The Southern Poverty Law Centre, a prominent U.S. anti-discrimination group, has placed the JDL on their list of hate groups. Even in Israel, Kahanist political movements are outlawed.
Their ideology is eerily similar to that of white supremacist organizations. On their website, they say that interracial marriage between Jews and non-Jews has "done more to destroy Jewish souls than most every form of persecution and act of genocide we have suffered as a people throughout time immemorial."
Their beliefs and actions are enough to make you wonder why the group is operating freely in Canada, and why the mainstream media are quoting their representatives at all.
In fact, a Toronto Star article from last month described a JDL protest of the CUPE Ontario office, repeating the group’s claims that a resolution in support of Palestine would be "racist." While the statement is ridiculous enough by itself, it’s made even more ridiculous given that the statement is coming from a known hate group. But the Toronto Star printed their quotes without providing any context or information about the group’s racist beliefs or violent history.
Would they have provided the same platform and uncritical exposure for any other hate group? I’d hope not.