This year marks the sixth anniversary of Israeli Apartheid Week. Started as a small event at the University of Toronto, the annual week of educational events has grown to include over 40 cities around the world, and has played a major role in building a global anti-apartheid movement. As a result of its success, some university administrations in Ontario have stepped up repression of student activists who organize IAW. They have attempted to deny room bookings for the event and ban student activists from displaying posters, or even from using the words “Israel” and “apartheid” together.

In political and media spheres, a coordinated strategy of McCarthyism now attempts to shut down all criticism of Israel’s violent, racist regime by branding such criticism as anti-semitic. At the federal level, a self-appointed pseudo-parliamentary inquisition composed of pro-Israel MPs, called the “Canadian Parliamentary Coalition to Combat Anti-Semitism”, has been staging a charade of public hearings as a prelude to the issuance of its foredrawn conclusion: namely that factual criticism of Israel’s human rights record and violations of international law – including many UN resolutions; the International Convention on the Suppression and Punishment of the Crime of Apartheid; and the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court, which makes apartheid a crime under international law – is a form of anti-semitism. 

This past week in the Ontario Legislature, Conservative MPP Peter Shurman tabled a motion to condemn Israeli Apartheid Week, arguing that it constitutes something “close to hate speech”:

[quote]In a rare show of unanimity, Ontario MPPs of all political stripes have banded together to condemn “Israeli Apartheid Week.”

Progressive Conservative MPP Peter Shurman (Thornhill) tabled the motion Thursday to denounce the sixth annual provocative campus event that kicks off next week at universities and colleges in 35 cities around the world.[/quote]

While Shurman’s motion is not a surprise to anyone familiar with his longstanding opposition to Palestine solidarity activism, he gained support from an unlikely source: the NDP’s Cheri DiNovo, MPP for Parkdale-High Park, who was among the 30 MPPs (out of a total of 107) present for the voice vote.

This week, federal Conservative Tim Uppal, MP for Edmonton-Strathcona Park, will seek unanimous support from federal MPs for a similar attack on free speech rights. Uppal will be proposing the following motion:

[quote]That this House considers itself to be a friend of the State of Israel; that this House is concerned about expressions of anti-Semitism under the guise of “Israeli Apartheid Week”; and that this House explicitly condemns any action in Canada as well as internationally that would equate the State of Israel with the rejected and racist policy of apartheid.[/quote]

While this motion would have no legal effect, it will lend power to the campaign of McCarthyism on the issue. Whether or not you agree with the appropriateness of the term apartheid in describing Israel, it is hard to disagree that a reasonable debate can be had about it. After all, South Africans must know a thing or two about apartheid, and South Africa’s Congress of Trades Unions; the South African Human Sciences Resaarch Council; leaders of the anti-apartheid struggle like Desmond Tutu and Ronnie Kasrils; and the racist architect of South African apartheid, prime minster Hendrik Verwoerd, all agree: Israel is an apartheid state.  A former Israeli Education Minister and former Prime Minister Ehud Barak also agree. It is, at the very least, a reasonable subject of debate. And only in Canada is our right to freely debate it called into question at the highest levels of political power. Nowhere else in the world. Not in the United States, not in Israel, not in Europe. Only in Canada.  

It’s time to name this growing threat to democracy for what it is. 

Photo of Corvin Russell

Corvin Russell

Corvin Russell is an activist, writer and translator living in Toronto.