A response to Michael Ignatieff on his statement about Israeli Apartheid Week

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Dear Mr. Ignatieff,

Your statement of March 7, 2011 re: Israeli Apartheid Week is deeply unethical. I say this not simply because of your unethical support for Israel, but because the statements you make in condemnation of Israeli Apartheid Week betray a deep lack of intellectual integrity.

The first paragraph of your statement states, "Israeli apartheid week... is a dangerous cocktail of ignorance and intolerance." However, the critique of Israeli apartheid is informed by data, observation, scholarship, and UN resolutions and reports. Scholars, activists, international advocates, civil society leaders and UN officials have observed that the occupation, checkpoints, walls, relocations, and home demolitions committed by Israel in Palestine have created a system of racial separateness and dominance. Thus, they have applied the term "apartheid" because of its obvious and internationally recognized applicability. Therefore, it does not reflect ignorance. If you were ignorant of these facts, I understand why you made the mistake you did in your statement. Now that you know, please rescind your statement and issue an apology or retraction.

Why does your party believe that Israeli Apartheid Week reflects intolerance? Israeli Apartheid Week seeks to raise awareness about a system of separateness and dominance as well as its policies and violence. It is a critique of the policies and practices of a state, it is not a critique of Jewish people. When you equate it with "intolerance" you reflect the ignorant and anti-Semitic view that the State of Israel is the same entity as "Jewish people" or the global Jewish Diaspora. Of course, it is not. Israel is a state, Zionism is a political ideology/movement, and many Jewish people worldwide staunchly oppose the policies and practices of Israel. There is a movement of called "not in my name," founded in South Africa by former Anti-Apartheid activist of Jewish origin Ronnie Krasils, that is critical of Israeli occupation. The existence of this movement proves that Zionism does not automatically speak for Jewish people, and that to criticize Israel does not automatically implicate one in anti-Semitism. Please explain to me, then, the basis of your claim that criticism of Israeli apartheid is a cocktail including intolerance against Jewish people.

On the Liberal Party website you are quoted as having said, "By portraying the Jewish state as criminal, by demonizing Israel and its supporters, and by targeting Jewish and Israeli students for abuse on our university campuses, the organizers and supports of Israeli Apartheid Week tarnish our freedom of speech."

Israel is committing criminal acts, according to the International Court of Justice, the General Assembly of the United nations, and most recently 14 out of 15 security council members who voted that the settlements in the Occupied Territories are illegal. Israel targets civilians in military engagements, imposes collective punishments on the entire Palestinian population, builds civilian settlements on occupied land, operates a discriminatory judicial system in Palestine, and has constructed a "separation barrier" establishing a structured apartheid in the West Bank. How does it "tarnish freedom of speech" to foster open dialogue on these criminal acts, bringing these violations of human rights and international law into the realm of public debate?

In your view, drawing attention to the criminal acts of Israel is intolerant and tarnishes freedom of speech. But please tell me -- what if the State of Israel does commit these crimes? How can we fight to stop injustices if it is automatically anti-Semitic to talk about them? Do you actually mean to say that it is OK for a state and government to side-step criticism by writing off its detractors as racists? Do you actually mean to say that it is ok for a government to ignore the real content of a critique, using morally-charged rhetorical grandstanding to distract from the real substance -- in this case, the charge that criminal things are happening in the occupied territories? Do you actually oppose the right of Canadians to talk openly? If Israel is, as you claim, innocent of the charges, then why must the accusations be silenced? can't they be engaged with? If you are against "portraying the Jewish state as criminal", what is your response to the internationally condemned crimes of the State of Israel?

I have attended several Israeli Apartheid Week events and I have never heard an anti-Semitic word, a single act or speech of hatred, nor anything even approximating an incitement to "target Jewish and Israeli students for abuse on our campuses." What I have heard are systematic, rational, and well-researched analyses of what is going on in the Occupied Territories and Israel. Therefore, when I read your sweeping claims about the safety of students on campuses, I cannot help but feel that you are being deliberately hyperbolic for political purposes. For that reason, and for all the other cheap tricks of poor logic and manipulative rhetoric employed in your official statement, I accuse you of deploying simplistic truisms and rhetoric to mobilize frenzy, stifle debate and insulate Israel, an internationally recognized violator of human rights, from criticism. I cannot speculate as to why you would do this, but the implications of your actions are serious.

If you continue to condemning critique of the genocide happening in Palestine, you and the party you lead are complicit in that genocide. This makes you an active and powerful accomplice in a human rights tragedy, perhaps the biggest human rights tragedy of my generation. Many have brought this to your attention, including leading Canadian scholars and activists who will be speaking publicly this week at Israeli Apartheid Week in Toronto. You have every opportunity to educate yourself. Therefore, history will not permit you the defence of ignorance or innocence.

I was elected to represent the approximately 20,000 students of Queen's University. If I ever used the influence of my office and the power of my public voice, as you have, to insulate from criticism the perpetrator of a mass-slaughter, I would have a very difficult time sleeping at night. Please reconsider your position and come down on the right side of history. Use your voice to support the brave scholars and activists, Jewish and non-Jewish alike, who are using their voices and bodies to speak out against genocide and injustice in Palestine. Attend Israeli Apartheid Week in Toronto and listen with an open mind. You may suffer politically; however you will finally have a reason to be proud of yourself.

Thank you in advance for reading carefully and responding thoughtfully to my questions and concerns.


Nick Day


Queen's University at Kingston

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