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Where Does Olivia Chow Stand on Israel?

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How does the state of Israel have anything to do with Toronto city politics?

Since 2010 Toronto City Council has been divided over whether to permit an organization known as Queers Against Israeli Apartheid ("QuAIA") to participate in the annual Gay Pride Parade.

A group of conservative and moderate councillors led by Mayor Rob Ford and Karen Stintz, both declared mayoral candidates, have come out very strongly against the participation of this organization because this group of councillors believes that designating Israel as an apartheid state and promoting the Ban, Divest, Sanction (BDS) movement are attempts to delegitimize the state of Israel and are thus anti-Semitic.

Accordingly, Ford/Stintz et al have tried to push City Council to withhold City funds from the Gay Pride Parade unless its organizers prevent QuAIA's participation.

Conversely a group of leftist city councillors has supported QuAIA on the basis that this is a freedom of speech issue. And QuAIA should have the right to protest Israeli policies in the Gay Pride Parade.

As will be discussed in this article, this issue is very relevant to Olivia Chow's candidacy because some of the major proponents of the "Israel as apartheid state" and the BDS movement are key supporters of Olivia Chow and with whom she is identified.

This will become an election issue, because in a recent speech in Israel, Harper labeled supporters and advocates of the anti-Israel BDS movement and the pernicious concept of "Israel as apartheid state" as anti-Semites.

As Harper so eloquently stated in his "Fire and Water" Israeli speech:

"But, in much of the western world, the old hatred has been translated into more sophisticated language for use in polite society.

People who would never say they hate and blame the Jews for their own failings or the problems of the world, instead declare their hatred of Israel and blame the only Jewish state for the problems of the Middle East.

As once Jewish businesses were boycotted, some civil-society leaders today call for a boycott of Israel. On some campuses, intellectualized arguments against Israeli policies thinly mask the underlying realities, such as the shunning of Israeli academics and the harassment of Jewish students.

Most disgracefully of all, some openly call Israel an apartheid state.....
It is nothing short of sickening."

Harper was not breaking new ground in his denunciation of the new anti-semitism.

Harper was publicly espousing the European Union's working definition of anti-Semitism, specifically, the EU's Monitoring Centre on Racism and Xenophobia (EUMC) (superseded in 2007 by the Fundamental Rights Agency).

In 2005, the EUMC definition of anti-Semitism included the following examples:

Denying the Jewish people the right to self-determination, e.g. by claiming that the existence of a state of Israel is a racist endeavor; Applying double standards by requiring of Israel a behavior not expected or demanded of any other democratic nation.

In addition, Liberal MP and former Justice Minister Irwin Cotler, on behalf of the Federal Liberal party, has further expanded on the new anti-Semitism which includes:

Political antisemitism: that is, denial of the Jewish people's right to self-determination; de-legitimization of Israel as a state (flowing from Israel apartheid rationale); attributions to Israel of all the world's evils; and economic antisemitism, that is BDS movements and the extraterritorial application of restrictive covenants against countries trading with Israel.

Similarly, on March 1, 2010, in an open letter, Michael Ignatieff, the then leader of the Federal Liberal Party, also echoed the above sentiments that describing Israel as an "apartheid state" and supporting the BDS movement against it, amount to anti-semitism.

Ignatieff persuasively argued:

"On university campuses across the country this week, Israeli Apartheid Week will once again attempt to demonize and undermine the legitimacy of the Jewish state. It is part of a global campaign of calls for divestment, boycotts and proclamations, and it should be condemned unequivocally and absolutely.
Apartheid is defined, in international law, as a crime against humanity. Israeli Apartheid Week is a deliberate attempt to portray the Jewish state as criminal......
Let us be clear: criticism of Israeli government policy is legitimate. Wholesale condemnation of the State of Israel and the Jewish people is not legitimate. Not now, not ever."

In addition, in 2010 the Ontario legislature with the support of all three parties unanimously condemned "Israel Apartheid Week" in Ontario as "odious, hateful and inappropriate," in the case of Israel.

In sum, we have at least two major federal parties in Ottawa and three Ontario provincial parties which consider support for "Israel apartheid and the BDS movement" at least odious and hateful and in some cases, anti-semitic.

This relates to Ms. Chow's candidacy for mayor because some of Ms. Chow's most ardent supporters, for example, the Canadian Union of Postal Workers (CUPW), whom Ms. Chow has publicly supported, are front and centre in the Canadian anti-Israeli "Israel Apartheid" organization and the infamous Canadian anti-Israeli BDS movement.

In 2008 CUPW passed a resolution that the union will work "with Palestinian solidarity and human rights organizations to develop an educational campaign about the apartheid nature of the Israeli state and the political and economic support of Canada for these practices."

The CUPW resolution also called on Israel to recognize the Palestinian people's "right to return to their homes as stipulated in UN Resolution 194" -- a demand by Palestinian negotiators that would virtually erase the Jewish state."

Other groups that support "Israel as apartheid state'" and the anti-Israeli BDS movement, and are supporters of Olivia Chow, include the Canadian Union of Public Employees and rabble.ca, an influential Canadian left-wing online journal.

Rabble.ca is published by Kim Elliott, the spouse of former NDP Deputy Leader Libby Davies who in June 2010 expressed support for the boycott, sanctions and divestment campaign against Israel. Ms. Davies is a NDP colleague of Ms. Chow.

It is noteworthy that in his 2009 autobiography, former Canadian Auto Workers president Buzz Hargrove wrote that he was "all for" union leaders taking up activist causes, but criticized union leaders who had taken the Israel file too far.

"Now and then, someone in the labour movement makes a wrong turn or fires a salvo at the wrong target, which casts a pall over the entire movement," he wrote. "One thing you can't do as head of a union is to allow the most vocal, and usually most radical, minority to dominate your thinking on issues or the decision-making process."

To date, Olivia Chow, in whose riding the University of Toronto has celebrated Israel Apartheid Week, has yet to publicly denounce either "Israel Apartheid" or the "BDS" movement.

I am not suggesting that Ms. Chow is anti-Semitic or that she espouses anti-Semitic views or that she even agrees with the anti-Semitic views of the groups which support her and whom she supports.

But Ms. Chow has publicly lectured Mayor Ford to face up to the truth and take responsibility for his actions. Ms. Chow should practice what she preaches.

It is now time for Ms. Chow to take responsibility for her silence and to publicly denounce unequivocally the anti-Semitic positions of some of her supporters, as former CAW president Hargrove has done.

Or Ms. Chow runs the risk of being tarred with the same odious brush.