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Let's Hope The Liberals Overcome Lobbying Pressures To Silence Free Speech

10/29/2015 04:38 EDT | Updated 10/29/2016 05:12 EDT
Anthony Bradshaw via Getty Images

On most issues, the Liberals under Justin Trudeau are light years ahead of the Conservatives, but on a select few, like allowing criticism of Israeli state practices, they appear to be just as regressive as the Tories.

Like Stephen Harper, Trudeau referred to the non-violent grassroots movement to boycott Israel until it respects Palestinian human rights as "the new form of anti-Semitism in the world." He even went so far as to condemn the boycott movement in a tweet, stating, "The BDS [Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions] movement, like Israeli Apartheid Week, has no place on Canadian campuses...."

In a Power and Politics discussion entitled "Canada's Role in the Mideast," Marc Garneau, the Liberals' foreign affairs critic under the previous government, claimed that using the word apartheid in reference to Israel's policies is "anti-Semitic." That's not surprising, since the Liberals under Michael Ignatieff took the same position.

If the Liberals wish to maintain the stance that using the term apartheid to describe Israeli state practices amounts to a form of Jew-hatred, then they should be aware that under that logic, they are labeling a lot of unlikely people as anti-Semites.

Most Israelis, for example, would fall under the category of Jew-haters. According to a 2012 poll conducted by a well-respected Israeli pollster, 58% of Israelis supported the use of the term apartheid in reference to Israel. To give just a couple of examples of prominent Israelis using the term, former Israeli cabinet ministers Yosef Paritzky and Yossi Sarid wrote articles in Israeli mainstream media referring to Israeli state practices as constituting apartheid.

Then of course there's the former Israeli Prime Ministers Ehud Barak and Ehud Olmert, who both claimed that if Israel does not reach a two-state solution with the Palestinians, it will rightfully inherit the label of apartheid. U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry even said as much, suggesting that Israel is at risk of becoming an "apartheid state" if U.S.-brokered peace talks fail, which they did. Kerry placed the bulk of the blame on Israel for the talks' widely expected failure.

Perhaps most notable of the many examples out there is former Liberal leader Michael Ignatieff. In a 2002 article in the Guardian, Ignatieff wrote that when observing the settler-colonial domination of the West Bank by illegal Israeli settlements, he understood that he was "...not looking down at a state or the beginnings of one, but at a Bantustan, one of those pseudo-states created in the dying years of apartheid to keep the African population under control."

Calling the movement to boycott Israel "anti-Semitism" is equally preposterous, requiring the Liberals to accept that Jewish organizations around the world that support BDS are in fact motivated by Jew-hatred; as well as the African National Congress, which successfully overcame apartheid in part due to a non-violent global boycott. Heck, even self-proclaimed Zionist professors from Harvard and the University of Chicago are calling for boycotts, divestment and sanctions as a tactic of last resort to pressure Israel into ending its oppressive regime over the Palestinians.

The predominant Israel lobby organization in Canada, the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs (CIJA) -- which masquerades as a representative voice of Canadian Jews despite its completely undemocratic structure -- believes that support for BDS and apartheid are forms of anti-Semitic hate speech.

According to a commentary recently published by an Israeli news site, CIJA's CEO, Shimon Koffler Fogel, seems to think that the Liberals will continue down the Conservatives' path of uncritical support for Israel, and attempts to silence Israel's critics with the label "anti-Semite." But will the lobby's close alignment with the Conservatives and with a deeply unpopular Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu hinder Mr. Fogel's aspirations?

While CIJA describes itself as a non-partisan organization, its behaviour over the course of Harper's tenure indicates otherwise. As Andrew Cohen illustrates, CIJA "... seems congenitally unable to utter a discouraging word about Stephen Harper, Benjamin Netanyahu or the State of Israel -- while allowing Canadians to think its view reflects a consensus among Canadian Jews. It does not."

Let's examine this further. CIJA scorned Trudeau for stating that Harper's fear-mongering of Muslim Canadians is in the spirit of "none is too many," the anti-Semitic statement by a Canadian government official in 1945 referencing Jewish immigration. Meanwhile, CIJA was fine with former Public Safety Minister Stephen Blaney invoking the Holocaust to justify Bill C-51. It also appeared fine with the Israel lobby when Jason Kenney stated, "Israel Apartheid Days on university campuses like York sometimes begin to resemble pogroms."

The same can be said for Netanyahu and Israel in the eyes of CIJA. Like Harper, CIJA refused to criticize Israeli government policies -- even after Netanyahu's recent spouting of Holocaust-revisionist incitement to violence against Palestinians, CIJA was disturbingly silent beyond a single tweet.

Is this the company the Liberals wish to share -- an organization that remains silent when several Israeli officials have incited genocide against the Palestinians? An organization that refuses to acknowledge Israel's nearly fifty-year brutal military occupation over four million Palestinian civilians, and which is content with a permanent situation of Jewish-only rights and privileges in Israel-Palestine?

Will the Liberals keep in place the CIJA-promoted Memorandum of Understanding between the Israeli and Canadian governments, which promised to curtail non-violent pressure on Israel by Canadian citizens through boycott and divestment initiatives? Will Trudeau also declare a "zero tolerance" approach to such criticisms as the Conservatives did? They cited hate crime laws when asked for clarification.

Considering CIJA's pro-Harper and pro-Netanyahu record, can Trudeau justify stemming freedom of speech for Palestinian human rights advocates in Canada in exchange for CIJA's support? For the sake of our most cherished rights, and for a just and lasting peace in Israel-Palestine, let's hope not.

Update: A previous version of this blog stated that CIJA has been lobbying aggressively for Canada to legislate use of the term apartheid and support for BDS as forms of anti-Semitic hate speech, however, this hasn't been proven. The blog has also been revised to include CIJA's tweet on Netanyahu's recent Holocaust statements.

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