May 05, 2010

In Canada On Israel - Defending Oppression - Criminalizing Dissent

May 5, 2010 (revised and updated May 8, 2010)

From:  Diane V. McLoughlin, writer, peace activist
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The Canadian Parliamentary Coalition Combating Antisemitism (CPCCA) has taken it upon itself to study and make recommendations to Parliament on ways to combat antisemitism; they have included in their mandate something referred to as 'the new antisemitism'.

According to the CPCCA website, 'Nazi' and 'apartheid' are offensive words used to describe Israel's supporters and the State of Israel, respectfully.  The site alludes that individuals and certain states call for the destruction of the State of Israel, 'which is claimed to have no right to exist', and that individuals and states also call for the destruction of 'its inhabitants'. Altogether, the above is antisemitic. [1 a]

This is a lot to digest. Calling for the destruction of anyone is bad.  But the CPCCA is making sweeping generalized claims without naming names, citing sources or with proof backed by facts. 

To some it is antisemitic, as well as 'an existential threat' to the State of Israel to suggest that Israel should be one bi-national state with equal rights for all its citizens.

To some it is antisemitic to suggest that Jews and Palestinians, in both Israel proper and within the occupied territories, should have the right to citizenship, political representation, equal rights and the vote.

I believe that it is crucial to understand and note this facet of the discussion.  Because to some, to call for democratic reform is actually viewed as a call for Israel's 'destruction'.

Others might be tempted to call tis a new form of fascism - but- they would probably be denounced as antisemites, which is an effective weapon used to shut critics up.

Twenty percent of Israel's population within Israel proper are not Jewish - they are Palestinian-Israelis. Many to the right on Israel's political spectrum want minorities to swear a loyalty oath to Israel as a Jewish state - not as a state for all its citizens. In the original wording of the Knesset-proposed bill, any Arab-Israeli who refused to uphold the exclusively Jewish character of Israel would be subject to imprisonment. [1 b]

On the demographics, if we count in occupied Gaza, East Jerusalem and the Occupied Palestinian Territories, otherwise known as the West Bank, Jews comprise around six million and Palestinians four million. A little further out again, there are the hundreds of thousands of Palestinian refugees in Jordan and Lebanon who want to go home. Under international law they continue to have every right to do so.  In real terms, the guns of the Israeli Offense Forces keep them out, penned in deplorable conditions in displacement camps - for decades.

Outlawing criticism of the State of Israel closes one door and opens another.  It will become legal to harass intellectuals, academics, civic and religious leaders as well as peace activists - to silence them.

State-sanctioned legal chill backed by the raw power of the state is a form of violence.

The Canadian Civil Liberties Association maintains that we must respect freedom of expression.  Censorship is not the solution to sensitivities around criticism of Israel. [1 c]

The feelings of Jewish students on campus is a prime motivator of the workings of the CPCCA; their site explains that the 'problem is especially prevalent on campuses where Jewish students are ridiculed and intimidated for any deemed support for the 'Nazi'; and 'apartheid'; State of Israel, which is claimed to have no right to exist.' [1 c i]

But as Archbishop Desmond Tutu points out, their discomfort in exposure to ideas counter to their own surely pales in comparison to how the beaten, occupied and oppressed Palestinians feel. (More on the Archbishops' thoughts further in the discussion, below.)

Those who argue that Israel is an apartheid state, or that Israel should be one bi-national state with equal rights for all its citizens, seem to be a target of the CPCCA agenda. That would include me.  But if it becomes illegal hate speech to propose what may be the best hope for peace then the liklihood of peace is diminished.  And it must be said that some people do not want peace - they want what Palestinians have - Palestinian land.

The word 'apartheid' comes in for special attention with the CPCCA.  The suggestion is that its use in and of itself to describe the State of Israel is antisemitic. 

But as Palestinian civic leader, nonviolent peace activist and 2010 Nobel Peace Prize nominee Dr. Mustafa Barghouti proffers, you see the separation wall, far longer than the Berlin Wall; the roads reserved for illegal Jewish squatters (referred to euphemistically as 'settlers') cutting through Palestinian land, and the severe punishment for any Palestinian caught walking or driving on them; the hundreds of armed checkpoints controlling every aspect of daily Palestinian life; the military harassment; the home demolitions; the expulsions; the political prisoners; the barbed wire; the beatings; the kidnapping and terrorizing of Palestinian children; deliberate destruction of Palestinian farms and orchards; attacks on mosques and schools; the arbitrary requirement for the carrying of unattainable military-issued identification papers; the political assassinations - you don't like the word apartheid?  Fine. No problem.  Give me another word to describe it.  (From notes taken attending Dr. Barghouti's speech given at University of Ottawa, Marion Hall, May 7, 2010.) 

Making the expression of the above illegal is a threat to civil liberties. It is a threat to the promotion of conditions necessary for peace. I believe that these truths are self-evident - that all men and women are created equal. It is impossible to square the circle of maintaining the purity of the racial makeup of a country while maintaining the fiction that any country that attempts to do so will protect its minorities' rights.  The far-right in Israel view it as normal to assume a 'population transfer' of Palestinian Israelis out of Israel, if a two-state solution should ever come about.

So getting back to the business of the CPCCA, the repercussions of outlawing criticism of Israel's racist behavior could have untold and far-reaching negative consequences for promoting peace, anywhere, because
the shield we erect to prevent criticism of one state will be shields other states will clamor for, as well.

Ironically, political leaders in Israel have been speaking far more openly about the one-state two-state debate, than here in Canada.  The topic of apartheid itself is broached.

Knesset speaker Reuven Rivlin (Likud):

"I would rather [have] Palestinians as citizens of this country over dividing the land up"; [1 d] 

Next - racist, but to the point:

"If the day comes when the two-state solution collapses, and we face a South African-style struggle for equal voting rights (also for the Palestinians in the territories), then, as soon as that happens, the State of Israel is finished" - Prime Minister Ehud Olmert [2]

Another prime minister, now currently Israel's defense minister, Ehud Barak:

"If, and as long as between the Jordan and the sea, there is only one political entity, named Israel, it will end up being either non-Jewish or non-democratic... If the Palestinians vote in elections, it is a binational state, and if they don't, it is an apartheid state." [3]

Members invited to sit on the CPCCA committee to deliberate on these matters are now no doubt fully aware that the CPCCA meets against a global backdrop wherein the world is beginning to turn its full attention to the reality that Palestinians are oppressed under an odious, cruel and racist apartheid regime.  There is little if any difference to this awakening of civil society with regard to Israel today and Apartheid South Africa of before. 

For an account of the current state of affairs for Palestinians I recommend the Settler Violence Report from the Alternative Information Center - to wit, settlers are armed and backed by the full force of the fourth largest army in the world.  Palestinians on the other hand, are denied the basic human right to self-defense.  In sum no Palestinian, no place, anywhere is safe from harm free to live in security and peace. [4]

In recent days, compounding by orders of magnitude Palestinian insecurity, is the upgrade to Israel's law governing the military occupation of the West Bank and East Jerusalem. In essence, if you don't have the proper military-issued documents, the IDF is empowered to deport you within 72 hours - making you pay the equivalent of $2,000 in cash for your own expulsion - or alternatively throw you in jail for seven years. [5]

Problem:  The military has, in reality, issued almost no papers.  The combined Palestinian population for the occupied West Bank and occupied East Jerusalem (but excluding Gaza and also Israel proper) is 1.73 million. Alarmed human rights groups assert that tens of thousands of Palestinians are at risk of forced expulsion. [5 a]

The military rules regarding military-issued papers are pure bureaucratic evil; rules made up as the occupation chooses, when it chooses, and for whom it chooses. [6]

I invite CPCCA members to consider that if criticism of a state is criminalized, Canada risks pariah status having positioned itself on the side of oppression. Canada, in my view, will be at very real risk of being seen as a hollow shell of a former democratic state.

Just as in the United States, one could argue that Canada's military is at increased risk overseas (although for me the best way to eliminate that risk entirely is to bring our troops home) - as long as the Israel-Palestine problem grinds on.

In written testimony to the U.S. Senate Armed Services Committee, Tuesday, March 16, 2010, General David Petraeus, commander of the U.S. military's Central Command, shared this view:

“The enduring hostilities between Israel and some of its neighbors present distinct challenges to our ability to advance our interests,” he said in the written testimony. “Arab anger over the Palestinian question limits the strength and depth of US partnerships with governments and peoples in the [Middle East] and weakens the legitimacy of moderate regimes in the Arab world.” [7]

A tectonic shift in awareness is happening. Across the U.S. and Canada, student associations on campuses from coast to coast are finding ways to support the cause of freedom for the Palestinians.  The method of choice is to join the BDS movement:  boycott, divest and sanctions.  (This dovetails with the Palestinian embrace of nonviolent resistance.  Paradoxically, as the power of nonviolent resistance is realized and takes hold, violence against Palestinians appears to be increasing.) 

A few weeks ago, the University of California Berkeley Students Association, after months of painstaking research into the university's investment portfolio, crafted a motion to recommend that the university divest from two American companies - General Electric, and United Technologies.

From the motion:
  1. WHEREAS, General Electric holds engineering support and testing service contracts with the Israeli military and supplies the Israeli government with the propulsion system for its Apache Assault Helicopter fleet, which, as documented by Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch, has been used in attacks on Palestinian and Lebanese civilians, including the January 4, 2009 killings of Palestinian medical aide workers11; and
1.     WHEREAS, United Technologies supplies the Israeli government with Blackhawk      helicopters and with F-15 and F-16 aircraft engines and holds an ongoing fleet management contract for these engines, and, Amnesty International has documented the Israeli government’s use of these aircraft in the bombing of the American School in Gaza, the killing of Palestinians civilians, and the destruction of hundreds of Palestinian homes; therefore, be it resolved...';  [7a]

When the evening arrived when the motion was to be put to the floor the venue had to be changed several times to hold the growing crowd.  Hundreds showed.  Nobel peace prize winners wrote their support, including Archbishop Desmond Tutu. The Archbishop's letter concludes:

'To those who wrongly accuse you of unfairness or harm done to them by this call for divestment, I suggest, with humility, that the harm suffered from being confronted with opinions that challenge one’s own pales in comparison to the harm done by living a life under occupation and daily denial of basic rights and dignity. It is not with rancor that we criticize the Israeli government, but with hope, a hope that a better future can be made for both Israelis and Palestinians, a future in which both the violence of the occupier and the resulting violent resistance of the occupied come to an end, and where one people need not rule over another, engendering suffering, humiliation, and retaliation. True peace must be anchored in justice and an unwavering commitment to universal rights for all humans, regardless of ethnicity, religion, gender, national origin or any other identity attribute. You, students, are helping to pave that path to a just peace. I  heartily endorse your divestment vote and encourage you to stand firm on the side of what is right.' [8 a]

The debate raged into morning: students, rabbis, politicians, civic leaders [8 b] and people of all faiths and backgrounds.  The vote passed 16 - 4.  It was subsequently vetoed by one vote - by the student's association president, Will Smelko, who wasn't even there that night.

A few weeks later, again, the vote was brought around to overturn the veto and permit the original results of the first vote to hold.  Again, overflow crowd of hundreds; room changed; hours of debate into morning. 

I followed inspiring tweets on Twitter from students such as isaacnoah.

This year, the Berkeley initiative inexplicably failed. You could have heard a pin drop when it did. Somehow, an overwhelming vote in favor by 13 - 5 was not enough - again, failing by one vote. 

But the future is clear.  Tonight: University of California San Diego (follow on Twitter at #ucsddivest .) 

Here is a glimpse of the humanity shining through:

'Many will say this resolution is biased — and we could not agree more. This resolution is biased for human rights, justice and equality. It is biased against bombs and military occupation. Many will also try to argue that this resolution is singling Israel out, and is therefore anti-Israel. However, this bill does not condemn one oppressive apartheid regime more than any other. If Spain were occupying Palestine, then this resolution would note that Spanish occupation and seek to divest from not fall victim to the fiction that the current military policies of the state of Israel represent the Jewish identity. There are an increasing number of Jewish and Israeli voices calling for an end to the occupation, including organizations such as B’Tselem, Jewish Voice for Peace, Meretz-Yachad, Gush Shalom and many others. These organizations see the occupation as both morally wrong and harmful to Israeli society. These broad coalitions include Holocaust survivors, rabbis and many other people of conscience who object to the terrible indignity that is forced upon the Palestinian people by right-wing extremists in their name.

'In fact, occupation is a right-wing political platform in Israel. Many Jewish citizens oppose it. So, if someone tells you that he is “for Israel” but only represents this side of the controversy, he’s not telling you the full story.

'Let this resolution become the piece of legislation that defines our generation...'. [9]

- Update:  The divestment from General Electric and United Technologies motion by The Association of Students University of California San Diego was shelved.

For an idea of the polarity of views involved, a pro-Israel campus group, Tritons for Israel (TFI), does not even have agreement on whether or not, ' “occupancy” is an accurate word to describe Israel’s actions in the Palestinian territories.' [10]

So to the Canadian Parliamentary Coalition Combating Antisemitism, please do not turn Canada into a McCarthyite regime. This is what you are being asked to do.  Voting to criminalize criticism of the Apartheid regime of Israel is something straight out of Orwell's '1984': War is peace; occupation is freedom; discrimination is equality; oppression is democracy, and the notion that all men are created equal is antisemitic.

It is impossible to become any more Alice Through the Looking Glass than this.  The highest democratic ideals will be rendered thought crimes. Web sites and independent publications such as mine will be forcefully shut down without notice. Ideas will be examined and cross-examined probing for these peaceful and just beliefs.  People will be fired and blackballed and financially ruined.  In the ensuing witch hunt, suspected antisemites, under this new draconian definition, will be forced to account for themselves in kangaroo courts where they will be guilty until proven innocent.  Careers, families and lives will be destroyed.

The nightmare described above happened, of all places, in the United States of America. There were two distinct periods in the twentieth century, each known as the Red Scare. In the second case, anyone suspected of having communist sympathies, and, of course, anyone with an enemy holding a personal grudge could find themselves targeted.

If it can happen there, societal insanity can happen anywhere. It is up to each generation to uphold and protect civil liberties from being whittled, weakened or co-opted.

These are the fundamental choices you are being asked to make. Choose wrong and Canada will cease to be the True North, strong and free.

Most sincerely yours,

Diane V. McLoughlin

Respectfully requesting the Office of the Secretariat disseminate copies to the members of the committee, with heart-felt thanks.


[1a] CPCCA Frequently Asked Questions;

[1b] 'Israel debates loyalty law'; Al Jazeera English; June 1, 2009;

[1c]  'CCLA urges effective and democratic measures to combat antisemitism'; September 2nd, 2009;

[1 c i] ibid;

[1d] 'Knesset speaker hints at one-state'; Al Jazeera English; May 2, 2010

[2]  'Olmert to Haaretz: Two-state solution or Israel is done for'; Haaretz; Nov. 29, 2007;

[3]  'Ehud Barak breaks the apartheid barrier'; The Economist; Feb. 15, 2010;

[4]  Alternative Information Center March - April 2010 Report:  )

[5]  Israel Defense Force's Order 1650 (English translation) PDF:

[5a] 'OPT: Week in Review - Israeli Law Threatens Mass Deportation'; Relief Web; Apr. 17, 2010;

[6]  'New law could deport thousands of West Bank Palestinians'; Dan Izenberg; Apr. 12, 2010; Jerusalem Post

[7]  'Arab-Israeli conflict hurts US'; Leila Krieger; Jerusalem Post; March 18, 2010;

[7a]  ASUC Elected Officials Blog; Blog Archive; SB 118: Amended - Passed; Mar. 18, 2010;

[8 a]  'Archbishop Desmond Tutu to UC Berkeley: Divesting is the Right Thing To Do'; Palestine Center; April 11, 2010;

[8 b] Hedy Epstein, Holocaust survivor, speaks at Berkeley students association divestment vote meeting.  YouTube

[9] 'Taskforce Guest commentary in UCSD Guardian - Historic Opportunity at Hand'; Anfal Awwad, Benjamin Balthaser, Oliver Birchill, Amal Dalmar  and Aaron Dimsdale; UCSD Divest For Peace; May 3, 2010;

[10] 'Talks Fail to Bring About Compromise - UCSD Guardian'; by Angela Chen; May 6, 2010;

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