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Ideological Institutions and Political Repression: Israel and free speech in Canada

Blog posts reflect the views of their authors, and are not subject to Media Co-op journalistic standards.

Support for Israeli crimes by the Canadian government is reflected in our ideological institutions, universities and the media. In recent years, both have increased considerably.

To draw on personal experience as an undergraduate, organizing events and hosting speakers during the Second Intifada met obstacles from university administration and attacks in the media.

Though there had never been anything resembling an incident, our group was required to have security guards posted outside even the smallest events – at our expense.

When we brought in a major expert on the Israel-Palestine conflict in April 2004, we and our guest were viciously smeared in the media, who lamented that our group might somehow be tax-subsidized.[1]

At the last minute, we were also forced to pay the costs of having a number of city police perform security for our guest speaker’s talk. The bill came to over a $1000 – enough to cripple the average student group, no doubt the objective.

Such tactics have long been familiar but, as Ottawa’s apologetics for Israel have risen to new heights, so has university repression and media demonization of Palestine activism.

A few recent examples illustrate the lengths to which Ottawa is prepared to go for its relationship with Israel:

• Neither the government, nor the media responded when made aware that a Canadian member of the Christian Peacemaker Team was “spat at, kicked and stoned by young Israeli settlers” while Israeli soldiers looked on as he waited to check his documents at an Israeli army checkpoint near the Beit Hadassah settlement in the West Bank city of Hebron in March 2007.[2]

• During Israel’s widespread attacks on Lebanon in 2006, a vacationing Canadian family was killed when the Israeli air force attacked their family’s home in the Lebanese town of Aitaroun.[3] The incident garnered little attention in the Canadian media and no protest from the Canadian government.

• During the same assault on Lebanon, the Canadian government also neglected to complain when a 7-hour Israeli attack on a UN post that involved 14 bombs and 19 artillery shells (amidst constant UN protests to the Israeli military) ultimately killed four UN observers, including a Canadian.[4]

In parallel, Canada’s ideological institutions have sunk to new depths to quell debate on the Israel/Palestine conflict.

Access to Information Act requests have produced a series of internal emails demonstrating “Canada’s top academics, Interim Vice President and Provost, and the Vice Provost of the University of Toronto – people who are expected to be ardent defenders of freedom of expression – conspired, and knowingly used a false excuse, to shut down a simple conference for students about Palestine solidarity organizing” in 2008.

The same internal emails reveal administration collaboration with ‘pro’-Israel groups and make “It is clear that the people in charge of security in various universities are putting together ‘plans and strategies’ for Israeli Apartheid Week” in 2009.[5]

Ottawa’s staunch support for Israel’s recent slaughter in Gaza and apologists’ need to avoid those facts at all cost have resulted in intense media demonization and university administration opposition to protests over Gaza and this year’s Israeli Apartheid Week.

Student groups have been fined and suspended at York University and posters advertising related events were banned by a number of universities and widely (and absurdly) denounced as anti-Semitic.[6]

The hysteria reached comical hyperbole with Liberal appointed Senator Yoine Goldstein: “The frenzy of hate that is going on at Canadian campuses this week is, in fact, a terrible, terrifying and vicious anti-Semitism never before seen in our country.”[7]

The panic extends to the current Liberal Party leadership too. Still trying to bolster his ‘pro’-Israel credentials after an inadvertent moment of honesty when he attributed war crimes to Israel in 2006 in Lebanon, Liberal Party leader Michael Ignatieff did not miss the opportunity to denounce Israel Apartheid Week events:

"Attempting to describe [Israel’s] very existence as a crime against humanity… [IAW] goes beyond the values of mutual respect that Canada has always promoted… [and] goes beyond reasonable criticism into demonization. …Israel Apartheid Week… exploit[s] academic freedom, and they should be condemned by all who value civil and respectful debate about the tragic conflict in the Middle East."[8]

During the slaughter in Gaza, the shamelessly ‘pro’-Israel National Post applauded Ignatieff’s “moral clarity” and “smart politics” when he declared “there is no occupation in Gaza”, “Hamas is to blame for organizing, instigating these rocket attacks, and then for sheltering among civilian populations”, and that “We have to understand that many of the images we see out of Gaza are structured and created and organized by Hamas.”[9]

And, while just a few years ago even the most rabid apologists could only lament the possibility that groups criticizing Israeli crimes might be tax-subsidized, now a federal cabinet minister threatened to cut funding to such groups.

Speaking at a conference on the ‘new anti-Semitism” in London, Minister of Citizenship, Immigration, and Multiculturalism Jason Kenney singled out the Canadian Islamic Congress and the Canadian Arab Federation:

"Our government takes a zero-tolerance approach to expressions of anti-Semitism in the public square. There are organizations in Canada that express hateful sentiments, but expect to be treated as respectable interlocutors in the public discourse. …These and other organizations are free within the confines of our law, and consistent with our traditions of freedom of expression, to speak their mind, but they should not expect to receive resources from the state, support from taxpayers or any other form of official respect from the government."[10]

The prime minister’s office was “very supportive and proud” of the Kenney’s threat to cut funding to CAF’s program helping integrate new immigrants[11] and has met a chorus of praise from the Canadian media and ‘pro’-Israel groups.[12]

As all this makes perfectly clear, when it comes to freedom of speech, Canada remains at the level of 18th century England. As Sir William Blackstone (1723-80) explained, we should be free to speak out minds and free to suffer the consequences when we disturb the powerful:

"Every freeman has an undoubted right to lay what sentiments he pleases before the public: to forbid this, is to deny [the freedom of the press]: but if he publishes what is improper, mischievous, or illegal, he must take the consequence of his own temerity."[13]

According to Kenney’s spokesman, “Groups that promote hatred and anti-Semitism don’t deserve a single red cent of tax-payer support. End of story.”[14]

Demonstrating the hypocritical nature of their attacks on groups criticizing Israel, B’nai Brith Canada and the federal government have no problem with tax-payer support for the Canadian branch of the Jewish National Fund, which has fraudulently raised millions of dollars to help cover up Israel’s ethnic cleansing of Palestinian villages in 1948 and 1967.

The birthplace of John the Baptist, Ein Kerem was a small village on the hills southwest of Jerusalem. During the 1948 war, there were severe food shortages and Jewish forces had captured the two dominating hilltops and shelled the Palestinian village, driving the remaining civilians from their homes. Four months later, 150 Jewish families were settled in the Palestinians’ place.[15]

In 1956, when the Jewish National Fund decided to create a Canada Forest at Ein Kerem, Canadian Jewry responded enthusiastically. Initial plans for a quarter million trees were soon increased to half a million and, later, one million trees. The premiers of each of Canada’s provinces gave their official approval to place the coat of arms of the province on one of the columns at the entrance to the forest and Canada’s ambassador to Israel took part in the formal dedication.[16]

In the course of the June 1967 war, Israel occupied the Latrun area, 15 kilometers west of Jerusalem. Despite the fact no fighting took place in the area, the Palestinian residents of Imwas and Yalu were forcibly expelled and every one of the villages’ 914 homes were destroyed by Israeli forces in an effort to prevent Palestinians from returning.[17]

Over the ruins of these ethnically cleansed villages, the Jewish National Fund of Canada funded the creation of “Canada Park” in the early 1970s. Among the long list of prominent contributors who gave money to the project were the city of Ottawa, former prime minister Paul Martin, and former Ontario premier Bill Davis.[18]

Ein Kerem, Imwas, and Yalu are but three of the 86 Palestinian villages buried beneath JNF parks, but JNF Canada continues to enjoy charitable tax status – effectively subsidizing the covering up of Israeli ethnic cleansing and the illegal annexation of occupied Palestinian land.[19]

JNF Canada recently attracted the ire of Palestine activists when it sought to raise $7 million to spruce up Canada Park. Canadian officials dismissed complaints that such projects should not be subsidized, however, arguing there is no legislation baring charitable activities in the occupied Palestinian territories.[20]

Whatever the merit of the accusations against groups criticizing Israel (and there is a good deal to be skeptical about), they do not approach the level of JNF Canada’s well-documented crimes.

Either the Canadian government, the National Post, the Globe and Mail, and B’nai Brith can call for JNF Canada to be stripped of its charitable status or their attacks on groups criticizing Israel are nothing more than a cynical ploy to silence their opponents.

Clearly, freedom of speech can be added to the list of a human rights worker, a vacationing family, and a UN observer that Canadian elites are willing to sacrifice to bolster their relationship with the US and its Israeli client.

[1] For an example, see Ezra Levant, “Anti-Semites evolving”, Calgary Sun, 14 April 2004.

[2] Amnesty International, “Enduring occupation: Palestinians under siege in the West Bank”, MDE 15/033/2007 (June 2007), p. 29.

[3] In their initial report (“Fatal strikes: Israel’s indiscriminate attacks against civilians in Lebanon”, August 2006, pp. 20-22), HRW found not indication of Hezbollah activity in the area at the time. In their subsequent report (“Why they died: Civilian casualties in Lebanon during the 2006 war”, September 2007, pp. 46-48), HRW reported that Hezbollah had fired rockets from the vicinity two and a half hours before the Israeli attack on the Awada family home – hardly a justification for murdering nine members of the family as they slept. For a detailed analysis of Human Rights Watch’s revisionist reports on the 2006 invasion of Lebanon, see Norman G. Finkelstein, A Farewell to Israel: The coming break up of American Zionism (forthcoming), ch. 5.

[4] The Board of Inquiry into the death of Major Paeta Hess-Von Kruedener concluded the killing was preventable and that the Israeli military was responsible. Completed in February 2008, the report has since been removed from the Department of Defence website. According to Israel’s ambassador to Canada, there was no high-level push for accountability from Ottawa. Editorial, “Supporting the troops when it’s convenient”, Embassy (Ottawa), no. 190 (6 February 2008), p. 6.

[5] Liisa Schofield, “Revealed: University of Toronto suppresses pro-Palestinian activism”, Bullet (Toronto), no. 188 (19 February 2009).

[6] Craig Offman, “York punishes clashing student groups”, National Post (Don Mills), 6 March 2009, p. A7; for an example of absurd equation, see Jonathan Kay, “Anti-Semitism, then and now”, National Post (Don Mills), 3 March 2009, p. A12 comparing the poster in question with an anti-Semitic poster published in occupied Poland in 1941.

[7] Debates of the Senate (Ottawa), vol. 146, no. 16 (5 March 2009), p. 339.

[8] “Canada’s Ignatieff accuses Israel of war crime”, Agence France Presse, 11 October 2006; Michael Ignatieff, “Don’t use the Middle East to divide Canada”, National Post (Don Mills), 5 March 2009, p. A16.

[9] Jonathan Kay, “Finally, an adult in charge”, National Post (Don Mills), 13 January 2009, p. A10; “Liberal leader weighs in on Gaza”, Canadian Jewish News (North York), 21 January 2009.

[10] Jason Kenney, “Fighting the new anti-Semitism”, National Post (Don Mills), 20 February 2009, p. A12.

[11] Megan O’Toole, “Minister dismisses Arab letter”, National Post (Don Mills), 10 March 2009, p. A4.

[12] For a sample, see Susan Martinuk, “You can say what you want, but not on my dime”, Calgary Herald, 20 February 2009, p. A22; editorial, “Cut off the Canadian Arab Federation”, National Post (Don Mills), 20 February 2009, p. A10; Margaret Wente, “Let them say what they want – just don’t expect taxpayers to pay”, Globe and Mail (Toronto), 28 February 2009, p. A21; “‘Growing acknowledgement that Canadian Arab Federation is sowing seeds of hatred’, says B’nai Brith Canada”, 20 February 2009.

[13] William Blackstone, Commentaries on the Laws of England (Oxford: Clarendon, 1765-69), vol. 4, ch. 11, pp. 151-52.

[14] O’Toole, “Minister dismisses Arab letter”.

[15] Benny Morris, The Birth of the Palestinian Refugee Problem, 1947-1949 (Cambridge: Cambridge University, 1987), p. 212; Benny Morris, The Birth of the Palestinian Refugee Problem Revisited (Cambridge: Cambridge University, 2004), pp. 175, 392-93.

[16] Bernard Figler, “Highlights of 60 years of Jewish National Fund in Canada” in Eli Gottesman (ed.), Canadian Jewish Reference Book and Directory (Montreal, QC: Jewish Institute of Higher Research, 1963), p. 382.

[17] See Trish Woods, “Park with no peace”, CBC Fifth Estate, 22 October 1991; Eitan Bronstein, “Restless park: On the Latrun villages and Zochrot”, Zochrot, 2007; Al-Haq, “Where villages stood: Israel’s continuing violations of international law in occupied Latrun, 1967-2007”, December 2008, pp. 29-33.

[18] Uri Davis, “Apartheid Israel and the Jewish National Fund of Canada: The story of ‘Imwas, Yalu, Beit Nuba and Canada Park”, 24 September 2004, pp. 4, 21.

[19] Jonathan Cook, “Israeli park a lesson in forgotten history”, National (Abu Dhabi), 10 March 2009.

[20] Dina Awad, “Jewish charity targeted”, Now (Toronto), vol. 27, no. 16 (19 December 2007).


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