The Israel/Palestine debate has been a controversial topic at Concordia in recent years. However, there is a point when discussion on a controversial issue can be used as a pretext for censorship and repression. With recent political manoeuvring within and beyond Concordia around this issue, I fear that we may be moving in that direction.
The presidents of some 25 Canadian universities were invited to Ottawa this week to testify at the Canadian Parliamentary Inquiry Into anti-Semitism, an initiative of the Canadian Parliamentary Coalition to Combat anti-Semitism. Frederick Lowy, who was Concordia’s president until 2005, testified on Nov. 24.
As a Jewish student at Concordia myself, some might find it odd that I would oppose such a forum and the participation of personalities from my university.
I would be in favour of the CPCCA if its purpose were to fight real anti-Semitism, but a closer examination shows us that this is definitely not the case. The CPCCA is merely a tool to stifle debate on Israeli apartheid at Canadian university campuses and elsewhere.
The CPCCA is by no means neutral or unbiased. The two ex-officio members of its steering committee are Liberal MP Irwin Cotler and Conservative Minister of Citizenship and Immigration Jason Kenney. Both have openly equated critiques of Israeli policy to anti-Semitism. Kenney went so far as to denounce Israeli Apartheid Week, stating the international event had no place on Canadian university campuses.
Even more troubling is that the CPCCA has made the “new anti-Semitism” a large part of its focus. This “new anti-Semitism” is an intellectually dishonest phrase used to equate principled opposition to the state of Israel’s policies as an attack against all Jewish people.
Ontario-based Faculty for Palestine sent a submission to the CPCCA criticizing the notion of a “new anti-Semitism,” stating, “this focus on the ‘new’ anti-Semitism orients the work of the CPCCA more towards targeting advocacy for Palestinian rights than to protecting the human rights of Jewish people.”
There is no “new” anti-Semitism. Anti-Semitism, much like racism or sexism, never went away, and it is everyone’s responsibility to combat it.
Last February, just before IAW, B’nai Brith (which touts itself as a Jewish human rights organization) took out a full-page ad in the National Post calling on Canadian universities to shut down the event, calling it a “hate-fest.” If anyone from B’nai Brith had bothered to attend any IAW public events in Montreal, they would have found that they were scholarly, principled, and featured many events with Jewish and Palestinian speakers.
Unfortunately, those like B’nai Brith who seek to shut down this debate have the ear of the Concordia administration. Last August, Concordia’s President Judith Woodsworth gave the opening remarks at a one-day conference entitled “Israel on Campus: Defending Our Universities,” held in the McConnell library building. For an entire day, the building was off-limits to Concordia students seeking to use the library and Woodsworth’s remarks, despite numerous requests, have never been made public.
There are no “hate-fests” happening on Canadian campuses. Acts of anti-Semitism do occur, but Lowy himself remarked at the CPCCA’s hearing that universities are not hotbeds for anti-Semitism or hate.
He curiously went on to pin vague allegations of anti-Semitism on “Islamists” who distribute “propaganda” at Concordia. Evidently, from his and other testimonies the CPCCA’s hearings are less concerned with combating anti-Semitism than they are about race-baiting and stirring Islamophobia.
I believe that Israel is an apartheid state for the simple reason that it grants preferential treatment to its Jewish citizens while denying certain rights to its Palestinian Arab population solely based on religious and ethnic identity. Some readers may not think that Israel is an apartheid state and have every right to believe so. Regardless, this is a matter of legitimate and important debate and it is fundamental that we give it space to be debated at Concordia at forums such as Israeli Apartheid Week.
I take serious offence to the persecution of my people being used as political cannon fodder for censorship and fear-mongering.
In a chilling turn of events last February, both Carleton and University of Ottawa administrations banned the IAW poster from campus. The poster depicted an Israeli army helicopter shooting at a Palestinian child.
Sadly, over 300 Palestinian children were killed by the Israeli military during the brutal assault on Gaza in January. How this poster’s message became twisted into being “offensive” or “anti-Semitic” is puzzling. It seems that the CPCCA’s formulation is that the ‘old’ anti-Semitism entailed silence in the face of ethnic cleansing, while the ‘new’ anti-Semitism means resistance in the face of ethnic cleansing.
I will not tolerate anti-Semitism at Concordia, nor an administration that censors and stifles debate around Israeli apartheid. If we head down the road that the CPCCA is leading us, even the term “anti-Semitism” will become meaningless, and we will not be able to effectively fight it in the future.