Every now and again, I’m forwarded an opinion piece because, obviously, as a Canadian Jew, I’ll find it interesting and want to sing its praises here on Jewschool. This is seldom the case. Today’s gem came via an email from the Canadian Jewish Congress. They sent out an op-ed written for the Ottawa Citizen by Leonard Stern.
I’m tempted to argue with the whole piece, line by line, but instead, I’m just going to draw out a few problems.
Beginning Monday, university campuses play host to an annual event known as Israeli Apartheid Week, where Israel is assigned the role of Jew among the nations — singled-out, cursed and harassed.
Some Jewish students at Carleton and the University of Ottawa will discreetly choose to stay home, to avoid having to answer for the Jewish state. The whiff of something medieval hangs over this March ritual.
This isn’t about Jews, say the organizers. It’s about Zionists. Problem is, the activist groups behind Israeli Apartheid Week are doing everything to erase the distinction. One of those organizations, the Ottawa Public Interest Research Group, refused in 2008 to promote a lecture on African development because Jewish students happened to be organizing it. The event had zero connection to Israel but OPIRG said it wouldn’t partner with the Jewish students’ union due to the latter’s “relationship to apartheid Israel.”
That’s an ominous introduction to the article. Too bad I need to argue it down. So long as the Canadian Jewish community (like the vocal majority of many countries’ Jewish communities) maintains that Israel and zionism are an integral part of Jewish identity, and are inherently linked, I can’t blame student groups and other organizations for drawing a similar conclusion. So long as Hillels across Canada (and across the US) house Israel advocacy and zionist groups, and many have histories of bashing Muslim, Arab, and Palestinian groups, I see no reason why those groups shouldn’t be able to “retaliate” with Israel Apartheid Week.
This article lacks nuance; there isn’t a uniform left-wing position on all topics. So I’m not surprised when gay rights in Israel are brought up. Just because someone is queer, or represents a student LGBT group on campus, doesn’t mean they have to buy the “gays are ok in Israel and nowhere else in the Middle East therefore gays should support Israel, duh” argument. One can appreciate that while still wanting Israel to go further and eliminate all oppression for all peoples. And, seriously, the amount of time spent in this op-ed claiming how great Israel is for the gays is ridiculous.
Of all the sponsors of Israeli Apartheid Week, the participation of gay and lesbian groups is most disheartening. Harvard University’s Alan Dershowitz tells an anecdote about the time he gave a speech and spotted an anti-Israel sign in the crowd, held aloft by a gay rights group. Dershowitz reminded the protesters that Israel is the one country in the Middle East where they’d be able to hold a gay rights sign in public and not be lynched. …
When Israel last year suffered an isolated act of homophobic violence — a gunman shot up a gay nightclub — Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu publicly expressed his personal horror.
Um, really? People are physically attacked at the gay pride events each year in Israel. I spent six months trying to blackout homophobic graffiti that was scribbled across much of west Jerusalem. Countless others are gay bashed on a daily basis. I’m sure Open House would have something to say about these claims…
He goes on to claim that he’s not trying to shut down Israel Apartheid Week by equating anti-Israel with anti-semitism, but I don’t buy it. The premise here is that students at various Canadian universities don’t have the right to express their views of Israel/Palestine. I understand that many Jews get defensive when it comes to Israel, see her as a “she can do no wrong” entity, and justify her actions by claiming self-defence. But were the tables turned, and a Palestinian was writing this op-ed, denouncing Jewish and “pro-Israel” groups, you can bet that Jewish organisations would be crying foul, claiming anti-semitism, before the newspaper hit the stands.
For that’s what Israeli apartheid week is about. As Michael Ignatieff noted during apartheid week last year, “International law defines ‘Apartheid’ as a crime against humanity. Labelling Israel an ‘Apartheid’ state is a deliberate attempt to undermine the legitimacy of the Jewish state itself.”
Or, it’s using a word to describe a crime against humanity. Having second (and third and…) class citizens (and quasi-citizens) who live in war conditions, who face violence daily, whose lives are constantly being disrupted and challenged by the controlling power, who are treated in ways that clash with internationally-sanctioned definitions for human rights and basic standards of living then… Yeah, I see no problem with people using the word apartheid (even if some may see it as an exaggeration). Just because they recognise injustice, and want to see it changed, does not mean they necessarily want to see a country dismantled.
When articles like this are published in major newspapers, forwarded by lobbying groups, and read by Jews from coast to coast to coast (yes, Canada has three coasts), it furthers the notion that there is one singular Jewish stance on Israel. It ignores the complexities of our opinions, politics, and relationships with Israel and Palestine. And it furthers that misconception amongst those groups that we should be trying to work with, to build bridges with, most, like Muslim and Arab students’ groups, PIRGs, and others.