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Is It Anti-Semitic to Defend Palestinian Human Rights?

By       (Page 1 of 4 pages)   8 comments
Message Edward C. Corrigan
Across Canada and the U.S., there is an organized campaign to suppress criticism of Israeli policies toward the Palestinians. The campaign is especially strong on university campuses, where many voices have been raised in support of human rights for the Palestinians. One such example is the attempt to suppress the Public Interest Research Group, founded by Ralph Nader, at the University of Ottawa, for its support for Palestinian rights. Similar anti-Palestinian campaigns have occurred at many universities in Canada, including the University of Toronto, the University of Western Ontario and YorkUniversity.

An attack on a student group sympathetic to the Palestinians occurred at the University of Western Ontario in 1982. The group was refused official recognition because of its support for the Palestinians and for sponsoring Palestinian and Arab speakers. After this refusal a complaint was made to the Ontario Human Rights Commission.

After a long battle, and with the support of the Canadian Civil Liberties Association and its General Counsel Alan Borovoy, and a supportive editorial in The Globe and Mail, the Ontario Human Rights Commission compelled the University Students Council at the University of Western Ontario to issue a statement of regret and to ratify the student group. The refusal was deemed discriminatory against Palestinians and persons associated with them. (See "The Palestinian Question at the University: The Case of Western Ontario," American-Arab Affairs, Summer 1987.)

Over the last few years there has been a concerted attempt to suppress discussion of the Palestinian issue in North America, as well as campaign to punish those who have spoken out in support of the Palestinians by cutting funding and by denying them tenure and even getting them terminated from their positions of employment. Two well-known examples of firings are the campaigns that targeted Jewish professors Norman Finkelstein, author of many books on Israel and Zionism including Image and Reality of the Israel-Palestinian Conflict, and Joel Kovel, author of Overcoming Zionism: Creating a Single Democratic State in Israel/Palestine.

Another tactic is to smear individuals supportive of the Palestinians with allegations of antiSemitism. One such individual was Archbishop Desmond Tutu. A few complaints from the mainstream Jewish community led to the Nobel Prize Laureate being banned from speaking on campus by the University of St. Thomas in Minnesota. Marv Davidov, an Adjunct Professor with the Justice and Peace Studies program at the University of St. Thomas said, "As a Jew who experienced real antiSemitism as a child, I'm deeply disturbed that a man like Tutu could be labeled antiSemitic and silenced like this ". I deeply resent the Israeli lobby trying to silence any criticism of its policy. It does a great disservice to Israel and to all Jews." As a result of the strong backlash against the decision, and a campaign led by Jewish Voice for Peace in support of the Archbishop which produced more than 6,000 letters of protest, the University rescinded the ban.

Professor Bill Robinson was a target of a similar campaign over alleged anti-Semitism which was waged to get him fired at the University of California Santa Barbara (UCSB). Ultimately the University administration defended Robinson's academic freedom and the right to express his opinions in his global politics class. Robinson, who is Jewish, had distributed an e-mail prepared by a pro-Palestinian Jewish activist that compared the Israeli attack on Gaza to the Nazi attack on the Warsaw Ghetto. In response to this attack on Professor Robinson, more than 100 UCSB faculty members signed a petition asking the university to dismiss the charges against him. In addition, 16 university department chairs wrote letters to the University authorities asking them to dismiss the case against Robinson.

The campaign to silence critics of Israel is a violation of free speech, academic freedom and of Palestinian human rights. When carried out by the government, it is also a violation of basic democratic rights. A recent example is the cutback to the Canadian Arab Federation's funding by Citizenship and Immigration Minister Jason Kenney. The punitive action taken by Minister Kenney is a denial of the rights of free speech and freedom of conscience guaranteed in the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

Dissenting Canadian Jewish groups like Not in Our Name (NION) and Independent Jewish Voices (Canada), who are critical of the "Jewish State," are simply ignored. For political purposes they simply do not exist. The mainstream media rarely covers these alternative Jewish perspectives.

Documentation of Israeli human rights violations on the part of respected organizations such as Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, The International Red Cross, the United Nations, and even Israeli organizations such as B'Tselem, Rabbis for Human Rights and the Israeli Committee Against Torture and by many Israeli journalists, are attacked and buried under a barrage of criticism that they are biased, unfair for singling out the Jewish state, or even anti-Semitic.

My own record as a lawyer representing refugee claims for Palestinians from the OccupiedTerritories made against Israel, is 28 positives to one negative, or a 96.5% success rate. But in the eyes of the supporters of Israel, this does not mean that there are serious human rights problems in the OccupiedTerritories. It is the Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada that is "anti-Semitic," and the Jewish members of the IRB who rendered positive decisions on Palestinian refugee claims are "self-hating Jews."

Israel's citizenship and immigration procedures are unique in the world. To qualify as a "Jew" in "the Jewish state" one must meet a racial or ethnic criterion or alternatively a religious criterion. The Law of Return grants almost immediate citizenship rights to Jews from anywhere in the world. Palestinians who were born in the country and forcibly expelled are, for the most part, forbidden to return. The ZionistState of Israel defines itself as "Jewish" and structures itself to advance the interests of Jews at the expense of non-Jews, and especially against the indigenous Christian and Muslim Palestinian population.

In March 1919, United States Congressman Julius Kahn presented an antiZionist petition to President Woodrow Wilson as he was departing for the Paris Peace Conference. The petition was signed by 31 prominent American Jews. The signatories included Henry Morgenthau, Sr., exambassador to Turkey; Simon W. Rosendale, exAttorney General of New York; Mayor L. H. Kampner of Galveston, Texas; E. M. Baker, from Cleveland and president of the Stock Exchange; R. H. Macy's Jesse I. Straus; New York Times publisher Adolph S. Ochs; and Judge M. C. Sloss of San Francisco. The petition read in part: "We protest against the political segregation of the Jews and the reestablishment in Palestine of a distinctively Jewish State as utterly opposed to the principles of democracy which it is the avowed purpose of the World's Peace Conference to establish. Whether the Jews be regarded as a "race' or as a "religion,' it is contrary to the democratic principles for which the world war was waged to found a nation on either or both of these bases."

The argument is often made that criticism of Israel, or rather the self-described "Jewish state," is antiSemitic. The fact that many Jews have criticized Israel and Zionism is deemed irrelevant. These Jewish critics are attacked as "selfhating Jews."

There is no rational basis for the argument that criticism of the State of Israel and the political ideology of Zionism is antiSemitic. No state is above criticism. It makes no sense to accuse an individual who criticizes Apartheid South Africa's racist policies toward the blacks as evidence of racism toward whites. It would be equally absurd to argue that if one criticizes U.S. policy in Iraq, or the Jim Crow laws that institutionalized discrimination against African-Americans in the southern states, that one is racist against Americans. There is also much to criticize in the Arab world, but it would be absurd to say that one cannot criticize the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia for its treatment of women or its human rights record, because such criticism is racist toward Arabs or is anti-Muslim. No one would take seriously a person who made such an argument.

To quote one American Jewish academic on the comparison of Israel's treatment of the Palestinians to the racist Jim Crow laws in the United States: "I grew up as a white girl in the Jim Crow South and I have spent my adult life in the study of racism; what I see when I go to Palestine is Jim Crow on steroids"("A Jewish state--or Jewish values?," Tema Okun, Mondoweiss, 21 July, 2009).

It is a basic right to evaluate a political ideology or movement and review and even criticize a state's policies. The argument should be evaluated on the merits and truthfulness of the facts presented. It is also a right to present alternative facts and to have a debate. But when those on one side want to avoid debate, divert the discussion or suppress the topic, and launch personal attacks against their opponents, it is an almost certain proof that they are hiding some uncomfortable truths.

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EDWARD C. CORRIGAN SHORT BIO Edward C. Corrigan holds a B.A. in History and a Master's Degree in Political Science from the University of Western Ontario. Ed also has a Law Degree from the University of Windsor and was called to the Bar of the (more...)
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