Canadian lawmakers resurrect McCarthy in hearings that say criticism of Israel is anti-Semitism

Canada is the latest front in the battle between critics of Israel and those who would smear them as anti-Semites. The video below is from Independent Jewish Voices. An article by Jillian Kestler-D’Amours follows.

The Canadian Parliamentary Coalition for Combating Anti-Semitism (CPCCA) held an international Conference on Combating Anti-Semitism in Ottawa from Nov. 7-9, in what for many not only signals Canada’s increasingly pro-Israel policy, but demonstrates the dangerous worldwide trend of equating legitimate criticism of Israel with anti-Semitism.

“The CPCCA’s goal is to criminalize criticism of Israel and Zionism, not to hold impartial hearings,” wrote Independent Jewish Voices (IJV) Canada, in a petition addressed to Canadian Parliament members that has been signed by over 1,500 people.

“Therefore, we oppose the CPCCA as an ideologically biased organization with an agenda that will harm free speech and human rights activity in Canada. We oppose the CPCCA’s Orwellian distortion of anti-Semitism. It is a danger to both Canadian liberties and to the genuine and necessary fight against anti-Semitism,” IJV Canada wrote.

The CPCCA boasted that Parliamentarians and experts from over 40 countries gathered in Ottawa for what was “the largest ever international parliamentary gathering on anti-Semitism.”

“The recommendations made by participants during the Conference will be made available broadly and be used as the basis for further action to help put an end to the world’s oldest and most enduring form of discrimination,” the CPCCA website read.

It continued, “Anti-Semitism is an age-old phenomenon, yet it is always re-invented and manifested in different ways. For example, while accusations of blood libel are still being made against the Jewish people, instead they are being directed against the State of Israel, such that anti-Zionism is being used as a cover for anti-Semitism.”

Between November 2009 and January 2010, the CPCCA held ten separate hearings during which representatives of various non-governmental organizations, universities, police departments and Canadian political parties presented papers meant to assess the level of anti-Semitism in Canada.

Most of the speakers during the hearings equated legitimate criticism of Israel with this so-called “new” anti-Semitism and a particular focus was placed on Canadian university campuses, the supposed hotbeds of anti-Semitism.

Indeed, according to the CPCCA website, anti-Semitism “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. The problem is also exemplified by individuals and governments who call for the destruction of the State of Israel and its inhabitants.”

On Tuesday, November 24, 2009, however, in the fourth session of the hearings, Dr. Fred Lowy, President Emeritus of Concordia University in Montreal, stated that “by and large, Canadian campuses are safe and are not hotbeds of anti-Semitism of any kind.”

Still, representatives of B’Nai Brith Canada, the Canadian Jewish Congress, and other organizations across the country continued to talk about this “new” anti-Semitism, and often targeted the growing boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement as the prime example.

“Much of today’s anti-Semitism manifests in anti-Israel agitation around boycotts, divestment and sanctions,” said Avi Benlolo, President and CEO of the Toronto-based Friends of the Simon Wisenthal Center for Holocaust Studies, during the November 30, 2009 hearing.

“It deploys an unfair double standard against the Jewish state, singling out of Israel alone for one-sided, harsh criticism and calls for punitive actions. Some of the criticism approaches open incitement that contributes to hatred of Israel, Judaism, and the Jewish people in the mainstream of society,” Benlolo said.

In recent years, Canadian policy has been increasingly pro-Israel in nature. In fact, Canadian politicians across the entire political spectrum have not shied away from declaring their support for Israel, despite ongoing illegal settlement construction in the West Bank and the Israeli attack on Gaza in December 2009/January 2010.

In February 2010, for example, Canada’s Junior Foreign Minister Peter Kent was quoted in Shalom Life magazine as saying that “an attack on Israel would be considered an attack on Canada.”

A month earlier, Canada announced it would discontinue its financial contributions to the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA), the organization that provides support and resources like clothing, food and health services to approximately 4.7 million registered Palestinian refugees in Jordan, Lebanon, Syria and the occupied Palestinian territories. 

Since it took power, Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s minority Conservative government has cut funding to many Canadian non-governmental organizations, many of had worked on issues related to Israel/Palestine in some way, or had spoken out against recent Israeli human rights abuses. These organizations, including Kairos Churches and Alternatives, had maintained relationships with the Canadian government for decades. 

Right-wing Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman even remarked in June 2009: “It’s hard to find a country friendlier to Israel than Canada these days.”

ndeed, according to Thomas Woodley, the President of Canadians for Justice and Peace in the Middle East (CJPME), the intent of the CPCCA hearings and conference is in line with Canada’s over-arching policy: to stifle criticism of Israeli policy and intimidate individuals and organizations working for Palestinian rights.

“The presence on ICCA’s steering committee of hardliner Israeli minister Yuli Edelstein—who not only opposes any moves to scale back the Occupation but also seeks to intensify Israeli presence in Palestinian territory— is indicative of ICCA’s orientation and underlying purpose,” Woodley said.

In a press release dated November 5, 2010, CJPME also outlined its disappointment that Canada’s Governor General David Johnston, the House of Commons (Parliament) and Senate Speakers, Official Opposition Leader Michael Ignatieff and Foreign Affairs critic Bob Rae all spoke at and lent “their names —and Canada’s— to a closed event orchestrated to shield Israel from criticism.”

“CJPME is firmly opposed to anti-Semitism, a historical problem of tragic proportions, and is concerned about a growing movement to conflate criticism of Israel with anti-Semitism.” 

Jillian Kestler-D’Amours is a freelance writer and documentary filmmaker based in occupied East Jerusalem. More of her work can be found here.

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