The argument that we can separate the political from everything else seems to be persistent when there is a discussion about the occupation of Palestine.
This time, the issue emerged in an email correspondence between me and Mayor Dianne Watts’ communications assistant, who by the virtue of his position is often given certain guidelines on to respond to political inquires. Despite the fact that the origin of this email is the mayor’s assistant, it is safe to say that the content of it is generally reflective of her attitudes and outlooks.
On February 27th, the city of Surrey, located at the outskirts of the Greater Vancouver Area, plays host to the 2014 Regional Economic Summit. The summit will host various international political and economic personalities such as the Canadian Minister of Finance and the former prime ministers of Australia and Greece. But what is of more direct concern to the Palestinians in Surrey and the Greater Vancouver Area is the fact that Watts has audaciously decided to invite former Israeli Prime Minister and war criminal Ehud Barak, paying absolutely no attention towards international law and the Palestinian call for Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS).
“The purpose of the Surrey Summit is to generate dialogue about new approaches to the challenges we face as a city, province and country,” the mayor’s office said.
With this statement, Watts echoes the standard and oft-debunked Zionist narrative that we must engage in “dialogue.” The oppressor must, for whatever reason, be given a platform, especially at prestigious economic summits, in order to present their point of view.
The email from the mayor’s office does not explain how a man accused of war crimes and crimes against humanity is even beneficial to this type of summit. What kind of expertise does a military man have that can possibly benefit Surrey’s economic interests? And if the mayor is truly concerned with dialogue, and is truly looking at things beyond the veil of politics, then how come there are no Palestinian academics or politicians? The mayor didn’t even bother to offer a semblance of care towards this notion of dialogue, which she could have done by bringing the West’s poster child and former Palestinian Authority prime minister Salam Fayyad. But she didn’t.
The agenda is very clear: it’s ugly and obvious normalization.
Watts’ assistant wrote: “This is an economic conference, not a political event, and will focus on creating an open environment for discussion and debate.”
The statement points to a strange dichotomy between politics and economics–as if the two can be separated. It asserts that talks about the economy can be separated from politics during an era when economic sanctions are considered an essential part of political sanctions (see Iran for example). And it seems to insinuate that a summit that includes a war criminal like Barak will contribute to “creating an open environment for discussion and debate,” without considering the fact that this man represents a government that dedicates ample resources to persuade international actors to silence debate and level accusations of anti-Semitism against pro-Palestine and BDS activists.
There is no need to highlight the atrocities committed by Barak against the Palestinians because these are readily available on the Internet, which I am sure that Watts and her staff has access to. But it is important to highlight the political bankruptcy of a politician who isn’t even capable of making an intellectually sustainable argument that explains her unwarranted invitation of such a war criminal.
This is a time when Palestinian civil society is demanding that the world and people of conscience end all normalization efforts with Israel, support and actively promote BDS and increase the pressure to end the occupation of Palestine. But Watts seems to be more interested in photo ops and empty jargon coming out of the mouth of a man who has absolutely no expertise in economics.