Mission & Name
US Foreign Policy (Dr. El-Najjar's Articles)
Israel, Gaza, Anti-Semitism, and Common
Sorting It Out
By Elizabeth May
Island Tides, July 5, 2010
I am deeply troubled by the
failure of many in the media and in political life to distinguish between
anti-Semitic comments and legitimate criticism of the policies of the
current government of Israel. We are, as a society, moving to a place where
gag orders will ensue for anyone found critical of the actions of Israel.
The attack on the Turkish vessel Mavi Marmara, and the killing of nine
pro-Palestinian activists on May 31 brought into clear focus what all
Canadians should know. The Harper government has become the most pro-Israel
of any government on earth.
The day of the attack, Prime Minister
Benjamin Netanyahu was a guest of the Government of Canada, on a state
visit. Of all the governments in the world, Canada did the most to avoid
direct criticism of Israel. The visit of the Israeli Prime Minister to
Parliament Hill was, apparently, unmarred by the fact that at that moment,
three Canadian citizens, including Kevin Neish of Victoria, were in Israeli
government custody while their families still had no confirmation of their
Even the US, usually holding the title of Israel's best
friend, expressed regret and called for an inquiry, albeit an internal
While shaking hands with the Prime Minister of Israel, our Prime Minister
said nothing of the tragedy.
The Green Party made a public statement
deploring the use of violence and repeating our call for a comprehensive
economic stabilization plan and internationally monitored buffer zone around
the Gaza Strip. While there is a need for an investigation of the attack on
the pro-Gaza flotilla, certain facts are not in dispute. The Israeli
government forces attacked in international waters. That alone violates
international law. The fact that nine people were killed creates the
spectre of a far worse crime.
The Harper government has also managed to manipulate its support for the
State of Israel with attacks on others for antisemitism. The church-based
NGO Kairos lost its funding over such a charge. It was at the heart of the
interference with rights and democracy.
I have been at the receiving
end of this sort of nasty attack, when the Prime Minister, distorting my
comments out of recognition, alleged in the House that I had trivialized the
Holocaust. My 'crime' was quoting George Monbiot who, in the context
of the climate crisis, had compared former US President Bush, Australia's
Howard and Stephen Harper to Neville Chamberlain. I got fairly bruised in
the spin cycle of the Harper war room.
Meanwhile, the Green Party
stands firm calling for a balanced policy favouring a two-state solution in
the Middle East-closer to the kind of policy Canada once advocated. We
insist on the right of Israel to exist and condemned the Hezbollah rockets
into Israel, as we condemned the excessive force in Israel's bombing of
The Greens oppose antisemitism with the same vigour we
oppose racism, sexism and other forms of hatred. Recently, the Supreme Court
of British Columbia found in our favour, when the party and I were sued by
an aggrieved former candidate who objected to being rejected, and to having
his words described in our press release as 'anti-Semitic comments.' The
comments, describing 9-11 as involving the 'shoddily built jewish world bank
headquarters (sic)'were not borderline. The hatred unleashed against a
people in the Holocaust, fuelled by paranoia about Jewish control of banks
and banking, is well known. There is a difference between antisemitism and
fair and reasonable criticism of Israeli policy.
So too, is there an
effort to conflate criticism of Israel with denying the right of the State
of Israel to exist. I have relatives in Israel and I completely understand
the sense of insecurity that comes from being surrounded by the Arab world,
with, at least some leaders, still claiming your homeland has no right to
exist. However, maintaining as an inviolate principle the right of Israel to
exist is not the same as giving its government carte blanche to trample on
human rights and the peace process.Ten thousand Israeli citizens rallied to
condemn the attack on the Gaza flotilla, and it was denounced by NGOs in
Israel, such as the human rights group, B'Tselem.
The sense that
criticism of Israel is not permitted in Canada has been growing, but what
prompted me to write this column is the recent attack on NDP MP Libby
Davies. Libby is a valiant defender of the rights of the homeless and the
poor. Recently, she was caught on tape in what was an off-the-cuff answer
stating that occupation began in 1948. Once her comments were placed
on YouTube, the denunciations were swift. Harper called for her resignation,
and even within her own party she faced pressure.
She wrote to the
Ottawa Citizen to apologize: 'My reference to the year 1948 as the
beginning of the Israeli occupation of Palestinian territory was a serious
and completely inadvertent error.' On the other hand, there is a difference
between occupation and illegal occupation. In 1492, many would say that
500-years of occupation of the Americas began. That does not translate to
denying the right of any nations' existence. The term 'occupation' in the
Middle East context is generally confined to additional, non-UN agreement
occupation as it began in 1967.
Keeping a clear head about these
issues is critical. A climate of fear and oppression within Canada stifles
free speech. These dangerous trends need to be named, and challenged.
Elizabeth May is leader of
the Green Party of Canada and a candidate in Saanich Gulf Islands. She is
more supportive of Libby Davies than Layton and condemns attacks on freedom
of speech in Canada.