An Open Letter to Elizabeth May Regarding BDS

File:Mauer-betlehem.jpgDear Elizabeth May,

Please don’t resign over Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions.

Far from being “polarizing, ineffective and unhelpful,” the BDS movement seeks to employ moderate, non-violent means (i.e. boycotts and other economic measures) to pressure Israel to end its decades-long occupation of Palestinian land. Originating in 2005 with a call to action by 170 grassroots Palestinian organizations, the campaign seeks to emulate tactics that helped bring an end to apartheid in South Africa. For the Green Party of Canada to pass a resolution supporting this cause puts us on the right side of history.

Let us further dispense with the juvenile notion, peddled by some of the more inflammatory segments of the Canadian media (but thankfully not you), that BDS or any other criticism of Israel is inherently anti-Semitic. The governments of Saudi Arabia, Egypt, and Turkey routinely (and rightly) face condemnation over their human rights records without the debate being lowered by facile charges of Islamophobia. Similarly, objections to American foreign policy are not dismissed out of hand for displaying anti-Christian bias. Many supporters of BDS are themselves Jewish, such as the members of Independent Jewish Voices Canada (as well as yours truly), and find allegations of bigotry so frivolously tossed about to be offensive.

I understand that my letter will likely not convince you to embrace a movement that you seem so profoundly opposed to, but at the very least, I urge you to stay on as leader even if you do not approve of every single one of your party’s policies. Surely we are strong enough to withstand a little internal disagreement. Such is the nature of an open and democratic organization. Furthermore, the resolution in question is so broadly worded as to give the party considerable leeway with respect to implementation.

So please walk back your threat to reevaluate your future with the Greens. You are a fine leader and a major asset to the party, just as the party is an asset to Canada’s political discourse. The media fracas will die down if we allow it to do so. We must not let our differences get in the way of building a just, peaceful, and sustainable world.

Sincerely,

David Taub Bancroft

This post appears on rabble.ca.

On Israel and Apartheid

Message on a wall at the University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg

Last month, university students and activists around the world marked Israeli Apartheid Week, an annual series of lectures and protests designed to bring attention to the plight of Palestinians. As usual, the condemnations were heavy and hyperbolic. Canadian Immigration Minister Jason Kenney, obscuring the purpose of the events, used the opportunity to urge “all Canadians to reject anti-Semitism and all forms of racism, discrimination and intolerance.” In 2010, Ontario legislator Peter Shurman commented, “The use of the phrase ‘Israeli Apartheid Week’ is about as close to hate speech as one can get without being arrested, and I’m not certain it doesn’t actually cross over that line.”

To equate the mere mention of the phrase “Israeli apartheid” with anti-Semitism is just as absurd as charging Islamophobia whenever someone rightly accuses the Saudi Arabian government of gender apartheid. Surely it should be possible to discuss issues surrounding the Israeli-Palestinian conflict on their merits rather than just scoring points with debate stopping allegations.

Israel’s more rational defenders tend to point out that contrary to how South African blacks were treated under apartheid, Israel’s Arab citizens are allowed to vote, run for office, and participate in the judiciary. But this red herring neglects the most appropriate target of the apartheid analogy, the Occupied Territories. Despite being forced to live under Israeli sovereignty for more than four decades, the Palestinian residents of the West Bank and Gaza Strip have no citizenship rights whatsoever. They are ruled by Israel without the benefit of being able to elect their rulers. And in a striking throwback to the original spirit of apartheid (which literally means “apartness” or “separateness” in Afrikaans), Palestinians are barred from the notorious “Israeli-only” roads, reserved for settlers, that criss-cross the West Bank.

In Israel proper, even though the apartheid analogy begins to break down somewhat, the system still might be termed “apartheid lite” on account of what is widely regarded as the second-class citizenship of Israeli Arabs. Yes, they do have de jure political equality, but they are subject to endless racial profiling and chronic municipal underfunding. The semi-governmental Jewish National Fund bars Israeli Arabs from leasing or buying its landholdings. And while Jews like me, even those who have no connection to the country, have the right to travel to Israel and immediately claim citizenship under its Law of Return, Palestinian refugees — many of whom were born in what is now Israel before being expelled in 1948, many of whom still have the keys and deeds to their houses — have for decades been denied their own right of return.

All this being said, the term “Israeli apartheid” may now have outlived its usefulness. The analogy remains essentially apt. In fact, many veterans of South Africa’s anti-apartheid struggle, such as Desmond Tutu, have noted the similarities. Sadly, however, it is not enough to be right. Israel’s apologists seem to be winning the public opinion war (at least in Canada), and reliance on the “apartheid” label may be doing the Palestinian solidarity movement more harm than good. Due perhaps to the habitual insularity and PR myopia of the activist left, Palestinian supporters have allowed their foes to disingenuously define anyone who applies the word “apartheid” to Israel as an irrational extremist.

So in the interests of effectively engaging those who currently sit on the fence, the time has probably come to think up some new rhetoric. Or better yet, to forgo flashy rhetoric altogether and just let the facts — which are damning enough on their own — speak for themselves.

Update 11/05/2012: This post has been reprinted here on rabble.ca.

On Ezra Levant’s Victimhood

I have been blogging for nearly four months now, and am embarrassed to admit that — contrary to firmly established best blogging practices — I have yet to engage in the art of personal attack. Today, I intend to correct this error and make the anonymous overlords of the blogarchy proud. The target of my wrath? None other than the king of personal attacks himself, the Canadian pundit and convicted libelist who never fails to find himself on the wrong side of every issue — from tobacco to Israel-Palestine to climate change — Mr. Ezra Levant.

But first, a little about me. I am Jewish. Secular, to be sure, and about as assimilated as they come. Nevertheless, my Jewish identity has always been important to me, and it is as a Jew that I take offence at Levant’s self-serving habit of screaming “anti-Semitism” every time someone disagrees with him.

The latest example came after former CTV reporter Kai Nagata made a parody rap video for The Tyee featuring a puppet Levant:

Levant fired back more than once on his TV show, The Source — painting The Tyee as an unprincipled receptacle of foreign funds and propaganda. But in the following clip, barely thirty seconds into his segment, he inexplicably seeks to place his Judaism at the heart of Nagata’s attack:

“I mean, I’m quite sure that a far left-wing magazine like The Tyee didn’t mean anything by stuffing an uppity Jew’s mouth with money,” he explains sarcastically, referring to a part of the video that frankly had nothing to do with his religious or cultural identity. Nagata was poking fun at Levant’s tendency to argue on behalf of such wealthy interests as oil and tobacco companies, a practice which — and here’s the shocker! — is neither universal among Jews nor exclusive to Jews.

A similar thing happened a year ago when The Mark published an article by Donald Gutstein about the shape of right-wing media in Canada — including such personalities as Levant — and their impact on environmental politics. Levant replied in the comments as charmingly as ever:

Some good connecting of the dots here. By [sic] why avoid the obvious? I’m a Jew; so is my book publisher Doug Pepper; so is Chapters boss Heather Reisman; so is Sun TV’s Kory Teneycke; and so is Laureen Harper. The oilsands are clearly part of a neo-con project to undermine OPEC.

Yet another instance, far more dramatic than the others, came at a tar sands debate (which I saw in person) between Levant and Ben West of the Wilderness Committee. An Indigenous activist by the name of Gitz Crazyboy (who had earlier been heckling Levant from the audience) was invited onstage by West to offer his perspective, and Levant absolutely flipped out:

Crazyboy used the word “holocaust” to describe the environmental impact of the tar sands, and it is understandable why Levant might have taken offence. But after Levant made his displeasure known, Crazyboy tried to put his word choice in the context of his people’s traditional belief in the inherent moral value of the Earth as a whole. Then he apologized to Levant, who steadfastly refused the olive branch.

In a blog post following the debate, Levant made no mention of Crazyboy’s explanation or apology. Nor did he give him the benefit of the doubt and attribute his regrettable word choice to a lack of linguistic sensitivity which, while hurtful, was unintended. Instead, the young activist was proclaimed an anti-Semite and “professional Jew-baiter,” plain and simple. Take as evidence his apparent participation in — the horror! — Palestinian solidarity events.

I don’t know if Levant actually believes the accusations he dishes out, or simply uses them for political advantage. If the former, this is the sign of a delusionally conspiratorial mindset. Anti-Semitism in Canada is almost a throwback — certainly nowhere near as common as Islamophobia or bigotry against First Nations. For Levant to toss a serious charge like this around so casually is to diminish those rare instances of Canadian anti-Semitism that still do occur (attacks on Jewish institutions in Montreal, for example), as well as the far more common acts of hatred against Jews elsewhere in the world.

So please, Ezra, disagree with me politically — disagree with whomever you like — but remember this: it does our people no favours to cry wolf with racism.