“Where is, say, North Korean Gulag Week or Zimbabwean Idi Amin Week?”

National Post editorial board: Fighting toxic speech with smart speech

Posted: March 01, 2010, 8:00 AM by NP Editor

Israeli Apartheid Week (IAW), which begins today on many university campuses, is an odious and bigoted annual ritual. While organizers bill it as an exercise in “Palestine solidarity,” it typically features rabid expressions of hatred against Israel and its Jewish inhabitants. As a general principle, it goes without saying that criticism of Israel is not automatically tantamount to anti-Semitism. But the atmosphere at some IAW events blurs the line — with extremist speakers whipping crowds into the sort of frenzy one more usually sees in newsreel footage from the streets of Cairo or Gaza City. As a result, many Jewish students often report feeling intimidated on their own campuses.

In its very conception, IAW is offensive for two related reasons. First, it directs participants to vilify a single country, an inherently bigoted exercise. Unlike, say, “anti-racism week” or “diversity awareness week,” IAW does not champion a concept — rather, it targets a particular group of people defined by religion and citizenship. Second, it does so with a false and poisonous analogy between Israel and apartheid-era South Africa. Taken together, the combined message is more or less the same one communicated by Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and Hamas — that Israel is a uniquely evil and fundamentally illegitimate nation. While IAW speakers generally are careful not to call for Israel’s destruction explicitly, they don’t need to: That message follows naturally from the claim that the nation is fundamentally illegitimate.

Defenders of IAW will protest this description and insist they are merely human rights advocates looking to protect Palestinians from Israeli predation. (They will even trot out a few self-hating Israelis and left-wing Jewish rabbis to prove their point.) But if that is so, then why do these same advocates ignore the dozens of other nations whose human rights records are far worse than Israel’s? Where is, say, North Korean Gulag Week or Zimbabwean Idi Amin Week?

Nowhere, because IAW types don’t care about human rights. They care about smearing the Jewish state.

In recent years, some Jewish leaders have urged university administrators to ban IAW. That’s a bad idea. Obviously, the powers that be must ensure that everyone on Canadian campuses feels safe, and that truly criminal hatemongers from overseas are kept out of the country. But otherwise, in a free society, the antidote to toxic speech isn’t censorship; it’s intelligent speech.

That’s why we applaud Ontario MPP Peter Shurman, who has successfully tabled a motion to denounce IAW. The motion received unanimous support from all 30 of the MPPs who were present when it was introduced — including, to our surprise and delight, those from the NDP. “What we need to build peace … are not inflammatory words like ‘apartheid,’ particularly used inappropriately in the case of Israel,” NDP MPP Cheri DiNovo told the Toronto Star. “What we like to speak about is the occupation [of Palestinian territory], the [security] wall, other issues that face us.”

We suspect that this newspaper doesn’t have a lot of common ground with Ms. DiNovo when it comes to the “occupation” of the West Bank. But whatever our differences, we’re glad to see that she is responsible about recognizing proper rhetorical boundaries on this issue — something left-wing Canadian politicians have not always done.

Mr. Shurman’s motion is part of a larger move toward support of Israel among Canadian politicians. Paul Martin and now Stephen Harper have both moved Canada’s voting record at the United Nations to a strongly pro-Israel stance. Michael Ignatieff has been an equally strong supporter of Israel. In May, Dalton McGuinty will take part in a trade mission to Israel — an unprecedented move for an Ontario premier since the 2000 Intifada broke out. Even Jack Layton generally has kept a tight lid on the anti-Zionists in his federal NDP. As a result, anti-Israel activists — including not only the IAW crowd, but also those who campaigned against last year’s Israeli-themed Toronto Film Festival — have been shunned, or even denounced, by politicians.

This is the proper response to hatemongers in general, and the IAW crowd in particular. Campus revolutionaries can rail against Israel as much as they like — it’s a free country. But our elected officials must send the message that their campaign is an affront to Canadian values.


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