Wednesday, March 09, 2016

Israel and Freedom of Speech


The Charter of Rights and Freedoms guarantees every Canadian, "freedom of conscience and religion, freedom of thought, belief, opinion and expression," -- except, it would seem, when it comes to the State of Israel. That was certainly true during the Harper years. Gerry Caplan writes:

Two years ago, for example, then-prime minister Stephen Harper insisted that Israeli policies should not be criticized, especially in public. To criticize Israel, he said, is to be guilty of “the new anti-Semitism. … It targets the Jewish people by targeting Israel.”

Why it was anti-Semitic to criticize the Israel government for its housing or land or human-rights policies, as indeed so many Israelis do, Mr. Harper never explained.

Nor did he ever bother spell out why accusing Israel of being an apartheid state is the ultimate form of anti-Semitism. Yet it makes no sense. Labelling Israel an apartheid state may be jarring, but that makes it neither inaccurate nor anti-Semitic. When Israelis call Israel an apartheid state – as many do – are they anti-Semitic too? How did Mr. Harper arrogate to himself the right to decide what Canadians were authorized to say about this one foreign government?

But the same policy seems to apply under Justin Trudeau's Liberal government:

Last month, the Conservatives raised an apparently even more ultimate form of anti-Semitism. This time, they brought almost the entire Liberal government with them. The essence of the subject was identical. This time, the crime that didn’t deserve Charter protection wasn’t labelling Israel an apartheid state. It was promoting the perfectly legal, peaceful, non-violent international campaign of Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) against Israel. An overwhelming number of MPs have now voted to condemn any attempt by Canadians to offer support for the BDS campaign.

The merits of the BDS campaign are as irrelevant as whether Israel is an apartheid state. In both, the core Canadian issue is free speech – my right to say freely whatever I think about Israel and its policies. Just as I have the right to say whatever I want about my own government’s policies, or Washington’s, or Costa Rica’s, or Cuba’s. Yet a large majority of our MPs want to remove that right from me when it comes to my opinion of Israel. For them, promoting BDS is not a legitimate form of criticism of Israel, but, in the words of the motion, its “demonization and delegitimation.”

Foreign Minister Stephane Dion was uncomfortable with the Conservatives' resolution:

But like the vast majority of Liberals – yes, including their Leader – he also decided that it’s never a smart move to cross the Canadian Jewish establishment. It is a tiny but tenacious group, and its political organizations can make life intolerable for any one who dares to cross it. So all but a handful of Liberals took the path of least resistance and least principle.

Only the NDP did what it used to do regularly -- stand on principle. For the two other parties -- when it comes to Israel -- freedom of speech disappears.


Anonymous said...

Thank heavens that Canada hasn't lost its political conscience. The NDP still owns it despite what many Canadians may have believed about the party during the last election campaign.

Owen Gray said...

Perhaps defeat will cause the NDP to get back to first principles, Anon.

Pamela Mac Neil said...

A completely spineless act by Trudeau Owen. What alarms me, is that in his agreement with this Anti-BDS motion he has no problem with violating Canadians right to free speech. Obviously, supporting special interest groups are more important then protecting Canadians individual rights. I see as with Harper, Israel and the US are defining Canada's foreign policy. I have to make a comparison with the father here, Pierre Elliot Trudeau. Throughout these next 3+ yrs. Canadians may come to witness, that with Justin Trudeau, the apple does fall very, very far from the tree.

Owen Gray said...

It was a very disappointing decision, Pam. The jury is still out on Justin.

The Mound of Sound said...

The NDP didn't support the resolution but that was to score political points. Overall it supports Israel much as the Tories or Libs do, excusing any Israeli excesses as legitimate exercises of the state's right of self-defence.

Mulcair has never endorsed BDS nor has he called for sanctions against Israel for the decades-long illegal occupation, the imposition of an Apartheid state or the blatant and murderous war crime labelled Dahiyah routinely practised by Israel against civilian populations. When Mulcair denounces these things and when he demands sanctions against Israel you can praise him, Owen. Until then (and 'then' is never coming) it's just cheap politicking and nothing more.

Owen Gray said...

Then it all comes down to pandering, Mound -- pure and simple.

Pamela Mac Neil said...

The jury may still be out on Justin, Owen. As a Prime Minister who so easily violates our right of free speech, by supporting a con. motion of all things, then to me he is a write off.He is no longer speaking for Canadians, he is speaking for special interest groups.

Owen Gray said...

I admit I'm feeling increasingly troubled, Pam. But I'm waiting for the budget before I make any hard judgments.