On Monday, Canada’s Foreign Minister John Baird announced that he would immediately step down from his position after 20 years in Canadian politics. But weeks before this announcement, he signed a troubling agreement between Canada and Israel called the “Canadia-Israel Strategic Partnership” that, combined with Stephen Harper’s recently proposed Anti-Terror Act (Bill C-51), could criminalize in the future not only Pro-Palestinian action in various forms such as the Boycott Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement against Israel, but the memorandum also labels all criticism and questioning of the state of Israel as “Anti-Semitic”.
“Memorandum of Understanding between the Department of Foreign Affairs,Trade and Development Canada and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the State of Israel regarding Public Diplomacy Cooperation
Seeking to uphold the commitments made in the Memorandum of Understanding between Canada and Israel regarding a Canada-Israel Strategic Partnership, signed at Jerusalem on 21 January 2014 to strengthen their bilateral relationship
Reaffirming their dedication to the shared values of freedom of expression and assembly, democracy, and the rule of law
Sharing the view that only direct negotiations between the State of Israel and the Palestinians can lead to a peaceful resolution of the conflict and the achievement of a two states solution
Deeply concerned by efforts to single out the State of Israel for criticism and isolate the State of Israel internationally including calls for a boycott of the State of Israel, for the divestment of investments, and for sanctions to be imposed on Israel
Recognizing that the selective targeting of Israel reflects the new face of anti-Semitism,
Have come to the following understanding:
The Participants will work together to oppose efforts to single out or isolate the State of Israel through:
1. Developing a coordinated, public diplomacy initiative both bilaterally and in international and multilateral fora to oppose boycotts of Israel, its institutions, and its people within three to six months;
2. Publically expressing their opposition to those who would call into question the State of Israel‘s very right to exist or to defend itself, by itself;
3. Engaging in annual consultations to identify opportunities to advocate in favour of the State of Israel’s full participation in the global economy.”
Entire News Release: http://www.international.gc.ca/media/aff/news-communiques/2015/01/18b-3.aspx?lang=eng
While all forms of racism and Anti-Semitism should be resisted, in order to correctly do so we must understand what these things look like and what they do not look like. While it isn’t exactly my place as a white person in the west to dictate these terms, I’m sure we can agree that it is NOT Anti-Semitic to defend the existance and humanity of a brutally colonized people, simply because Israel happens to be a Jewish state with a government that cries “terrorism” every time it gets the chance…usually when Palestinians defend themselves against military raids and air strikes that are far more powerful and destructive than any form of self-defense they could possibly use. Palestinians also tend to fight back against their homes being bulldozed by Israelis. How dare they!
The Palestinian people not only have a right to exist, they have a right and a duty to defend their existence and fight back against their colonizers, which just so happens to be the Israeli government. People living in Canada, regardless of citizenship status also have a right and a duty to defend Palestinian existence, and be critical of the powerful forces that seek to control not only the Palestine-Israel “conflict” but all of the complex situations in the Middle East. John Baird, by signing this memorandum with the Israeli foreign minister Avigdor Lieberman, an agreement “Recognizing that the selective targeting of Israel reflects the new face of Anti-Semitism”, is trying to control the entire discourse around Palestinian human rights, hatred of Jewish people, and critical examinations of power dynamics that exist in the world.
Additionally, with Bill C-51, many of us with controversial or unpopular opinions could face criminal charges simply for expressing ourselves. This bill will give more investigative and detainment powers to law enforcement including the RCMP, CSIS, and police forces all over the country. Without regurgitating every aspect of the bill, it essentially means that if the Harper government or any authorities think there is even a chance you may be involved in “terrorist” activity, you could face legal repercussions. It is criminalizing any speech, thought, and action that they find threatening. And by labelling all criticism, or “selective targeting” of Israel as “Anti-Semitic”, no one will dare to have these discussions openly, out of fear of being labelled something they are not, or even criminally charged. To speak freely in Canada could mean going to jail regardless of your intentions.
Is it merely coincidental that John Baird would sign an agreement to fight criticism of Israel, just as the Harper government seeks to pass a bill criminalizing dissenting ideas? It could be…but how long until Palestinian human rights advocates, or even Palestinians living in Canada who are connected to their heritage, are criminalized and put under the banner of Jihadists working for ISIS, or ISIS supporters, or some other “terrorist” label? How long until openly believing that Palestinians are worthy of dignity, liberation and autonomy becomes a crime in itself? All the government has to say is that these people are “promoting terrorism”, but of course the only ones who get to define “terrorism” are white supremacist, Islamophobic politicians who create laws based off of their own misinformed paranoia.
Many Jewish folks feel as though they, of all people, have a duty to support the struggle of the Palestinians, because they too have a history of ongoing systemic violence against their people such as forced displacement, apartheid and genocide. At one point in time, Muslims and Jews of all ethnic backgrounds lived together peacefully in what was considered a shared holy land. Zionism is what disturbed the peace, and is the reason violence continues today. Just like the Israeli government, Zionism has brainwashed Canadian politicians to the point where they think that silencing dissenting opinions is “free speech”, political outspokenness and participation is “terrorism”, and enabling genocidal war criminals like Benjamin Netanyahu is standing for “peace” and “rule of law”.
I cannot be the only one who sees this as a problem. And I cannot be the only one thinking we need to fight this. What it comes down to is a war over information—if no one is allowed to talk about the world’s problems then the people will remain ignorant. But if you expose these problems and keep bringing them to the attention of those around you, the people will eventually have no choice but to unite and fight back. It is frightening and difficult and it will not be easy, but considering how long the Palestinians and Indigenous Peoples all over the world have been fighting, do any of us have an excuse?