Independent Jewish Voices (Canada) represents Canadian Jews who share a strong commitment to social justice and universal human rights.
We especially promote justice, ethics, and humanity in Israel and Palestine, as well as in Canada.
IJV offers a range of Jewish perspectives which differ from those of the Canadian Jewish Congress, B’nai Brith, the Canada-Israel Committee, and the Canadian Council for Israel and Jewish Advocacy, all of which encourage the view that Judaism and uncritical support for Israeli policies and practices are synonymous.
IJV has chapters in seven cities across Canada (Halifax, Montreal, Ottawa, Toronto, Hamilton, Winnipeg, and Vancouver) and members in many other Canadian cities.
As Jews, we take true anti-Semitism—that is, discrimination and attacks on Jews and Judaism—very seriously. However, we reject the false assumptions on which the CPCCA and its efforts are based.
Despite protestations to the contrary, the CPCCA conflates legitimate criticism of Israel with anti-Semitism.
The CPCCA claims that its purpose is not “really about limiting legitimate criticism of the State of Israel.” However its web site says that “calls for the destruction of the State of Israel are inherently antisemitic.” IJV believes that this statement is part of an organized attempt on the part of partisans of Israel to conflate the call for the dismantling of repressive Israeli institutions and ending repressive Israeli practices regarding Palestinians with the physical destruction of the Jewish population of Israel.
The London Declaration states,
“We are alarmed at the resurrection of the old language of prejudice and its modern manifestations – in rhetoric and political action – against Jews, Jewish belief and practice and the State of Israel.”
This is another conflation of criticism of Israel with prejudice against Jews. Our organization is actively involved in the former, while we are adamantly opposed to the latter. There is a fundamental difference between the two.
Independent Jewish Voices includes a broad spectrum of opinion on this issue, ranging from strongly Zionist to strongly anti-Zionist. This diversity of views enriches and deepens our understanding. As Jews, we hold that free speech includes the right of all people to openly discuss their views on all matters related to the political reality in Israel, including whether or not they should support an ethnocratic state which privileges Jews by imposing brutal discrimination and deploys indiscriminate violence against its indigenous population as well as against its neighbours.
The CPCCA asserts, without foundation, that “the extent and severity of antisemitism is widely regarded as at its worst level since the end of the Second World War.
There is no evidence of any significant rise in anti-Semitism in Canada or elsewhere. In fact, as Globe and Mail columnist Michael Valpy reported in March 2004, an extensive survey on anti-Semitic attitudes by the Canadian Jewish Congress and the Canadian Council for Israel and Jewish Advocacy found very low levels of anti-Semitism. We find it very revealing that the CJC chose not to publish this survey and put off our requests for copies of the results. Similarly, the Anti-Defamation League’s 2002 survey of U.S. anti-Semitic attitudes found an almost steady decline in the proportion of Americans who are anti-Semitic from 29% in 1964, to 20% in 1992, to 12% in 1998, with a slight rise to 17% in 2002—just after the massacre that Israeli forces carried out at the Palestinian city of Jenin. The 2002 ADL survey found that the majority of Americans hold highly positive attitudes toward Jews, and that it was concerns over Israeli war crimes that were generating anti-Semitic attitudes.1
Even these studies are flawed, however, because they confuse individual prejudice with institutionally oppressive anti-Semitism. As Jason Kunin points out,
“it’s important to distinguish between prejudice and oppression. Prejudice is simply an opinion based on limited information or stereotypes. Everyone has prejudices. We all have some opinions based on incomplete information….Prejudice can exist at both an ideological level (e.g. “white people are ignorant and mean”) and at an individual level (e.g. “I won’t vote for that white politician”), but unless that prejudice can also translate into institutional practices that marginalize or exclude, then that prejudice is not oppression but merely a prejudice. Given the current reality of global white supremacy, neither of the examples I have given above have the potential to oppress.” On that basis, he concludes,
“Anti-Semitism, pervasive and deadly only a couple generations ago, is no longer a form of oppression.”2
What is unprecedented is not the level of anti-Semitism in the world, but rather the rising level of international outrage over Israel’s actions. To reiterate, this is not anti-Semitism, but rather a legitimate, growing expression of concern and moral outrage.
According to the drafters of this initiative, there is a pressing need to respond to what they characterize as the “new anti-Semitism,” in which “anti-Zionism is being used as a cover for anti-Semitism.” IJV believes that it is legitimate for critics of Israel’s behaviour to describe it as a system of apartheid and to deny the legitimacy of any state that engages in such practices. This is not anti-Semitism of any kind, new or old.
The CPCCA alleges that Canadian Jewish students are particularly ridiculed and intimidated for being Jewish.
For example, its press release claims “Jewish students are being threatened and intimidated to the point that they are not able to express themselves, or are even fearful to wear a Jewish skull cap or star around their necks.” IJV has co-sponsored and participated in a broad range of activities critical of Israeli abuses of Palestinian rights, including Israel Apartheid Week events, tours conducted by the Palestinian Human Rights organization Al Haq, locally-based tours of the Palestinian town of Bi’lin, and demonstrations against the horrific Israeli assault on the people of Gaza in late 2008 and early 2009.
In all those events, pro-Israeli Jewish students as well as Jews generally were welcomed and their comments treated respectfully. By contrast, YouTube has captured a number of incidents in which pro-Israel students barged into demonstrations critical of Israel or mounted provocative counter demonstrations, using the heated arguments with Palestinians and their supporters that their interventions generated as evidence that they were being “intimidated and threatened.”3 These were not cases of Jews being attacked for their Judaism, but Palestinians and their supporters arguing back forcefully against belligerent Zionist students trying to suppress their freedom of speech.
Unlike those organizations which seek to stifle open debate about this and related subjects by labelling those who oppose their views as anti-Semitic and seek to punish them for expressing them, IJV actively promotes the rights of all individuals to express themselves freely and without threat of sanction.
By launching such an inquiry, the CPCCA implies that existing human rights mechanisms are not sufficient to address actual incidents of anti-Semitism in Canada.
The Canadian Jewish Congress and B’nai Brith have been trying for years to broaden the definition of “hate crimes” to include criticism of Israel. So far, thankfully, they have been unsuccessful. The CPCCA is just the latest in this attempt to attack free speech and silence criticism of the Israeli government’s oppressive and illegal policies. It is our view that Canada’s existing human rights commissions and criminal code are more than sufficient to deal with actual incidents of anti-Semitism.
The CPCCA implies that those who are critical of Israeli policies are calling for “the destruction of the State of Israel and its inhabitants.”
This tendentious position holds that because of the Holocaust, Jews must have a Jewish state in order to be secure, and that anyone who is critical of the Jewish state and its behaviour must therefore support the destruction of the Jewish people. This is nothing more than classic fear-mongering, designed to divert attention from illegal and unethical policies carried out by the Israeli government. Thankfully, it is carrying less and less weight over time, thanks to its overuse by apologists for Israel.
To be critical of Israeli policies or even to challenge the legitimacy of the existence of a Jewish state is not equivalent to calling for the physical destruction of the State, or advocating genocide against Israeli citizens. By far the strongest military power in the region, Israel is in no danger of physical destruction. All of its neighbours, with the exception of Iraq, have recognized the state of Israel, and the two main Palestinian political factions, Fatah and Hamas have also recognized the state of Israel Fatah explicitly and Hamas implicitly.
The Coalition contends that there is a new, virulent form of anti-Semitism spreading across the world.
What is new is the unprecedented level of organizing, particularly on campuses, in response to Israel and its actions. Of particular importance with respect to this issue has been the rise of the organization known as the Coalition Against Israeli Apartheid, which engages in the kinds of activities that the members of the CPCCA appear determined to stamp out. CAIA’s purpose is to focus attention on the plight of Palestinians living in Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territories and to generate action to combat what it characterizes as the system of apartheid that exists there. Discussion about and disagreement over the appropriateness of the term “apartheid” as a descriptor for Israel and the regime that it has created in the Occupied Palestinian Territories is completely legitimate. Our organization has endorsed CAIA and has members who have actively participated in it. We categorically reject any attempt to describe the activities of CAIA as anti-Semitic and draw the Coalition’s attention to CAIA’s basis of unity, which contains the explicit statement that “We oppose all forms of racism, Islamophobia and anti-Semitism.” [Emphasis added.]
The CPCCA ignores other, far more significant incidents of hate crimes and discrimination.
Muslims, Arabs, Palestinians and other racialized people are suffering the effects of racial profiling, as well as discrimination and stereotyping that is being actively promoted by the governments of Canada, Israel and other western countries in the name of national security. In Canada, Muslims and Arabs have been subjected to official no fly lists, intrusive surveillance, extraordinary rendition and torture when they travel abroad, and they are being imprisoned without charges under Security Certificates. As the case of Suaad Hagi Mohamud demonstrates, the Canadian government treats our Muslim citizens in a clearly discriminatory manner, often failing to provide them with the same kinds of protections that other Canadians expect as a matter of course when they are abroad.
Largely as a result of the grotesquely ill-conceived “war on terror,” racist abuse of and discrimination against Canadian Muslims and Arabs is increasing dramatically. An extensive inquiry into the experiences of Muslim students conducted by the Canadian Federation of Students in 2007 found that many had experienced serious and frequent harassment and abuse both on and off campus.
The CPCCA provides no evidence for its claim that anti-Semitism is on the rise in Canada.
In summary, it is our view that what is really involved here − despite repeated disavowals − is an attempt to label criticism of Israel and its behaviour as well as organized efforts to change them as anti-Semitism and to criminalize both.
This Coalition is an illegitimate endeavour. We condemn it for what it is: an effort to whitewash Israeli behaviour and to protect it from both scrutiny and organized opposition.