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March 3, 2010

Zionists use power of state to kill free speech

Scott Stockdale

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In spite of unanimous condemnation from the 30 Ontario MPPs present for the vote denouncing Israel Apartheid Week (IAW), Students Against Israeli Apartheid (SAIA) is presenting the sixth annual IAW, with events at the University of Toronto (U of T) from March 2nd to 4th, and at Ryerson from March 1st to 5th.

These events are in conjunction with events scheduled at universities and colleges around the world.

This year's theme is “Solidarity in Action: Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions (BDS).” SAIA will discuss the global BDS campaign that it took up in response to the 2005 Call for BDS by over 170 organizations representing Palestinian civil society.

Progressive Conservative MPP Peter Shurman, who tabled the motion to denounce IAW, when only 30 of the 107 MPPs were present in the Ontario Legislature, Thursday, February 25, said: “It is close to hate speech” to liken a democratic Israel to apartheid-era South Africa.

However, in South Africa, IAW is taking place in at least three cities, under the banner of "Apartheid for One is Apartheid for All.” It is being co-organized by the Congress of South African Trade Unions (COSATU), one of the main bodies which significantly contributed to the demise of apartheid in South Africa.

The Human Sciences Research Council in South Africa also supports the view that the situation in Israel and the occupied Palestinian territories is apartheid.

Meanwhile, in Quebec, Dr. Jamal Zahalka, a Palestinian leader who will be the keynote speaker for IAW, will be presented before a full session of the National Assembly of Quebec.

Since it was first launched in 2005, IAW has grown to become one of the most important global events in the Palestine solidarity calendar. Last year, more than 40 cities around the world participated in the week's activities, which took place in the wake of Israel's assault against Palestinians in the Gaza Strip. IAW continues to grow with new cities joining this year.

Although individuals and organizations including Hillel, B’nai Brith, and even some members of U of T faculty signed an open letter in 2008 characterizing IAW as irrelevant, while at the same time opposing the university for allowing it to go forward. Savannah Garmon, a member of SAIA, said SAIA strongly believes that IAW brings to campus a relevant and compelling discussion about international law and its application in real-life circumstances.

“Three demands are placed on Israel, none of which should be controversial. The first is for equal rights between Israeli Jews and Arab Palestinians who hold Israeli citizenship. For instance, in most cases, Israeli Arabs are not allowed to purchase land inside Israel, resulting from restrictions on military service. The second is to end the occupation of the West Bank and Gaza. The third is to dismantle the wall and the Jewish-only settlements in East Jerusalem and the West Bank. Finally, the BDS (Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions) campaign calls for Israel to respect the right of return for Palestinians,” Garmon said.

He added that the three demands correlate respectively to Articles 2 and 21-2 in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, U.N. Security Council Resolutions 242 and 338, and U.N. General Assembly Resolution 194.

Often when criticism of Israel surfaces, claims of anti-Semitism soon follow, and the IAW and BDS campaigns are not immune to such accusations.

The non-governmental Canadian Parliamentary Coalition to Combat Anti-Semitism (CPCCA) concluded that IAW and BDS are anti-Semitic, notwithstanding assistant vice president of strategic communications at U of T, Robert Steiner's testimony to the contrary.

Mr. Steiner stated at a CPCCA hearing on November 24 that, “There is no evidence of generalized anti-Semitism on U of T's campuses. There is no evidence of Jewish students being systematically harassed and intimidated on our campuses.”

While opponents of IAW have tried to dismiss it as irrelevant, Garmon said they have attracted the attention of 22 Canadian Parliamentarians (CPCCA) by claiming it's a grave threat.

“IAW represents an exercise of free speech rights protected by Canadian law and campus rules,” Garmon said. 

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