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December 8, 2010

At Ottawa's Interparliamentary Coalition to Combat Antisemitism

Reuel S. Amdur

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In a speech before the Interparliamentary Coalition to Combat Antisemitism, Prime Minister Stephen Harper delighted the delegates in talking about "Jewish students under attack," apparently referring to Israel Apartheid Week. He also took aim at "a hateful ideology. . . which targets the Jewish homeland as a scapegoat," tying this "ideology" to the slaughter in Mumbai.

Harper found it perverse that critics of Israel use “the language of human rights” to target “the Jewish people by targeting the Jewish homeland, Israel, as the source of injustice and conflict in the world.”

Well, just after his remarks the media was carrying stories about the destruction of Palestinian homes in Occupied East Jerusalem and the massive building program for Jews in Occupied East Jerusalem and the Occupied West Bank. No injustice there? No source of conflict?

Michael Ignatieff addressed this same conference. He paired the firebombing of a Jewish school in Montreal with windows smashed in a Mississauga mosque. He renewed his call for “two states for two peoples,” but he found the slogan of Israel Apartheid as delegitimizing a democratic state.

Ignatieff said that Israel has a right to exist. When I confronted him to pursue his comments about Apartheid, MP Irwin Cotler intervened, just as I was wanting to know if he identified the use of the word with antisemitism. He was also concerned that universities not be places that are uncomfortable for Jews.

Debate with Irwin Cotler, On and Off

M.P. Irwin Cotler was scheduled to discuss antisemitism on a CBC morning show with Dr. Michael Keefer, author of Antisemitism Real and Imagined, and sociologist Joanne Naiman. However, he pulled out and the discussion did not happen. I cornered him at the conference and asked why he had withdrawn.

“I didn't want to be there to validate some wild-eyed conspiracy theorist,” he said, in apparent reference to Keefer's position on 9/11. He then added that Dr. Keefer was not a qualified expert in the field of antisemitism. In any case, there was no point in having a debate about the report of the Canadian Coalition to Combat Antisemitism as the report had not even been issued yet.

As I was moving away, Cotler followed me and announced, “When the report comes out, then I'll be prepared to debate him.”

Campus Antisemitism

What is to be done about Israel Apartheid Week (IAW) on campuses? That was the underlying puzzlement in one workshop at the conference.

The mood of the discussion was rather restrained. Professor Catherine Chatterly, of the University of Manitoba and founder of the Canadian Institute for the Study of Antisemitism, was concerned about the tone of discussion on campus and about pressure on Jewish students and faculty. However, she and others were inclined to promote a code of conduct approach, to promote civility on campus. Such a code would not specifically mention Israel or antisemitism.

When the idea of legal action against IAW was raised, it was quickly shot down. Such an approach, it was suggested, would be self-defeating, as it would give the impression that Jewish organizations were anti-democratic and that their arguments were weak.

Herb Gray, a former Deputy Prime Minister and currently the chancellor of Carleton University, cut to the heart of the matter, showing unease with the tenor of the discussion. The atmosphere on Canada's campuses is “not a problem for most Jewish students,” he said. In this regard, his views echoed those of university administrators invited to testify at hearings of the Canadian Parliamentary Coalition to Combat Antisemitism, administrators whose description of calm campuses was not what the Coalition was fishing for.

Some Spanish History

At the opening reception of the conference, Governor General David Johnston spoke of the reason for Spain's decline on the world stage, even at the time that it was, through the voyages of Columbus, “discovering” the New World.

However, the Inquisition was also at work. Salamanca was the leading institution of learning in Europe, but the Inquisition got rid of the Muslim scholars. Next to go were the Jewish physicians, and then other physicians whose approach was evidence-based. And so, said Johnston, the university “was left to be just a finishing school for the sons of the aristocracy.”

Palestinians in Iraq

Paulo Casaca, formerly a Socialist member of the European Parliament representing Portugal, spoke of the mistreatment of Palestinians by Arab countries. In Iraq they were attacked and killed, and fleeing Palestinians were refused entry to Lebanon, leaving them in camps at the border.

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