Along with others, Zev Tiefenbach, a Montreal Jew, recently occupied the office of a Canadian politician, Irwin Colter, to protest Canada’s support for Israel. Mr. Colter, the protesters said, “embodies the hypocrisy of (Canada’s) policy…(He) is a renowned international human-rights lawyer who pathologically ignores Israeli violations of Palestinian human rights.”
Colter’s human rights advocacy, in other words, stops at the Palestinians.
Ignoring Israeli violations of Palestinian human rights is nothing new in Canada, where the Palestinian struggle against Israeli occupation is presented free of context and history, the latest Initifada understood as little more than another chapter in an ongoing saga of hate. The occupation is rarely mentioned or understood. The question of what Palestinians who dwell in refugee camps have taken refuge from is never asked. Israel’s defiance of international law and countless UN Resolutions is hidden away.
It’s as if you were transported from Mars and plopped down in the middle of occupied France with not a word of explanation of what is going on.
Tiefenbach says he learned from his grandparents — all of them Holocaust survivors — that “never again” applies to all humanity, not just Jews.
But in Canada, in a charge led by Irwin Colter and others, the idea of “never again” is to apply to Jews alone, or more broadly, to all but Palestinians.
Svend Robinson knows that all too well.
As foreign affairs critic for the New Democrats, a left-leaning party, Robinson spoke out “for peace and justice in the Middle East, and for an end to the illegal, violent and dehumanizing Israeli occupation.”
For that, Robinson was denounced as a “histrionic crank” by Bob Rae, a former party leader and one-time premier of Ontario, Canada’s largest province. Robinson has since been fired from his job as the party’s foreign affairs critic — for the crime of “taking sides.”
But pointing out that Palestinians have a just set of grievances is pointing out nothing more than what the international community has affirmed for decades. So why was Robinson fired?
The implication of Robinson’s words are what enrages Israel’s supporters. If the Palestinian cause is just, then Israeli actions are unjust. This can never be admitted to, so Canadians who are inclined to sympathize with the Palestinian struggle are urged to be impartial and not take sides.
This suits supporters of the occupation, for it ensures that the magnitude of Israeli crimes is hidden behind a veil of pseudo-impartiality, where both sides are to be held equally accountable for “the violence.” Palestinians are to be denounced for suicide bomb attacks;. Israelis to be chided for not showing enough restraint. “If only they’d both learn to get along with each other,” Canadians sigh.
Imagine the same approach applied to the Warsaw ghetto uprising. The question of why Jews had been herded into a ghetto would never be asked, and the reasons for the uprising would never be addressed. Instead, attacks on Nazi soldiers would be deplored as terrorism, while the Reich government would be cautioned against excessive use of force. If rather than being taken to task for obvious crimes, the Nazi’s actions were met by a “I wish they’d learn to get along together” who could be more pleased than the Nazis…and who could be more abandoned than the Jews?
Today, the Palestinian cause has been largely abandoned in Canada, the struggle against occupation and displacement reduced to mutual hatred and inability to live together. The inevitable response is that “it’s all an insoluble mess.”
But is it, really?
Those Canadians who read him must have been stunned when Globe and Mail columnist Rick Salutin declared the Middle East crisis to be the most resoluble problem around, if only you lay aside the fact that neither Israel nor the United States care to resolve it.
The outline of the solution has been known for decades, laid out in UN Resolutions. Dismantle the illegal settlements; end the illegal occupation; lift the illegal prohibition against Palestinian refugees returning to the homeland they fled or were driven from in 1948 and 1967.
All of these measures Israel has strenuously opposed. They are, after all, at odds with the Zionist project — to claim historical Palestine for the Jews. All of these measures have been mandated by the UN, and all blocked by the United States exercising its Security Council veto.
Had Canadians been presented with the conflict’s history and context, Salutin’s claim that the problem is readily resolved would not seem so shocking. And Tel Aviv’s and Washington’s role in blocking a just peace would be clear.
But so long as exposing the depth of the injustices Palestinians have endured for over 50 years is smeared as unbalanced, the conflict’s history, and its solutions, will remain just where the occupation’s defenders want them to remain — in the shadows.
Mr. Steve Gowans is a writer and political activist who lives in Ottawa, Canada.