Manitoba MLAs urged to allow free debate on Israeli apartheid

Posted: January 7, 2011 in Human Rights
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Last April, the Manitoba Legislature debated a resolution calling on the provincial government to “denounce Israeli Apartheid Week as divisive, promoting intolerance and undermining a balanced debate of the Israeli-Palestinian question.” The resolution was never put to a vote, but the debate was enlightening – perhaps in ways unintended by some of the debaters.

Those who spoke in favour of the resolution (from all three parties) argued that democratic  Israel could never be accused of practising apartheid and therefore that the term “Israeli apartheid” represented anti-Semitic hate speech.

No members spoke against the resolution, though Gord Makintosh came closest when he said “I do question the resolution’s intention . . .to formally denounce–that’s the wording–the speech of certain Manitobans on campus or anywhere, through unspecified means . . .” He concluded: “But to create a new function for provincial governments of the day in Canada to formally denounce and chill unwelcome speech–and this is unwelcome speech, I can tell you–from time to time should be very thoroughly and carefully debated in this Chamber. I am then at risk of being their next target. Manitoban supporters of Israel are then at risk of becoming a target and we should not be a party to that.”

Strikingly absent from the debate was any acknowledgment that those who use the term “Israeli apartheid” might have have some justification.  The resolution was not voted on because some members refused permission for it to be put to a vote. Surely some of them had contrary views but were unwilling or unable to express them.

All in all, the debate was extremely unbalanced and uninformed. Because this issue is likely to resurface in time for this year’s Israeli Apartheid Week, members and supporters of the Winnipeg chapter of Independent Jewish Voices Canada sent a letter to each member of the Manitoba Legislature that makes it clear that “Israeli apartheid” is a problem that is widely acknowledged and discussed by leading Israeli and South African politicians and scholars. I have reprinted it, below.

If you want to get in touch with your MLA on this issue, you can get contact information here.


Dear Member of the Manitoba Legislative Assembly,

“If this bloc of millions of Palestinians cannot vote, that will be an apartheid state.”

These words were spoken by Ehud Barak, Israel’s Minister of Defense and a former prime minister, not by organizers of Israel Apartheid Week (IAW).

How can anyone denounce discussion of Israel and apartheid when a search of the University of Manitoba library catalogue indicates there are over 4,200 articles and 5 books on the topic? Senior Israeli scholars warn of a “creeping apartheid,” and of Israel having become a “Herrenvolk democracy.”

The attached material shows that the question of Israeli apartheid is out there in the most respected circles. It is too late for local pressure groups to ask members of Manitoba’s Legislative Assembly to pass a motion denouncing forums on Israel as an apartheid state. Doing so amounts to asking the legislature to condone censorship.

The discussion of Israel as (or becoming) an apartheid state is underway. An official denouncement by the Manitoba Legislature would amount to a serious infringement on free expression. In effect, students can read about Israeli apartheid in the library — but they should not discuss it. That is what denouncing IAW would mean.

On 15 April 2010 Heather Stefanson (Tuxedo) urged the Legislative Assembly to “denounce Israeli Apartheid Week as divisive, promoting intolerance and undermining a balanced debate of the Israeli-Palestinian question.” She argued that “the word ‘apartheid’ is offensive to victims of apartheid in South Africa and ignores that Israel is a strong democracy that respects the rule of law where citizens of all backgrounds vote and serve in elected office.”

As the attached comment by the Human Science Research Council of South Africa makes clear, South Africans are not offended by the word ‘apartheid’ but by seeing apartheid re-emerge in Israel. Leading voices in South Africa, such as Kader Asmal, Breyten Breytenbach, John Dugard, Antjie Krog, Mahmood Mamdani, Barney Pityana and Desmond Tutu, have named Israel an apartheid state and called for a boycott.

In response to her claim that IAW would promote anti-Semitism and may lead to harassment of Jewish students, MLAs might have noted that the President of the University of Manitoba, David Barnard, reported to the University Board of Governors that IAW in 2010 passed without any report of intimidation.

If this matter comes before the Assembly again, you need to know that apartheid is not an inflammatory, false, dishonest term used maliciously to malign the state of Israel. It is a term debated by former Israeli prime ministers, senior scholars teaching at Israel’s most prestigious universities, and respected scholars in North America.

The statements attached here, and others like them, are not intended to foster anti-Semitism or to vilify the state of Israel. They are carefully considered warnings that Israel itself will suffer if it continues down the road toward apartheid.

We have sent you this information to facilitate your becoming informed about the serious questions being asked by Israeli and non-Israeli scholars and politicians. This is not the time to dissuade students and faculty from organizing Israel Apartheid Week. Debate free of unwarranted constraints should be encouraged. The free expression of opinion on matters put before the public is a hallmark of genuine democracy.

We request that you reply to the above address to state your position on considering a motion in the Manitoba Legislature to denounce Israeli Apartheid Week or any forum on this topic in our universities.

Sincerely,

Derek Black, Lee Anne Block, Erin Bockstael, David Camfield, Elizabeth Carlyle, Anna-Celestrya Carr, Cheryl-Anne Carr, Thane Carr, Aviva Cipilinski, Howard Davidson, Marty Dolin, Mark Etkin, Fagie Fainman, Sid Frankel, Jesse Epp-Fransen, Mark Golden, Cy Gonick, Val Gaffray, Christopher Rigaux, Paul S. Graham, Sate Hamza, Bassam Hozaima, Ghassan Jundi, Krishna Lalbiharie, Brian Latour, Vera Lemecha, Zana Lutifyya, Marilyn McGonigal, Margaret Maier, Kathleen Matheos, Richard Menec, Glenn Michalchuk, Darrell Rankin, Christopher Rigaux, John Ryan, Harold Shuster, Gurdip Singh, Sofia Soriano, Marcia Stentz, Lisa Stepnuk, Daniel Thau-Eleff, Louise Waldman, Marguerite Warner, Michael A. Welch, Michael Welfley, Alon Weinberg, Monique Woroniak, Glen Wreggitt, Diane Zack

Enclosure

Israeli Prime Ministers, South African Leaders, Israeli and non-Israeli Academics Speak Out about Israeli Apartheid. Why Demonize Doing So in Manitoba?

Ehud Barak, Israel’s Minister of Defense and former Prime Minister of Israel:

“As long as in this territory west of the Jordan River there is only one political entity called Israel it is going to be either non-Jewish, or non-democratic,” Barak said. “If this bloc of millions of Palestinians cannot vote, that will be an apartheid state.” [Quoted in “Barak: make peace with Palestinians or face apartheid,” Guardian, 03 February 2010.]

Shulamit Aloni, former Israeli Minister of Education under Yitzhak Rabin

“The US Jewish Establishment’s onslaught on former President Jimmy Carter is based on him daring to tell the truth which is known to all: through its army, the government of Israel practises a brutal form of Apartheid in the territory it occupies.” [ Article appearing in Yediot Acharonot, cited and translated from Hebrew in The Scoop, from Middle East News Service]

John J. Mearsheimer, R. Wendell Distinguished Service Professor, Political Science, University of Chicago:

“…there is not going to be a two-state solution. Gaza and the West Bank will become part of a greater Israel, which will be an apartheid state bearing a marked resemblance to white-ruled South Africa. Israelis and their American supporters invariably bristle at this comparison, but that is the future if they create a greater Israel while denying full political rights to an Arab population that will soon outnumber the Jewish population in the entirety of the land.” [Mearsheimer, J. (01 August 2010). Sinking Ship. American Conservative.]

Ehud Olmert, former Prime Minister of Israel:

“If the day comes when the two-state solution collapses, and we face a South African-style struggle for equal voting rights (also for the Palestinians in the territories), then, as soon as that happens, the State of Israel is finished.” [Quoted in “The two state solution, or Israel is done for,” Haaretz, 09 November 2007]

Baruch Kimmerling (deceased), formerly Distinguished Research Professor, Department of Sociology, University of Toronto and George S. Wise Professor of Sociology, Hebrew University, Jerusalem:

“… Israel [has] ceased being a true democratic state and became a Herrenvolk democracy. This term, coined to describe South Africa under Apartheid, describes a regime in which one group of its subjects (the citizens) enjoys full rights and another group (the non-citizens) enjoys none. The laws of Israel have become the laws of a master people and the morality that of lords of the land.” [Kimmerling, B. (2006). Politicide: The real legacy of Ariel Sharon. London: Verso, p. 39]

Oren Yiftachel, Professor of Political Geography, Ben Gurion University, Beer Sheva, Israel:

The [Gaza] disengagement has indeed made a significant difference to the political geography of Israel/Palestine, but a close examination reveals not a crossing of the watershed toward ending Israeli colonialism in favour of a two state solution but, rather, an Israeli policy of “oppressive consolidation,” a “politics of suspension,” and a perpetual probability of mutual violence. These have combined to create a political geographic order best described as “creeping apartheid.” [Yiftachel, O. ( 2005). Neither two states nor one: The disengagement and “Creeping Apartheid” in Israel/Palestine. The Arab World Geographer/Le Géographe du monde arabe Vol. 8, No 3, 125-129.]

Sciences Research Council of South Africa, South Africa’s statutory research agency:

“[D]iscriminatory treatment cannot be explained or excused on grounds of citizenship, both because it goes beyond what is permitted by ICERD [The Apartheid Convention] and because certain provisions in Israeli civil and military law provide that Jews present in the OPT who are not citizens of Israel also enjoy privileges conferred on Jewish-Israeli citizens in the OPT by virtue of being Jews. Consequently, this study finds that the State of Israel exercises control in the OPT with the purpose of maintaining a system of domination by Jews over Palestinians and that this system constitutes a breach of the prohibition of apartheid.” [Middle East Project of the Democracy and Governance Programme, Human Sciences Research Council of South Africa. (May 2009). Occupation, colonialism, Apartheid? A re-assessment of Israel’s practices in the occupied Palestinian territories under international law, p. 22]

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