The Canadian Government Must Recognize that Israel Demonizes Itself

Canada's Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. (Author: Justin Trudeau's office, via Wikimedia Commons)

By Paul Salvatori  

The Canadian government recently published a report entitled, “The Rise of Ideologically Motivated Violent Extremism in Canada.”

It has several important and necessary recommendations. But this one is troubling:

“The Government of Canada thoroughly reject the demonization and delegitimization of the State of Israel, and condemn all attempts by Canadian organizations, groups, or individuals, including university campus associations, to promote these views, both at home and abroad.”

We should be concerned. This essentially is asking the Canadian government to criminalize robust criticism or dissent against Israel, which is precisely what is needed. Without it, Israel will continue to destroy the lives of countless Palestinians in relative silence and less attention will be paid to it by the larger public.

Just imagine what would be prohibited if the recommendation were, right now, made into law. Canadians would not be able to rightfully be harsh in their condemnation of Israel, for example, in killing beloved Palestinian journalist Shireen Abu Akleh—while honorably doing her job as a journalist to expose the violence of the Israeli illegal occupation in the West Bank—or near fatally wounding children like Yara al-Ghouti, who I wrote about recently, shot by Israeli navy ships for simply enjoying a day on the beach in Gaza.

In fact, that the Canadian government has said absolutely nothing about either, much less sanctioned Israel for the countless crimes it commits just like them (against journalists, children, civilians, etc.), says a lot. Specifically, it will not address human rights violations when Israel commits them. They are the exception to Canadian “values”, expressly committed to dignity at all.

As Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau himself makes it obvious, saying you care about Palestine, on the one hand, and actually caring about Palestine, on the other, are not the same thing. The first is relatively easy. Anyone can do that. It amounts to words, talk, speech. It’s not controversial.

Why the government is even considering the recommendation is questionable. Indeed it raises the question: who in or associated with the Canadian government—politicians, lobby groups, etc.—was responsible for establishing the recommendation in the first place, which aside from being anti-Palestinian is undemocratic? Why is the Canadian government ok with condemnation of other countries or states but not Israel? Canada, as is well-known, is even tolerant of harsh (and rightful) criticism against itself, such as the role it played in decimating Indigenous peoples and their culture.

There’s also something preposterous about the recommendation. You can’t quite “demonize” Israel. Israel has already done that through its own actions—militarily and otherwise—showing outright contempt for the security, dignity and well-being of Palestinians. If that’s not hateful in nature I don’t what is. By the same token, there should be in the report a recommendation against those in Canada, whether proponents of Israel or not, who harass, intimidate and slander Palestinian activists.

They are often demonized, though they shouldn’t be. They’re doing nothing wrong. In fighting for the rights of Palestinians, in fact, they are fighting for the rights of all. Israel is doing the very opposite through the ethnic cleansing of Palestine. Why is the Canadian government at all weighing the possibility of the “merits” of Canadians not protesting that? What kind of people—“razza di gente”, as my Italian grandmother (nonna) would often say—complies with that?

In some ways the recommendation is more pernicious than the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) is in practice (it’s important to here to emphasize “practice” as genuine antisemitism, in any form and including Holocaust denialism, is wholly unacceptable). In contrast to the IHRA, the recommendation does not cite or refer to antisemitism being a problem. Instead, as if it were authored by the state itself, the recommendation is saying negative talk about Israel is bad.

I’m here reminded of Noam Chomsky who in a 2002 interview observed:

The concept “anti-American” is an interesting one. The counterpart is used only in totalitarian states or military dictatorships. … Thus, in the old Soviet Union, dissidents were condemned as “anti-Soviet.” That’s a natural usage among people with deeply rooted totalitarian instincts, which identify state policy with the society, the people, the culture. In contrast, people with even the slightest concept of democracy treat such notions with ridicule and contempt. Suppose someone in Italy who criticizes Italian state policy were condemned as “anti-Italian.” It would be regarded as too ridiculous even to merit laughter. Maybe under Mussolini, but surely not otherwise.

Likewise, proponents of Israel equate “state policy with the society, the people, the culture.” Not only, in keeping with Chomsky, is this totalitarian. It’s also antisemitic. For Judaism is not in actuality Israel or vice versa.

To say they are interchangeable endorses the hateful view that Jews universally want to destroy Palestine, a vile falsehood that not only must be rejected but is at once undermined by our Jewish brothers and sisters, the world over, committed to the struggle for Palestinian justice. Mind you, Israel deplores that. It wants all who identify as Jewish to support it, wholly opposed to the righteous and morally upright teachings of Judaism itself.

Moreover, as Chomsky alludes, a state that is truly democratic is not obsessively invested, like Israel, in protecting its image. Its actions speak for it and so, naturally, it will have a positive image. It doesn’t lobby the world to achieve that, as through some dishonest public relations campaign. Like the person of integrity or the revolutionary that demands justice for all people, their favorable reputation is organically formed. It emerges, however gradually, through the respectful relationships they have with others, including honoring or treating others as full persons.

Israel doesn’t. And now is panicking that the world is seeing them for what it really is—a criminal and apartheid state. Instead of doing the right thing and genuinely working with Palestinians and the international community to dismantle that regime in its entirety, it wants to maintain the ethnic cleansing of Palestine and a squeaky-clean image of itself (the “only democracy in the Middle East”) at the same time.

Canadians must not allow this myth to flourish on its soil. In solidarity with Palestine, we must expose it for the lie it is, both individually and collectively, not unlike the courageous students at McGill University.

The alternative is that the Canadian government adopts, legislatively, the recommendation. Not only does that hamper free speech. It also mimics the fascistic spirit of Israel, where criminality is normalized and completely innocent people are killed.

Perhaps more than ever, at a time when Canada is attempting to work with Indigenous peoples to ensure they receive justice—for horrible wrongs inflicted on them via European colonization and its racist institutions (e.g. residential schools)—we must not move an inch in that direction.

Canadians know better. But we are no better than our government if we remain silent about the recommendation. Honorable Canadians, through words and action, respect democracy. Not just for ourselves but for Palestine.

– Paul Salvatori is a Toronto-based journalist, community worker and artist. Much of his work on Palestine involves public education, such as through his recently created interview series, “Palestine in Perspective” (The Dark Room Podcast), where he speaks with writers, scholars and activists. He contributed this article to The Palestine Chronicle.

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