Knowing and Not Knowing: Canada, Indigenous Rights, Israel and Palestine

Justice is turned back, and righteousness stands at a distance, for truth stumbles in the public square, and uprightness cannot enter. Truth is lacking, and whoever turns from evil is despoiled. (Isaiah 59: 14-15, NRSV

Since truths about Indigenous rights and about Israel-Palestine have indeed been made to stumble in this country, I want to begin by alluding to contexts within which this phenomenon—closely associated with deeply embedded habits and processes of “deception, self-deception, image-making, ideologizing, and defactualization”—may be understood. As my quotation marks suggest, this list of categories is not original: I've borrowed it from an essay, “Lying in Politics,”1 written in 1971 by the refugee from Nazism and political philosopher Hannah Arendt, in response to the “Pentagon Papers,” leaked documents which exposed the abysses of delusion, mendacity and criminality underlying the American assault on Vietnam. 

Four years previously, prompted by the thought that “no one, as far as I know, has ever counted truthfulness among the political virtues,” Arendt opened another essay, entitled “Truth and Politics,” with a bitter sequence of questions, asking in the first of them: “Is it of the very essence of truth to be impotent and of the very essence of power to be deceitful?”2 But while declaring the contingent truths of historical facts, actualities and events to be perpetually at risk from distortion, forgetfulness, false memory, censorship, and deliberate erasure, Arendt was not wholly a pessimist. In “Lying in Politics” she would write that because the efficiency of deception “depends entirely upon a clear notion of the truth that the liar and deceiver wishes to hide,” it follows that “truth, even if it does not prevail in public, possesses an ineradicable primacy over all falsehoods.”3 Cold comfort, one might think. 

Yet as Arendt made clear in the earlier essay, “the result of a consistent and total substitution of lies for factual truth is not that the lies will now be accepted as truth, and the truth be defamed as lies, but that the sense by which we take our bearings in the real world—and the category of truth vs. falsehood is among the mental means to this end—is being destroyed.”4 (This might be taken as a midrash on the words of Isaiah that served as my epigraph: once truth has been made to fail in the public sphere, uprightness or equity—nukohah, the standard by which judgment is enacted—is indeed shut out, with a consequent deflection of justice.) But the loss of a grip on reality entails harsh consequences, for “no human world destined to outlast the short life span of mortals within it will ever be able to survive without men willing to do what Herodotus was the first to undertake consciously—namely, legein ta eonta, to say what is.” A recognition that the continuance of human cultures depends on people being stubbornly willing, in Arendt's words, “to testify to what is and appears to them because it is,”5 is arguably embedded in the Greek term parrhesia, a central concept in Athenian democracy that Michel Foucault analyzed in lectures delivered during the last year of his life in 1983-84.6 Parrhesia referred to the active citizen's duty to fearlessly speak the truth to fellow-citizens—even, and especially, when that truth might be unwelcome, and when telling it might involve social sanctions for the parrhesiastes, the dutiful and fearless truth-teller. 

In recent years these reflections by Arendt and Foucault on the dire consequences of a regime of falsehood and on the ethical imperative of truth-speaking have acquired a hard-edged urgency—for reasons that include all-encompassing rather than merely local threats to survival. For while climate scientists inform us that humanity has entered the era of the sixth mass extinction on this planet, which on our present trajectory will encompass the extinction of our own species,7 powerful corporate interests have nonetheless been pouring resources into campaigns of climate-change denial and disinformation;8 and although American geopolitical provocations and aggressive propaganda have raised tensions between nuclear-armed powers to a level unknown since the height of the Cold War, American leaders reject scientific evidence that nuclear war would likewise entail extinction.9

Patterns of denial and delusion in other domains have been discussed by many analysts, among them Chris Hedges, who in his book America: The Farewell Tour catalogues linked idiocies in lawless and chaotic foreign interventions, destructive and inhumane socio-economic policies, ecological devastation, an unprincipled assault upon free speech and public education, and cant about democracy that obscures an actual decline into despotism.10 But, Hedges insists, “The most ominous danger we face comes from the marginalization and destruction of institutions [...] that once ensured that civil discourse was rooted in reality and fact, helping us distinguish lies from truth, and facilitate justice.”11 That marginalization has been assisted by proliferating agencies of disinformation, such as Propornot, the Atlantic Council, the Canary Project, and the Integrity Initiative, which have been organized by states and by corporations such as Facebook, Google, and theWashington Post in order to carry out what Thomas S. Harrington sardonically terms “informational eugenics.”12

The same social pathologies are also developing in Canada, where one can note tendencies toward foreign interventionism, ecocide, and policies that exacerbate the gap between the wealthy and the economically insecure, together with a concomitant narrowing of the boundaries of political discourse and a growing contempt on the part of political elites for democratic norms, for legality, both domestic and international, and for readily ascertainable facts and realities.13

These latter tendencies are particularly evident in the behaviour of Canadian political elites and the Canadian state in relation to Indigenous people in this country, and the positions they have adopted in relation to Israeli apartheid and colonization, and to Canadian supporters of Palestinian resistance.

* * * * *

On November 7, 2018, the eightieth anniversary of Kristallnacht, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau delivered an apology in the House of Commons for an event that occurred seven months after Kristallnacht, in June 1939—Canada's refusal of landing rights to more than 900 Jewish refugees aboard the MS St. Louis, some 250 of whom subsequently died in the Shoah—and for the disgraceful antisemitic policies that had prompted that act.

Trudeau spoke also of present-day antisemitism:

“Holocaust deniers still exist. [....] Jewish institutions and neighbourhoods are still being vandalized with swastikas. Jewish students still feel unwelcome and uncomfortable on some of our college and university campuses because of BDS-related intimidation. And out of our entire community of nations, it is Israel whose right to exist is most widely—and wrongly—questioned. Discrimination and violence against Jewish people in Canada and around the world continues at an alarming rate.”14

This last statement was followed by an extended reference to the murder of eleven Jewish worshippers in the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh less than two weeks previously.

Responses to this apology included an Open Letter of January 15 signed by 236 Canadian academics (of whom I was one). Thanking Mr. Trudeau for acknowledging Canada's complicity in the deaths of the St. Louis refugees murdered in the Holocaust, the letter emphasized (as he had also done) that “it is more important than ever to pay close heed to Canada's own history of bigotry and to recommit to preventing such tragedies from ever happening again.” For that reason, the letter stated, “we must register our deep disappointment with your apology's inclusion of condemnation for the Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions movement (BDS) and your equation of BDS with the worst kind of hate crimes. This troubling conflation does nothing to stop anti-Semitism, but instead only targets and misrepresents peaceful advocacy for Palestinian human rights [....] and help[s] to perpetuate a chilling, anti-democratic climate on campuses....” The letter also echoed “the sentiment of Independent Jewish Voices Canada (IJV), who note that '[t]his apology comes within a week of an announcement by the Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA) of plans to substantially increase deportation of migrants by 25-35%.'”15

The open letter thus exposed a two-fold hypocrisy. The integrity of Trudeau's apology for a heartless act that plunged refugees back into the persecution from which they had escaped was undercut by his government's intention to repeat this act with present-day migrants. And observing that the crime and tragedy of turning away the MS St. Louis “was committed—let us be frank—by white settler Canadians,” the letter described as “shameful” any attempt to displace guilt “for white Canada's complicity in the Holocaust onto the peaceful, grassroots work of students, faculty, and community members active in the BDS movement today.”16

At a town hall meeting on the same day that this letter was published, Mr. Trudeau was asked whether it might induce him to withdraw his condemnation of the BDS movement. He responded by reiterating his position. Antisemitism, he said, remains a major motivator of hate crimes, and has manifested itself not just in targeting individuals but also in “a new condemnation or antisemitism against the very state of Israel, which as my friend Irwin Cotler has characterized [it],” consists of “demonization of Israel, a double standard around Israel, and a delegitimization of the state of Israel.” One can criticize Israeli government decisions, as its parliamentary opposition does.

“But when you have movements like BDS that singles out Israel, that seeks to delegitimize and in some cases demonize, when you have students on campus dealing with things like Israel Apartheid Week that makes them fearful of actually attending campus events because of their religion in Canada, we have to recognize that there are things that aren't acceptable—not because of foreign policy concerns, but because of Canadian values. [...] So I, yes, sir, I will continue to condemn the BDS movement.”17

This declaration prompted a wave of responses on Twitter. CIJA, the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs, thanked Trudeau “for standing with the Jewish community against the divisive BDS campaign”—a position contradicted by Independent Jewish Voices (IJV), which declared that “Justin Trudeau isn't 'standing with us'. He's using our identities as Jews to go after support for Palestinian human rights”; and by Rabbi David Mivasair, who wrote that “Other Jews and I support BDS 100% and oppose antisemitism 100%. BDS is about freedom, justice and equality for Palestinians. Justin Trudeau doesn't know what he's talking about.”18

But Trudeau's failure to acknowledge the claims of his critics may be less a matter of ignorance than of what Arendt termed image-making, defactualization, and ideologizing. His scripted apology sandwiched a claim of “BDS-related intimidation” between references to Holocaust denial and neo-Nazi graffiti, and to the mass-murder in Pittsburgh. The implicit imagery in what followed is interesting. He invited us to remember how, in reaction to that “vicious attack,” people across Canada organized vigils and “stood in solidarity with their Jewish brothers and sisters”; he promised that we “will continue to stand with the Jewish community and call out the hatred that incited such despicable acts”; and because “[t]hese tragic events [...] attest to the work we still have to do” in relation to “evils [that] did not end with the Second World War,” he declared that “Canada and all Canadians must stand up against xenophobic and anti-Semitic attitudes that still exist,” and “must guard our communities and institutions against the kinds of evils that took hold in the hearts of so many, more than 70 years ago....” Though clichéd, this imagery of Canadians standing up to guard against a resurgence of antisemitism is ethically appealing, and echoes the words of our national anthem (“We stand on guard for thee...”).

But there is malice in Trudeau's slide from the singular (“a heinous anti-Semitic act”) to plurals (“despicable acts,” “tragic events”)—a slide that dumps anti-racist supporters of the rights of Palestinian refugees and victims of occupation into the same category as the people between whom his speech sandwiched them: Holocaust deniers, neo-Nazi vandals, and a mass murderer who identified himself in his online postings as an antisemite viciously opposed to refugees and to those who (like the Tree of Life Congregation) provide aid to them.19

This conflation of activists (many of them Jewish) who are working for the rights of refugees, with a man who murdered Jews for the double reason that they were Jews and helped refugees—was enabled by a pervasive defactualization. Trudeau occulted the actuality of the BDS movement, and likewise the fact, pointed out by Independent Jewish Voices, that in the BDS campaign's three demands—an end to Israel's occupation and colonization of Arab lands and dismantling of the Wall, recognition of the fundamental rights of Arab-Palestinian citizens of Israel to full equality, and respecting, protecting and promoting the right of Palestinian refugees to return to their homes and properties as stipulated in UN General Assembly Resolution 194—it “conforms 100% with Canada's official policy on Israel, Palestine, and human rights.”20 And while blandly forgetting elementary facts about BDS, Trudeau made claims about a supposedly systematic intimidation of Jewish students on Canadian campuses that have no basis in fact, but have nonetheless become a mainstay of pro-Israel hasbara.21

When, a decade ago, MPs who had formed themselves into the Canadian Parliamentary Coalition to Combat Antisemitism (CPCCA) conducted public hearings into antisemitism, they were annoyed to be told by the university administrators (including equity and human rights officers) who testified in their hearings that—contrary to what the CPCCA had concluded before launching its inquiry—Canadian campuses “are not hotbeds of anti-Semitism or racism of any kind....”22 As Robert Steiner, Assistant Vice-President of the University of Toronto, declared: “There is no evidence of generalized anti-Semitism on the University of Toronto's campuses. There is no evidence of Jewish students being systematically harassed and intimidated on our campuses. There is no evidence that it is dangerous to be a pro-Israel student, faculty member, or staff member on our campuses—in fact, quite the opposite.”23 The CPCCA responded in its final report by smearing the administrators as having “exhibited little knowledge” of relevant facts and as “failing in their duties.”24

During the so-called “political correctness debates” of the 1990s, “anti-PC” polemicists sought to create a mood of moral panic by retailing lurid narratives—in the vast majority of cases based on wild exaggeration, if not pure fiction—of the victimization of conservative students and faculty by politically correct radicals.25 In recent years the same pattern has re-emerged among pro-Israel polemicists, whose labours of exaggeration and confabulation are the basis of Prime Minister Trudeau's remarks about “BDS-related intimidation.” One instance of this can serve as a representative example.26

In early February 2010 a narrative of antisemitic violence at York University in Toronto was widely circulated. Some twenty members of Hasbara Fellowships (an organization sponsored by Israel's Foreign Ministry) were handing out leaflets on campus when they were approached by anti-Israel activists and (so they claimed) surrounded by “an angry mob of around 50 students” who “chanted anti-Israel and anti-Semitic slurs.” When they tried to record this behaviour, the mob “started yelling and screaming” and assaulted two of them.27 Within days, this story was reported in Arutz Sheva: Israel National News,the Jewish Telegraphic Agency (JTA), and the Jerusalem Post. But it unravelled when the university revealed that it had video surveillance footage of the incident. Reports by journalists who had viewed this footage made it clear that no assaults or threatening behaviour had occurred, and that only some thirty students had been involved: the twenty from Hasbara Fellowships, a sprinkling of onlookers, and just four pro-Palestinian students. One of the latter, Jesse Zimmerman, told the student newspaper Excalibur: “There was never a mob [...]. There were four of us, and they [Hasbara Fellowships] were surrounding us and making personal attacks on us and yelling shit at me.”28

The original narrative was thus an inversion of reality: if anyone was victimized in this incident, it was the pro-Palestinian students—not least because the lies told by the pro-Israel group prompted the Jewish Defence League to threaten vigilante violence against them.29 As a matter of fact, systematic intimidation over the Israel-Palestine issue does indeed occur on North American campuses—but it is conducted by pro-Israel organizations like the notorious Canary Mission slander-and-doxxing organization, and its victims are pro-Palestinian activists.30

The ideological system shaping Mr. Trudeau's image-making and defactualization was identified by the Prime Minister himself when he acknowledged Irwin Cotler, former professor of law at McGill University and Minister of Justice and Attorney General in the government of Paul Martin from 2003 to 2006, as the source of his understanding of a “new antisemitism.” In the words of Antony Lerman, the founding editor of Antisemitism World Report, Cotler has indeed been “one of the key figures” since the 1970s in disseminating this ideology.31 But that fact does not redound to Cotler's credit. 

The “new antisemitism,” as the historian Norman G. Finkelstein has written, is “neither new nor about antisemitism.” The term was put into circulation more than forty years ago by national leaders of the US Anti-Defamation League—whose aim in deploying it, Finkelstein demonstrates, was “not to fight anti-Semitism but rather to exploit the historical suffering of Jews in order to immunize Israel against criticism,” and to resist pressures exerted on Israel after the October 1973 war “to withdraw from the Egyptian Sinai and to reach a diplomatic settlement with the Palestinians.”32 More recent iterations of this ideology that have been published in increasing numbers since 2001 have worked, Finkelstein writes, to stir up “a calculated hysteria” whose consequences “haven't been just to immunize Israel from legitimate criticism. Its overarching purpose, like that of the 'war on terrorism,' has been to deflect criticism of an unprecedented assault on international law.”33

The “new antisemitism” can be briefly defined as a rhetorical gambit which consists in claiming that the tropes of antisemitism, one of whose functions has been to justify the exclusion of Jews from the full rights of citizenship in whatever country they inhabit, are now being turned against the “collective Jew,” as embodied in the state of Israel—with the purpose this time of excluding Jews as a national collective from enjoying their full rights of participation in the family of nations.34 The aim of this rhetorical turn is to defend Israeli policies and actions by proposing that critics only pretend to be acting on the basis of universal principles of justice and equity; these people are instead antisemites who in a “sophisticated” manner have redirected their hatred against the Jewish nation-state. 

This accusation enables stunning feats of sophistry. The classic tropes of Christian antisemitism rested upon perverse processes of mimetic projection and inversion in which, for example, reflections on the image of the Christ child, the future crucified Redeemer, generated the blood libel, whereby Jews were accused of ritually murdering Christian children in a parody of the Christian narrative of redemption; or in which New Testament fictions about the behaviour of Caiaphas and his Sanhedrin in the trial of Jesus generated further fictions of a conclave of Jewish elders who in demonic parody of the Pope and his College of Cardinals conspired against Christendom—this fantasy taking the final form, in the late 19th century, of the Protocols of the Elders of Zion. Tropes like these displace structures of Christian belief into forms that produce an illusion of victimization by Jews, and consequently incite persecution and violence. The rhetoric developed by the ideologues of the “new antisemitism” involves a further act of displacement—one in which antisemitic tropes are used as an overlay that occults or erases actual present-day Israeli war crimes and crimes against humanity, and makes the actual perpetrators into victims of their accusers, who in turn are told they must carry the leper's rattle of the accused antisemite. 

Thus an account, based on on-site reporting as well as on reports by human rights agencies, of the unimaginable filth and squalor to which Israel has condemned Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza by denying them adequate sewage facilities and fuel to run pumping stations, can been redescribed as effectively reviving antisemitic tropes of Jewish impurity and contamination; and accusations, however well-substantiated, of Israeli atrocities against Palestinian civilians, can be dismissed as no more than renewals of the blood libel.35 The purpose of this sophistry is obvious: it is to obscure the facts and the evidence supporting criticisms of the Israeli state's oppressions and crimes, and having disposed of these, to discover in what remains a libellous slur against Israel that can be said to resonate with the shameful tropes of European antisemitism. 

Since I have written elsewhere about Irwin Cotler's contributions to this spurious ideology of a “new antisemitism,”36 I will mention here only his most directly relevant efforts in disseminating it. In the wake of Israel's 1982 invasion of Lebanon, in the course of which some 15,000 civilians were killed and several thousand Palestinians massacred in the refugee camps of Sabra and Shatila, Cotler participated in a 1984 Jerusalem conference onHasbara: Israel's Public Image. Alluding to two of the lesser PR disasters of the war—the IDF's violation of the Canadian ambassador to Lebanon's diplomatic immunity, and a Canadian Red Cross doctor's allegations of Israeli atrocities—Cotler recommended, not that Israel change its behaviour, but rather that it “make Hasbara a priority” and enhance its capacity to offer “an authoritative rebuttal” to such stories.37

Cotler helped make hasbara a priority when he founded the Inter-Parliamentary Coalition for Combating Antisemitism (ICCA). A first attempt, in collaboration with Israel's Deputy Foreign Minister Rabbi Michael Melchior in 2002, with Cotler “provid[ing] much of the ideological underpinning,” was a failure: its structure was absurdly grandiose, and as Abraham Foxman of the US Anti-Defamation League observed, all too visibly linked to the Israeli government.38 But a second streamlined iteration of the ICCA, launched in 2008 in collaboration with John Mann, the founder of Britain's All-Party Parliamentary Group Against Antisemitism, with Cotler as chair of its Steering Committee, has been a success, holding conferences between 2009 and 2016 in London, Ottawa, Brussels, Jerusalem, and Berlin, and spawning parliamentary sub-groups in Canada, Italy and Germany that have conducted inquiries and published reports on antisemitism.39

One feature of the ICCA and its offshoots has been a strict adherence to the ideology of the “new antisemitism.” Prior to the ICCA's first conference, Anthony Lerman commented on the insulting exclusion from it of one notable expert on issues of antisemitism and academic freedom, Professor David Newman of Ben Gurion University—whose sin was to have criticized manipulative and alarmist claims “that all university activity critical of Israel is by definition antisemitism in disguise.”40 The book I edited and co-authored in 2010, Antisemitism Real and Imagined, was prompted by the similar ideological filtering evident in the deliberations of the Canadian Parliamentary Coalition to Combat Antisemitism (CPCCA): the first two parts of that book consist of statements by eleven scholars and activists and seven human rights organizations whose submissions to the CPCCA's public inquiry had been rejected for transparently ideological reasons. 

Irwin Cotler's near-ubiquity throughout the CPCCA's proceedings showed his determination to ensure the desired outcome. Co-founder of the ICCA, he shepherded a group of Canadian MPs to its inaugural London conference, where they formed the nucleus of what became the CPCCA; he then co-chaired the CPCCA subcommittee that selected the witnesses for its public inquiry;41 and he took a prominent role in that inquiry, not least because in his capacity as chair of the ICCA's Steering Committee he appeared as one of the chosen witnesses. 

Cotler's continuing prestige among Canadian parliamentarians rests in part upon his high reputation as a lawyer and legislator devoted to human rights. But a passage in “Human Rights and the New Anti-Jewishness,” an essay drafted in 2002 as a statement of the ICCA's ideological orientation,42 suggests that a stronger commitment to Israeli hasbara had pushed human rights aside. In that essay, Cotler proposed that while a commitment to Israel has emerged “as the 'civil religion' of world Jewry—the organizing idiom of Jewish self-determination,” antisemitism has retained its consistent essence as “an assault upon whatever is the core of Jewish self-definition at any moment in time—be it the Jewish religion at the time of classical antisemitism, or the State of Israel as the 'civil religion' of the Jewish people under this new anti-Jewishness.” He then described the “demonizing” of Israel, “the portrayal of Israel as the enemy of all that is good and the repository of all that is evil,” as

“the contemporary analogue to the medieval indictment of the Jew as ‘the poisoner of the wells.’ In other words, in a world in which human rights has emerged as the new secular religion of our time, the portrayal of Israel as the metaphor for a human rights violator is an indictment of Israel as the ‘new anti-Christ’—as ‘the poisoner of the international wells’....”43

Readers of this passage may feel confused as to what the difference might be between a “metaphor for a human rights violator” and a human rights violator pure and simple. The former term seems meaningless, while the latter is the accusation, supported by copious evidence, that has been repeatedly levelled against the state of Israel by human rights organizations protesting its flagrant contempt for international law. Readers might feel a further confusion over the fact that this defender of human rights can discourse eloquently, in this and other essays, of wrongs supposedly inflicted upon Israel by the unbalanced judgments of one or another human rights agency, but has never a word to say about violent injustices inflicted upon the Palestinians.

In the words I have quoted Cotler is offering his reader a stark confrontation between two secular religions: the “civil religion” of Zionism which he says has displaced Judaism as “the core of Jewish self-definition,” and the discourse of human rights (and, by implication, of international humanitarian law), which he represents as a “new secular religion”—and an unenlightened one, since it encourages the demonizing of Israel, the collective Jew, just as medieval Christianity had demonized Jews and Judaism.

Two Jews, three opinions. Ask three Jews to read Cotler's essay: one may nod in agreement with it; one may denounce as blasphemous his sacralizing of the state as a substitute for Tanakh;44 the third will say that to treat Jewish self-definition and human rights as antithetical is, quite simply, antisemitic. 

* * * * *

To identify and expose the fraudulence of the ideology at work in Justin Trudeau's condemnation of BDS is not the same thing as understanding the causalities involved. A similarly uncritical support for the state of Israel is widespread among Canada's political elite (which is to say, the leading figures of the major political parties, as well as the people who control our country's major media outlets). Let us consider why.

The primary subject of Justin Trudeau's November 2018 apology might suggest one factor: that Canadians, having belatedly come to a shame-faced recognition of this country's antisemitic past—the “Gentiles Only” signs in public parks in the 1920s; immigration policies that meant Canada accepted only one-fifth as many Jewish refugees on a per-capita basis during the 1930s as the US, the UK, and Australia; the 1933 Christie Pits riot in Toronto, and the 1937 Montréal synagogue arson; the restrictions on Jewish university enrollment that continued through the 1950s45—were now determined to expiate feelings of guilt over that history, and over the Shoah as well, by avoiding any possible imputation of present-day antisemitism. But that is hardly a sufficient explanation. 

Another motif in the statements by Trudeau and his critics referred to here may take us closer to an adequate explanation. The open letter of January 15 alluded to Canada's origins as a European (“white”) settler colony, thus signalling the indecency of linking the official antisemitism that prevailed eighty years ago within Canada's highly racialized and openly pro-colonialist political culture, and the explicitly anti-racist civic activism of present-day Canadians who support the Palestinians' struggle against colonization by another highly racialized state with which Canada is closely allied. Similar resonances were more forcefully expressed in a tweet by journalist Nora Loreto on the same day as the publication of that letter and the Prime Minister's repeat condemnation of BDS: “Justin Trudeau is so strongly opposed to BDS because he says it opposes Canadian values. Which is accurate, because genocide, land dispossession, white supremacy and violence are all at the centre of our so-called values. Settler states stick together.”46

Much the same point had been made in December 2018 by Hamid Dabashi, in an article that excoriated Trudeau's apology-plus-BDS-condemnation as “incoherent” and “vacuous”: “Trudeau paid the price of his dishonest and disingenuous apology with the unalienable rights of yet another people at the receiving end of yet another egregious criminal act, this time perpetrated not by the Nazis against Jews but by Israelis against Palestinians.”47 Arguing that Trudeau's hypocrisy on this subject reappears in his decision to nationalize and push ahead with the Kinder Morgan pipeline from the Alberta tar sands to the tidewater of British Columbia—a decision that stands in evident opposition to his professed concern for environmental matters, and that was made over the objections of First Nations people and climate scientists—Dabashi quotes the acerbic judgment of environmentalist Bill McKibben: “In case anyone wondered, this is how the world ends: with the cutest, progressivest, boybandiest leader in the world going fully in the tank for the oil industry.”48 The ease with which, having proclaimed reconciliation with Indigenous people to be one of his government's top priorities, Trudeau has pushed pipeline projects through First Nation territories is proof for Dabashi that his “electioneering song and dance about being truly apologetic for the terror white European settler colonialists had unleashed upon the First Nations, similar to the one Trudeau's favourite Zionists have practised upon Palestinians,” was a deliberate deception—but one that his condemnation of BDS has helped to expose: “His lies about his commitment to the rights of the First Nations [...] become transparent by his racist position against the Palestinians.”49

The concurrence in January 2019 of Justin Trudeau's reiteration of his condemnation of BDS with the moment at which a long-simmering dispute over a proposed fracked-gas pipeline through the ancestral territories of the Wet'suwet'en people of northern British Columbia came to the boil, with heavily-armed RCMP units demolishing Indigenous blockades, made parallels between Canada and Israel as settler-colony states seem all the more obvious. Many of the recent conflicts between First Nations and the Canadian state—among them the resistance of the Ardoch Algonquin First Nation and of the Elsipogtog Mi'kmaq to mining and fracking exploration in 2008 and 2013—have been prompted by resource exploration issues. It is hard not to see resonances between such episodes as these and Israel's behaviour in relation to Palestinian water and gas resources,50 and it may also seem relevant that in December 2018 Canada was one of a handful of countries that voted against a resolution adopted by an overwhelming majority in the UN General Assembly affirming the right of the Palestinian people to sovereignty over their natural resources.51 The notion that “Settler states stick together” may go some distance toward explaining Mr. Trudeau's behaviour. 

But there is always some danger, in drawing extended comparisons, of mistaking inessential for essential terms and falling into an interpretive vice known to literary scholars as “Fluellenism.” In Shakespeare's Henry V, Fluellen is a captain in Henry's army who, after the victory at Agincourt, wants to compare his king to that warrior-hero of antiquity whom he calls, in his Welsh-accented English, “Alexander the Pig.” (When corrected, he asks: “Why, I pray you, is not pig great? the pig, or the great, or the mighty, or the huge, or the magnanimous, are all one reckonings....”) Fluellen's comparison of Henry V and Alexander the Great begins with their birthplaces, Monmouth and Macedon, both of which have rivers running through them—and while the name of the Macedonian river escapes him, “'tis all one, 'tis alike as my fingers is to my fingers, and there is salmons in both.”52

I would propose, as a basis of comparison between Canada and Israel as settler-colonies, that in both cases the same structural principle underlies—though in somewhat different ways—the relations between settler-colonists and indigenous people. That principle is what the philosopher Jean-François Lyotard called “le différend.” A differend can be described as arising out of the intersection of heterogeneous, incommensurable, or mutually exclusive regimens of discourse within a domain characterized by a significant differential in power. Lyotard offers a judicial example to illustrate his meaning:

“A plaintiff is someone who has incurred damages, and who disposes of the means to prove it. One becomes a victim if one loses these means. One loses them, for example, if the author of the damages turns out directly or indirectly to be one's judge. [....] If the addressor, the addressee, and the sense of the testimony are neutralized, everything takes place as if there were no damages [...]. A case of differend between two parties takes place when the ‘regulation’ of the conflict that opposes them is done in the idiom of one of the parties while the wrong suffered by the other is not signified in that idiom.”53

In the case of Israel, the Zionist slogan of “a land without people for a people without land” implies a particularly brutal form of differend, because in the lived reality of Palestine (as opposed to the deceptive and discredited pseudo-scholarship of Zionist ideologues like Joan Peters and Alan Dershowitz)54 it could only be actualized through an implicitly genocidal project of deliberately emptying the land of its inhabitants in order to produce the supposedly pre-existing vacancy. This differend might take present-day forms such as these:

1) As a descendant of refugees, you present yourself as a plaintiff, holding in your hand the front-door key of the Jaffa house from which your grandparents were expelled during the Nakba. But your case will be adjudicated by the expropriators' heirs. And who do you expect will listen to you, given that under the settler-colonists' law you are a non-person and your case a nullity?

2) You hold this time the key to a house in Imwas, a village in the West Bank where you lived as a child with your parents. But for what precisely are you asking recompense? There is no such house and no such village, for Imwas was bulldozed when you and the rest of its inhabitants were driven out in 1967.

In this second instance, it is of interest to note that the 'disappeared' village of Imwas is quite probably Emmaus, the site of the most extended post-resurrection narrative in the New Testament. Jesus, who had effectively been 'disappeared' three days before in the most agonizing and humiliating way that Roman imperial power could devise, reappeared in that story to two of his disciples on the road to Emmaus and “interpreted to them in all the scriptures the things concerning himself” (Luke 24: 27); in the village's inn they were suddenly able to recognize him when he broke and blessed the bread they were to eat. But the road to Emmaus now leads to a forested recreation area known as Canada Park—constructed with tax-deductible donations from Canadians to the Jewish National Fund, which has contributed to projects of ethnic cleansing throughout Israel and the West Bank by erasing the physical evidence of Palestinian lives and culture.55

Here, then, is the material form of a discursive differend: through a deliberate disappearing act, the centuries, indeed the millennia of a people's dwelling on the site of Emmaus/Imwas have been made to vanish. However, counter-memory has been asserting itself: “Canada Park,” though a place of idyllic beauty, has become the signifier of a crime against humanity, and of Canada's complicity in a program of cultural genocide.

But the Israel-Palestine differend goes deeper than this, and the genocide involved is not merely cultural. The fact that Israel has imposed a system of apartheid upon its Palestinian subjects has been definitively established.56 But as Eva Illouz, one of Israel's most distinguished sociologists, wrote in a long essay published in Haaretz in February 2014, Israel has subjected the Palestinians in the occupied territories to something worse than apartheid, because the “matrix of domination” under which they live amounts to “a condition of slavery.” She observes that the defining feature of slavery, according to specialists in the subject like Orlando Patterson, is not that people are bought and sold as property, but rather that they live in a condition of permanent, violent and complete domination. In occupied Palestine, as she explains in detail, this matrix of domination includes subjection to arbitrary arrest, incarceration and torture; the imposition of a Kafkaesque legal system; military attacks, as well as violence and property destruction inflicted with impunity by settlers; severe restrictions on movement, marriage, and property ownership; and the imposition of “a permanent sense of dishonor” on people who “conduct their lives without predictability and continuity, live in fear of Jewish terror and of the violence of the Israeli military power, and are afraid to have no work, shelter, or family.”57

A searching analysis by Kent McNeil of “Indigenous and Crown Sovereignty in Canada” can open up the workings of a parallel differend in Canadian settlement history.58 De facto sovereignty, McNeil observes, is a straightforwardly empirical matter of who lives in, controls, and exercises authority over a territory. Legal or de jure sovereignty, in contrast, “depends on the application of a particular body of law.” The question is, whose? In North America, European nation states deployed various legal fictions (all of them resting on the idea that the continent, though visibly populated, was terra nullius)59 to support their assertions of de jure sovereignty: these included claims of ownership based upon a supposed right of discovery, “symbolic acts of possession,” and royal charters “purporting to grant huge expanses of territory to individuals and companies.”60 But at the same time Indigenous peoples had de facto sovereignty over their own territories, and possessed systems of domestic and inter-nation Indigenous law. Despite the fact that the European law of nations gave little if any recognition to Indigenous sovereignty, France, Britain and the Netherlands all at different times made formal treaties with Indigenous peoples, thereby producing a body of inter-societal law that, in contradiction to the fictions based on terra nullius, implied a relationship between sovereign powers. 

One might thus say that Canada's historical inheritance pulls in two directions—on one hand, toward a situation in which the relationship between the settler-state and Indigenous peoples is an unmitigated differend, with the latter pushed by the power differentials involved into a persistent condition of victimhood, because the dominant social discourses refuse any meaningful validation of their rights; and on the other, toward a situation in which—once issues of redress, restoration, and restitution have been engaged with—a process of dialogue leading toward reconciliation might become a possibility.

The current state of Canadian law, as defined by a unanimous decision of the Supreme Court in 2014, is that “The doctrine of terra nullius (that no one owned the land prior to European assertion of sovereignty) never applied in Canada, as confirmed by the Royal Proclamation (1763), R.S.C. 1985, App. II, No. 1.” The court's definition of the relationship between settler-state and Indigenous claims to the land (in this case, in British Columbia) is complex, but does give weight to Aboriginal title: 

“At the time of assertion of European sovereignty, the Crown acquired radical or underlying title to all the land in the province. This Crown title, however, was burdened by the pre-existing legal rights of Aboriginal people who occupied and used the land prior to European arrival. [...] The Aboriginal interest in land that burdens the Crown's underlying title is an independent legal interest, which gives rise to a fiduciary duty on the part of the Crown.”61

Canada is also burdened, however, by a history in which—during a period that Shin Imai has described as “a century-long Dark Ages in [Canada's] relations with Indigenous peoples”62—government policies were shaped less by ethical or legal principles than by racist ideologies of nationalism and imperialism, and by a determination (still very much active) to settle and exploit land and resources under a system of private and corporate property ownership. As John Milloy has written, “the centrality given to the [Royal Proclamation of 1763] in the 1982 Constitution, and its respect for Aboriginal rights, is only a relatively recent feature of Canada's history. For most of that history, from 1869 forward, the Proclamation's principles were alternately ignored, violated or, more often than not, applied with an eye to serving first national and only incidentally Aboriginal best interests.”63

Canadian Confederation in 1867 was followed by government actions that locked Indigenous people into a condition of unmitigated differend and victimhood. 1869 was the year in which an Act for the Gradual Enfranchisement of Indians abolished Indigenous forms of government, substituting elected councils under the control of Indian agents and having only municipal-level responsibilities. Seven years later the Indian Act spelled out a planned reduction of Indigenous people to a status of political impotence and cultural and economic deprivation so complete that even the question of who belonged to Indigenous communities was to be determined not by those peoples themselves but by the Department of Indian Affairs.64 These effects have since been compounded by sustained underfunding, bureaucratic inertia, and incompetence, with the result that, as Dr. Michael Dan has observed, “All the social determinants of health that are governed by the Indian Act (housing, education, economy, etc.) have been allowed to fail.”65

The violence involved in the movement of Indigenous people into reservations consisting of a small fraction of their traditional lands, and their confinement there by a pass system unsanctioned by Canadian law,66 has been largely erased from the historical consciousness of Canadians. But one major episode, studied by James Daschuk in his book Clearing the Plains, stands out as an exception.67 The situation inherited by the Canadian government when it acquired sovereignty over the territories of the northwest in December 1869 was complex, not least because of the impending collapse of an economy based on buffalo-hunting. But the government was unprepared and frankly unwilling to fulfil the obligations it took on in treaty negotiations with the plains Cree in 1876 with respect to the provision of food, medicines, education, and assistance in moving into an agricultural economy. 

The results included mass starvation and epidemics of smallpox and tuberculosis. Sir John A. Macdonald, whose party returned to power in the autumn of 1878, with Macdonald holding the position of Minister of Indian Affairs as well as that of Prime Minister, was directly responsible for appalling sufferings inflicted on sick and starving people by government agents acting on his orders to reduce expenditures on relief as much as possible. “We cannot allow them to die for want of food,” he said. But at the same time, “we are doing all we can, by refusing food until the Indians are on the verge of starvation, to reduce the expense.”68 Macdonald's most notorious action, “the forced removal of communities from their chosen reserves in the Cypress Hills after the decision to build the Canadian Pacific Railway along the southern prairies,” was carried out in 1882. This was ethnic cleansing: the rations of some 5,000 already starving people were withheld until they capitulated.69

The results of these genocidal policies were striking. In 1955 Dr. R. G. Ferguson, an authority on tuberculosis, estimated, on the basis of mortality data from annuity lists, that “the death rate on the Qu'Appelle reserves rose from 40 per 1,000 in 1881 to 127 per 1,000 in 1886, an increase of 87 per 1,000 in only five years.” Daschuk remarks that if these estimates are correct, “a European population would not experience a comparable rate until 1942—among the Jewish population of the Warsaw ghetto.”70

Another more notorious policy of genocide was inflicted on Indigenous people over a much longer period of time through the system of residential schools, which were in operation for more than a century, with the first school opening in 1883, and the last one closed down in 1996. I have written elsewhere at some length on this subject; here I will restrict myself to comments on a figure who was responsible for the system for a quarter century: Duncan Campbell Scott, who was over the same period a highly regarded writer and cultural figure.

In 1907 a special inspection of thirty-five residential school in the prairie provinces by Dr. Peter Bryce, Chief Medical Officer of the Indian Department produced shocking revelations: after fifteen years of operation, “24 per cent of all the pupils which had been in the schools were known to be dead,” and fully three-quarters of the pupils who had attended one school “were dead at the end of the 16 years since the school opened.”71 News of the report leaked out to the press, causing a scandal, but Duncan Campbell Scott blocked Bryce's recommendations in this and subsequent reports for radical changes. He wrote in 1910 to one of his colleagues, “It is readily acknowledged that Indian children lose their natural resistance to illness by habituating so closely in the residential schools, and that they die at a much higher rate than in their villages. But this alone does not justify a change in the policy of this Department, which is geared towards a final solution of our Indian problem.”72 Thomas King remarks: “Final solution. An unfortunate choice of words. Of course, no one is suggesting that Adolf Hitler was quoting Scott when Hitler talked about the final solution of the 'Jewish problem' in 1942. That would be tactless and unseemly. And just so we're perfectly clear, Scott was advocating assimilation, not extermination. Sometimes people get the two mixed up.”73

Four years later, in an essay on “Indian Affairs, 1867-1912,” Scott assessed problems encountered “in the early days of school administration in the territories” in quite casual terms: 

“The well-known predisposition of Indians to tuberculosis resulted in a very large percentage of deaths among the pupils. They were housed in buildings not carefully designed for school purposes, and those buildings became infected and dangerous to the inmates. It is quite within the mark to say that fifty per cent of the children who passed through these schools did not live to benefit from the education which they had received therein.”74

As Dr. Bryce could have informed Scott, any population that is malnourished, ill clothed, inadequately housed, and exposed to sources of infection will show a 'predisposition' to tuberculosis. But Scott was evidently willing to accept a murderous death rate in his schools as a short-cut to his goal of a Canada with no unassimilated Indians, and hence no “Indian problem.”

In June 2008, then-Prime Minister Stephen Harper issued a public apology for the residential schools. Indigenous people's response to this apology was guarded. Kevin McKay, Chair of the Nisga'a Lisims Government, said that its acceptability “is very much a personal decision of residential school survivors,” and that the Nisga'a would assess its sincerity “on the basis of the policies and actions of the government in the days and years to come.”75 For most people, the question of Harper's sincerity was answered by his declaration in September 2009 at the G20 Summit in Pittsburgh that Canada has “no history of colonialism.”76 That ignorant assertion, Derrick O'Keefe wrote, exposed “the pervasive racism-fuelled historical amnesia and denial in Canadian society” and showed what the apology “was really worth.”77

* * * * *

I would not want to risk any claim to have brought us appreciably closer, through this all-too-brief discussion, to an understanding of the perverse refusal of Canada's political elites to engage honestly with the issue of Palestine. Too many important questions remain unbroached, and too many suggestive parallels unexamined.

I would propose that the further one goes into these matters, the more one may feel a mounting frustration. On the positive side, one might observe that Canadian jurisprudence has been moving, through a succession of Supreme Court decisions, toward formulating a way out of the differend between settler-state and Indigenous understandings of territorial rights and sovereignty. But on the other hand, certain perhaps rather depressing patterns of repetition are also perceptible.

Prime Ministers make disingenuous apologies over matters of past behaviour that they seem entirely willing to repeat, in a different key, in our own time. The RCMP's assault on Wet'suwet'en rights in British Columbia 2019 reproduces, with uncanny exactitude, the pattern of the RCMP's 2013 assault on Mi'kmaq rights in New Brunswick. (In both cases, the behaviour of the police was legitimized by an injunction delivered in ignorance or defiance of the implications of a prior ruling of a superior court.) And the responses by Canadian leaders to successive crimes against humanity committed by the state of Israel against the Palestinian people remain depressingly the same. As Andrew Mitrovica wrote nine months ago:

“Canada remains silent while Israeli snipers continue to target and gas thousands of Palestinian children, women and men for defending their dignity, sovereignty, and humanity during peaceful demonstrations on Palestinian soil since the Great March of Return began on March 30.

“Though shameful, Canada's silence isn't surprising. Canada has always been silent when Israel decides, yet again, to kill as many Palestinians as it wants to, at any time, for any reason. [....] On this lethal score, there is no difference between Justin Trudeau and Chrystia Freeland and any other past Canadian prime minister or foreign minister.”78

One may hope that the present Symposium may contribute to shaking Canada out of this condition of moral lethargy.


1 Hannah Arendt, “Lying in Politics: Reflections on the Pentagon Papers,” in Crises of the Republic (New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1972), p. 44. 

2 Arendt, “Truth and Politics,” in Between Past and Future: Eight Exercises in Political Thought (1968; rpt. Harmondsworth and New York: Penguin Books, 1980), pp. 227-28. This essay was prompted as well by the campaign mounted against Arendt by leading organizations of the American Jewish community following the publication in 1963 of her book Eichmann in Jerusalem. See Arendt, “'The Formidable Dr. Robinson'” (1966), in Arendt, The Jewish Writings, ed. Jerome Kohn and Ron H. Feldman (New York: Schocken Books, 2007), pp. 496-511. 

3 “Lying in Politics,” p. 31. 

4 “Truth and Politics,” p. 257. 

5 Ibid., p. 229. 

6 See Michel Foucault, Fearless Speech, ed. Joseph Pearson (Los Angeles: Semiotext[e], 2001), especially pp. 6-74; and Foucault, The Courage of Truth (The Government of Self and Others II): Lectures at the Collège de France 1983-1984, ed Frédéric Gros, trans. Graham Burchell (2011, rpt. New York: Picador, 2012), especially pp. 1-31. 

7 See Jonathan Watts, “We have 12 years to limit climate change catastrophe, warns UN,” The Guardian (8 October 2018), The key tipping points toward runaway global warming and extinction may already have been passed; see Guy McPherson, “Climate-Change Summary and Update,” Nature Bats Last (2 August 2016),, and also Jem Bendell, “Deep Adaptation: A Map for Navigating Climate Tragedy,” IFLAS Occasional Paper 2, (27 July 2018),

8 Kathy Mulvey, Seth Shulman, et al., The Climate Deception Dossiers (2015)Union of Concerned Scientists (July 2015),; Kevin Taft, Oil's Deep State: How the Petroleum Industry Undermines Democracy and Stops Action on Global Warming (Toronto: Lorimer, 2017); Ian Urquhart, Costly Fix: Power, Politics and Nature in the Tar Sands (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2018); Donald Gutstein, The Big Stall: How Big Oil and Think Tanks are Blocking Action on Climate Change in Canada (Toronto: Lorimer, 2018). 

9 See Stephen F. Cohen, War With Russia? From Putin & Ukraine to Trump & Russiagate (New York: Skyhorse Publishing, 2018); and Steven Starr, “Turning a Blind Eye Towards Armageddon—U.S. Leaders Reject Nuclear Winter Studies,” Federation of American Scientists (9 January 2017),

10 Other writers who have analyzed these subjects include Jeremy Scahill, Dirty Wars: The World is a Battlefield (New York: Nation Books, 2013), and Max Blumenthal, The Management of Savagery: How America's National Security State Fueled the Rise of Al Qaeda, ISIS and Donald Trump (New York and London: Verso, 2019); Michael Hudson, J is for Junk Economics: A Guide to Reality in an Age of Deception (Dresden: Islet, 2017); Naomi Klein, This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs. the Climate (Toronto: Knopf Canada, 2014), and No Is Not Enough: Resisting the New Shock Politics and Winning the World We Need (Toronto: Knopf Canada, 2017); Henry A. Giroux, The University in Chains: Confronting the Military-Industrial-Academic Complex (Boulder, Colorado: Paradigm Publishers, 2007), and William Davies, “The free speech panic: how the right concocted a crisis,” The Guardian (26 July 2018),; and Chalmers Johnson, Nemesis: The Last Days of the American Republic (New York: Metropolitan Books, 2006), and Lance deHaven-Smith, Conspiracy Theory in America (Austin: University of Texas Press, 2013). 

11 Chris Hedges, America: The Farewell Tour (New York: Simon & Schuster, 2018), p. 13. 

12 Thomas S. Harrington, “Informational Eugenics,” ColdType 176 (Mid-January 2019),

13 See Michael Harris, Party of One: Stephen Harper and Canada's Radical Makeover (Toronto: Viking, 2014); Brooke Jeffrey,Dismantling Canada: Stephen Harper's New Conservative Agenda (Montréal and Kingston: McGill-Queen's University Press, 2015); and (as an update on foreign interventionism), “Trudeau Pushes Trump's Regime Change in Venezuela,” The Real News ( 28 January 2019), For evidence of “informational eugenics” at work in Canada, see Yves Engler, A Propaganda System: How Canada's government, corporations, media and academia sell war and exploitation (Vancouver: RED Publishing, and Black Point, N.S., and Winnipeg: Fernwood Publishing, 2016); and Michael Keefer, “The Walrus Wants Google to Strangle Lessons in the New McCarthyism,” (20 February 2018),; also published as “Online Censorship: Lessons in the New McCarthyism,” Centre for Research on Globalization (25 February 2018),

14 “Full Text of Justin Trudeau's St. Louis Apology,” Canadian Jewish News(7 November 2018),

15 “Open Letter from 236 Canadian Academics: Conflating BDS with Anti-Semitism is Wrong and Dangerous” (15 November 2018),; also available at Sarah Ghabrial and Elena Razlogova, “Justin Trudeau Conflating BDS with Anti-Semitism is Dangerous,”Huffington Post (15 November 2018),

16 Ibid. 

17 “Justin Trudeau on BDS – January 15, 2019,” YouTube (15 January 2019),; see also Jillian Kestler D'Amours, “Asked to reverse anti-BDS stand, Justin Trudeau doubles down,” Middle East Eye (16 January 2019, updated 17 January 2019),

18 Quoted from “Twitter up in arms after Trudeau says he'll 'continue to condemn BDS',” RT (17 January 2019),

19 See Jason Silverstein, “Robert Bowers, Pittsburgh shooting suspect, was avid poster of anti-Semitic content on Gab,” CBS News (29 October 2018),

20 “BDS Demands Are As Canadian As Maple Syrup,” Independent Jewish Voices Canada (2016),

21 Hasbara: the Hebrew word means “explanation,” or “propaganda.” 

22 These words, from Dr. Fred Lowy, President Emeritus of Concordia University, quoted from Palestine Freedom of Expression Campaign,Silencing Criticism of Israeli Apartheid (May 2010),, p. 9, were followed by a correct acknowledgment that there continue to be minor outbreaks of antisemitism and other forms of racism. The inquiry had previously heard from carefully selected witnesses flown in from the UK, US, Germany and Israel, who “performed according to expectations [...], all buttressing the contention that Canada and the West are in the throes of a wave of antisemitism of a new kind and that Canadian campuses were breeding grounds for this new form of race hatred” (ibid.). 

23 Quoted by Mordecai Briemberg and Brian Campbell, “Anti-Semitism and free speech: In Parliament this weekend,” (4 November 2010),

24 Report of the Inquiry Panel, Canadian Parliamentary Coalition to Combat Antisemitism (July 2011), available (since the CPCCA's website is defunct) at, p. 60. 

25 I offered extended analyses of this pattern in Lunar Perspectives: Field Notes from the Culture Wars (Toronto: Anansi, 1996), pp. 2-17, 21-38, 67-86, 121-24, 135-40, 183-99. 

26 A report published by Palestine Solidarity Legal Support in May 2015 found that during the preceding four months sixty false allegations of antisemitism had been recorded against students or faculty in the US “based solely on speech critical of Israeli policy”; see Nora Barrows-Friedman, “False claims of anti-Semitism climb on US campuses: New report,” The Electronic Intifada (19 May 2015), For information about five earlier cases in which exaggeration or complete confabulation are evident in accusations against students, see my essay “Desperate Imaginings: Rhetoric and Ideology of the 'New Antisemitism,” in Michael Keefer, ed., Antisemitism Real and Imagined: Responses to the Canadian Parliamentary Coalition to Combat Antisemitism (Waterloo, ON: The Canadian Charger, 2010), pp. 215-20, available online at

27 Elad Benari, “Two Jewish Students Assaulted at York University,”Shalom Life (3 February 2010). That article, which is no longer available online, is quoted at greater length in Keefer, “Desperate Imaginings,” Antisemitism Real and Imagined, pp. 220-21. 

28 Ibid., pp. 221-22. 

29 Ibid., p. 221. The JDL, an openly violent organization, offered a reward of $500 for information about the purported assailants' identities, phone numbers, and home and work addresses. Although Shalom Life, which on February 3 launched the story, exposed its falsity on February 8, the false narrative continued to be carried elsewhere—by the Canadian Jewish News (February 11) and Front Page Magazine (February 18). 

30 See Max Blumenthal and Julia Carmel, “Exposed: Pro-Israel Modern Day McCarthyites Going to Extremes to Slime Human Rights Activists,”AlterNet (30 September 2015), Detailed evidence of the smear tactics of the Israel Lobby is available in The Lobby—USA, “a four-part undercover investigation by Al Jazeera into Israel's covert influence campaign in the United States”; it is available at “Watch the film the Israel lobby didn't want you to see,”Electronic Intifada (2 November 2018), For discussion of this film, see Ali Abunimah, “How Israel lobby fakes campus anti-Semitism,” Electronic Intifada (3 February 2019), Analyses of some representative instances of the persecution of pro-Palestinian faculty members are provided in Keefer, “Desperate Imaginings,” Antisemitism Real and Imagined, pp. 223-32. 

31 Antony Lerman, “Antisemitism Redefined: Israel's Imagined National Narrative of Endless External Threat,” in Rebecca Vilkomerson and Jewish Voice for Peace, eds., On Antisemitism: Solidarity and the Struggle for Justice (Chicago: Haymarket Books, 2017), p. 8. 

32 Norman G. Finkelstein, Beyond Chutzpah: On the Misuse of Anti-Semitism and the Abuse of History (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2005), pp. 21, 22, 24. 

33 Ibid., p. 45. This and the following paragraph follow a passage in my book Hard Truths for Canada About Israel and Palestine (Toronto: LeTonnelier Media, 2015), pp. 25-26; this whole segment of my essay is based upon the more extended analysis in “Desperate Imaginings,” Antisemitism Real and Imagined, pp. 207 ff. 

34 See for example Irwin Cotler, “Making the world 'Judenstaatsrein': New anti-Semitism discriminates against the Jewish people's right to live as an equal nation,” Jerusalem Post (22 February 2009), “Judenstaatsrein,” a clever coinage, asserts in a single word a continuity between present-day critiques of Israel and the Nazi project of making Europe “Judenrein.” 

35 See Keefer, “Data and Deception: Quantitative Evidence of Antisemitism,” Antisemitism Real and Imagined, pp. 183-85, available online at; and “Desperate Imaginings,” Antisemitism Real and Imagined, pp. 211-12. 

36 See Keefer, “Introduction,” Antisemitism Real and Imagined, pp. 8-9, 13-15, available online at; “Desperate Imaginings,” pp. 212-15; and “Resisting McCarthyism: From the 'PC Wars to the 'New Antisemitism',” TransCanadiana: Polish Journal of Canadian Studies 8 (2016): 226-58, esp. pp. 236-44,, also available online at

37 Hasbara: Israel's Public Image: Problems and Remedies. The 19th America Israel Dialogue, The American Jewish Congress Monthly 51.2-3 (1984): 24,

38 See Michael J. Jordan, “To Fight the 'New Anti-Semitism,' Jewish Groups Seek Global Strategy,” The Jewish Federations of North America (1 July 2002),

39 Key documents published by the ICCA and related organizations are available at Antisemitism Policy Trust,

40 Anthony Lerman, “An open letter on antisemitism,” The Guardian (16 February 2009),

41 The subcommittee's refusal of the submissions from the Canadian Arab Federation and Canadians for Justice and Peace in the Middle East prompted the Bloc Québécois to withdraw its members from the CPCCA. 

42 A pre-publication version of this essay was shared with Michael J. Jordan, who quoted from it in his 2002 account of the faltering first iteration of the ICCA in “To Fight the 'New Anti-Semitism'....” 

43 Irwin Cotler, “Human Rights and the New Anti-Jewishness: Sounding the Alarm,” Jewish People Policy Planning Institute (November 2002, rpt. September 2004), This essay also exists in at least two other versions. An abbreviated text, containing some small editorial corrections, appeared in Crif: Conseil Représentatif des Institutions Juives de France (31 August 2016),; and a substantially different version, based on Cotler's presentation at an October 2003 Paris conference, was published in Justice: The International Association of Jewish Lawyers and Jurists 38 (Spring 2004), Both of these other versions omit wording that is quoted here. 

44 Tanakh: the Hebrew scriptures, an acronym formed from the first letter of each of the three subdivisions: Torah (the five books of Moses), Nevi'im (the prophets), and Ketuvim (writings). 

45 Studies of this history include Irving Abella and Harold Troper, None is Too Many: Canada and the Jews of Europe (1982; rpt. Toronto: Key Porter Books, 2000); Pierre Anctil, Le Rendez-vous manqué: les Juifs de Montréal face au Québec de l'entre-deux guerres (Montréal: Institut Québécois de recherche sur la culture, 1988); Irving Abella, A Coat of Many Colours: Two Centuries of Jewish Life in Canada (Toronto: Lester & Orpen Dennys, 1990); Alan Davies, ed., Antisemitism in Canada: History and Interpretation (Waterloo: Wilfrid Laurier University Press, 1992); and Gerald Tulchinsky, Canada's Jews: A People's Journey (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2008). For a summary account, see Keefer, “Antisemitism in Canada: A Disgraceful History,” in Antisemitism Real and Imagined, pp. 147-64, available online at

46 Quoted from “Twitter up in arms,” RT (17 January 2019). 

47 Hamid Dabashi, “The discreet sham of Justin Trudeau,” Al Jazeera (5 December 2018),

48 Dabashi, quoting Bill McKibben, “Say hello to Justin Trudeau, the world's newest oil executive,” The Guardian (30 May 2018),

49 Dabashi, “The discreet sham.” 

50 Israel takes more than 80 percent of West Bank water, under an 'interim' agreement reached in 1995 that was supposed to be replaced in five years by a permanent arrangement giving Palestinians sovereign control over their water resources; see Amira Hass, “The Israeli 'watergate' scandal: The Facts about Palestinian water,” Haaretz (16 February 2014), Israel has illegally blocked Palestinian access to Gaza's offshore gas fields; see Michel Chossudovsky, “War and Natural Gas: The Israeli Invasion and Gaza's Offshore Gas Fields,” Centre for Research on Globalization (8 January 2009, rpt. with a new introduction, 15 December 2018),; and Anaïs Antreasyan, “Gas Finds in the Eastern Mediterranean: Gaza, Israel, and Other Conflicts,” Journal of Palestine Studies 42.3 (Spring 2013), 29-47,

51 “UN adopts resolution on Palestinian sovereignty over natural resources,” The Palestinian Information Center (22 December 2018),

52 Shakespeare, King Henry V, ed. John H. Walter (Arden Shakespeare, 1954; rpt. London: Methuen, 1965), IV. vii. 16-18, 31-32, pp. 124-25. 

53 Jean-François Lyotard, The Differend: Phrases in Dispute, trans. Georges Van Den Abbeele (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 1988), pp. 8-9. 

54 Joan Peters claimed in From Time Immemorial: The Origins of the Arab-Jewish Conflict Over Palestine(New York: Harper & Row, 1984) that the Arabs who were driven out of what became the state of Israel during the Nakba were for the most part recent immigrants who had been attracted to the area by employment opportunities created by Jewish settlements in what had previously been largely empty territory. As demonstrated by Norman Finkelstein, Yehoshua Porath and others, this book was a hoax, and its scholarship systematically fraudulent—a fact that did not prevent Alan Dershowitz from repeating its argument and plagiarizing extensively from it in the first two chapters of The Case for Israel (Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons, 2003). See Finkelstein, Beyond Chutzpah, pp. 229-54. 

55 Jonathan Cook writes, in “Canada Park and Israeli 'memoricide',” Electronic Intifada (10 March 2009),, that “86 Palestinian villages lie buried underneath JNF parks,” and another 400 destroyed villages in Israel and the West Bank “had their lands passed on to exclusively Jewish communities.” See also Al-Haq, What Is Canada Park? (Ramallah: Al-Haq, 2008), quoted by Mary-Jo Nadeau and Alan Sears, “The Palestine Test: Countering the Silencing Campaign,” Studies in Political Economy 85 (Spring 2010): 10; and Eitan Bronstein Aparicio, “Most JNF-KKL forests and sites are located on the ruins of Palestinian villages,” trans. Charles Kamen, Zochrot (April 2014),

56 See Middle East Project of the Democracy and Governance Programme,Occupation, Colonialism, Apartheid? A re-assessment of Israel's practices in the occupied Palestinian territories under international law (Cape Town: Human Sciences Research Council of South Africa, May 2009), 302 pp.; available at; and Edward C. Corrigan, “Israel and Apartheid: A Framework for Legal Analysis,” in Ghada Ageel, ed., Apartheid in Palestine: Hard Laws and Harder Experiences (Edmonton: University of Alberta Press, 2016), pp. 213-45. 

57 Eva Illouz, “47 years a slave: a new perspective on the occupation,” Haaretz (7 February 2014),

58 Kent McNeil, “Indigenous and Crown Sovereignty in Canada,” in Michael Asch, John Borrows, and James Tully, eds., Resurgence and Reconciliation: Indigenous-Settler Relations and Earth Teachings (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2018), pp. 293-314. 

59 This Latin term, meaning “land belonging to no-one,” appears to have come into use only in the late nineteenth or the beginning of the twentieth century. However, the concept is implicit in the behaviour of European explorers and colonizers: the doctrine of discovery and symbolic claims of sovereignty, while meaningless to Indigenous peoples, are based on the assumption that Indigenous nations have no significant rights over the territory they inhabit. 

60 Ibid., p. 297. 

61 Tsilhqot'in Nation v British Columbia, 2014 SCC 44, quoted from Joanna Harrington, “Canada was never Terra Nullius,”Currie, Forcese, Oosterveld, Harrington: International Law: Doctrine, Practice and Theory ( 30 June 2014),

62 Shin Imai, “Consult, Consent, and Veto: International Norms and Canadian Treaties,” in John Borrows and Michael Coyle, eds., The Right Relationship: Reimagining the Implementation of Historical Treaties (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2017), p. 372. 

63 John Milloy, “Indian Act Colonialism: A Century of Dishonour, 1869-1969,” Research Paper, National Centre for First Nations Governance/Centre National pour la Gouvernance des Premières Nations (May 2008),, pp. 1-2. 

64 Ibid., pp. 4-11. 

65 Michael Dan, “The impact of colonization on the health of Indigenous people in Canada,”

66 See Rob Nestor, “Pass System in Canada,” The Canadian Encyclopedia (16 July 2018),; and F. Laurie Barron, “The Pass System in the Canadian West, 1882-1935,” By way of comparison, see Nadia Abu-Zahra and Adah Kay, Unfree in Palestine: Registration, Documentation and Movement Restriction (London: Pluto Press, 2012). 

67 James Daschuk, Clearing the Plains: Disease, Politics of Starvation, and the Loss of Aboriginal Life (Regina: University of Regina Press, 2013). 

68 Maureen Lux, Medicine That Walks: Disease, Medicine, and Canadian Plains Native People, 1880-1940 (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2001), pp. 69-70; quoted by Daschuk, Clearing the Plains, p. 235, n. 209. 

69 Daschuk, p. 123. 

70 Daschuk, p. 177. See R. G. Ferguson, Studies in Tuberculosis (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1955), pp. 4-8. 

71 Peter H. Bryce, The Story of a National Crime: An Appeal for Justice to the Indians of Canada (Ottawa: James Hope & Sons, 1922), p. 4. See also M. Sproule-Jones, “Crusading for the Forgotten: Dr. Peter Bryce, Public Health, and Prairie Native Residential Schools,” Canadian Bulletin of Medical History 13.2 (1996): 199-224. 

72 Duncan Campbell Scott, Letter to D. MacKay: DCS to BC Indian Agent Gen. Major D. MacKay, 12 April 2010, Department of Indian Affairs Archives, RG 10 series; quoted by Wayne K. Spear, “Indian residential schools were 'really detrimental to the development of the human being',” Wayne K. Spear (10 March 2010),

73 Thomas King, The Inconvenient Indian: A Curious Account of Native People in North America (2012; rpt. Toronto: Anchor Canada, 2013), p. 114. 

74 Duncan Campbell Scott, “Indian Affairs, 1867-1912,” pp. 204-05.

75 Quoted by Erin Hanson, “The Residential School System,”, For another Indigenous response, see Lynda Gray, “Why silence greeted Stephen Harper's residential-school apology,” The Georgia Straight (12 June 2008),

76 See David Ljunggren, “Every G20 nation wants to be Canada, insists PM,” Reuters (25 September 2009),

77 Derrick O'Keefe, “Harper in denial at G20: Canada has 'no history of colonialism',” (28 September 2009),

78 Andrew Mitrovica, “Canada's silence on Israel's crimes isn't surprising,” Al Jazeera (8 May 2018),

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