Statement at the Independent Jewish Voices Press Conference, Parliament Hill, Ottawa (8 November 2010)

At the invitation of Diana Ralph of Independent Jewish Voice's Steering Committee, I took part with her in the IJV press conference in the Charles Lynch Room (130-S, Centre Block), Parliament Hill, at 9:30 a.m. on November 8, 2010. The press conference introduced a video produced by IJV, Defend Free Speech: The threat is from the new McCarthyism, NOT the new Anti-Semitism (, featuring statements by human rights lawyers, professors, experts, and activists: Alex Neve, Trevor Purvis, Terry Greenberg, Brian Campbell, Sid Shniad, Warren Allmand, Joanne Naiman, Kevin Neish, Khaled Mouammar, Barbara Jackman, George Galloway and myself. This press conference received coverage from Le Devoir, The Toronto Star, CBC, The Jewish Chronicle, The Daily Herald-Tribune (Grande Prairie, AB), The Hamilton Spectator, and the Kitchener-Waterloo Record, and Diana Ralph was interviewed by the Globe and Mail.

A conference has been held during the past two days on Parliament Hill by a group of MPs calling themselves the Canadian Parliamentary Coalition to Combat Antisemitism (CPCCA); they are hosting the meeting of a group called the Inter-parliamentary Coalition to Combat Antisemitism (ICCA) to which they have affiliated themselves.

I am here because I believe that conference is being held under false pretenses, and because it constitutes a threat to free speech and to the proper rule of law in this country—as well as a potential threat to Canada's already shaky standing as an upholder of international law.

The conference is being held under false pretenses because the CPCCA and the ICCA are not so much concerned with real and actual antisemitism as they are with extending the definition of antisemitism to encompass any systematic critique of the state of Israel's violations of international law in its oppressive occupation and colonization of the Occupied Palestinian Territories. As the Palestine Freedom of Expression campaign has observed, “the CPCCA is not an equity initiative, but rather an attack on Palestinians and the global Palestinian solidarity movement.” I would prefer to say that the CPCCA is attempting to create a climate of opinion in which Canadian defenders of Palestinian human rights and exponents of the universal principles of international law can be smeared as antisemites and disseminators of hatred.

The CPCCA launched a parliamentary inquiry into antisemitism in Canada—whose report we are still waiting for six months after the announced date of its release—with inflammatory claims about a terrifying resurgence of antisemitism in this country, and in Canadian universities especially. These claims are refuted by the oral testimony given in the CPCCA's own inquiry by Canadian university administrators and by senior police officers. They are also more comprehensively refuted by the analyses contained in the book Antisemitism Real and Imagined: Responses to the Canadian Parliamentary Coalition to Combat Antisemitism, copies of which are available here—and copies of which have been given to every MP and senator.

The book includes eloquent, incisive texts by eleven Canadian human rights activists and scholars—a majority of whom happen to be Jewish—and by the leaders of seven human rights organizations. It also includes my own extended analysis of the relevant hate-crime and antisemitic-incident statistics, and of the rhetoric and ideology of the so-called “new antisemitism” (a term which deliberately incorporates criticism of the state of Israel).

I'd like to emphasize, as I have in the book, that criticism of Israeli policies, and support for peaceful pressure to bring Israel into conformity with international law through a campaign of boycott, divestment, and sanctions, do not mean being “against” Israel. The great English poet William Blake said, “Opposition is true friendship.”

It is not an act of friendship to encourage Israel's passage down a darkening path of violence, oppression, and illegality. Nor are we friends to ourselves if we permit our own government to continue its disgraceful complicity in the oppression of the Palestinians.

The United Nations' rejection of Canada's recent bid for a Security Council seat should be a wake-up call: this country's international reputation is in tatters. The CPCCA's attack on human rights discourse and its attempt to discredit and even criminalize criticism of Israel's policies and actions are a direct threat to free speech and to the rule of law in this country.