Blame Canada (for Anti-Zionism)

By Adina Rosenthal

Canadian bacon isn’t the only thing that’s unkosher. Earlier this month, the Canadian Parliamentary Coalition to Combat Antisemitism (CPCCA), released its report concluding that anti-Semitism is on the rise in Canada, especially on university campuses. Since its inception in March 2009, the CPCCA, composed of 22 Parliamentarians from all parties in the House of Commons, has conducted investigations and hearings with the purported purpose “of confronting and combating antisemitism [sic] in Canada today.” Based on its findings, the committee made several recommendations to its government, such as training Canadian police forces on how to better handle anti-Semitic incidents, sponsoring conferences at universities to combat anti-Semitic events and establishing a clear definition for anti-Semitism. According to Former Liberal MP Mario Silva, Chair of the CPCCA Inquiry Panel that published the report, “We are calling on the Government of Canada to take our recommendations under serious consideration to combat the wave of antisemitism we are witnessing in our nation. Canada is founded on a set of shared values and antisemitism is an affront to all we stand for in this country.”

In their report, the CPCCA identified a “new anti-Semitism” prominent in Canadian discourse, that is “increasingly focused on the role of Israel in the conflict between Israelis and Palestinians in the Middle East.” The report further adds, “Jews are seen as supporters of Israel and are seen by some, who do not distinguish between Israelis and Jews, as a legitimate target in the fight to establish a Palestinian state or to eliminate the State of Israel.” Moreover, “anti-Semitism is being manifested in a manner which has never been dealt with before…Jewish students are ridiculed and intimidated for any deemed support for the ‘Nazi’ and ‘apartheid’ State of Israel, which is claimed to have no right to exist.” In short, anti-Zionist rhetoric has simply becomes a guise for anti-Semitic sentiment.

But not everyone is sold on the CPCCA’s report, with some critics arguing that the committee’s findings are being used to prevent legitimate criticism of Israel.  According to Alia Hogben, executive director of the Canadian Council of Muslim Women, “By referring to Israel as a ‘Jewish collectivity’ in the anti-Semitism definition, it means the state can’t be criticized…But Israel should be allowed to be criticized by the same standards of any state.” Last March, Bloc Québécois members dropped out of the committee, claiming the coalition had a pro-Israel bias. As Michel Guimond, the Bloc Whip, told a Quebec newspaper at that time: “We consider the coalition is tainted, partisan and presents a single side of the coin” in reference to the coalition’s alleged refusal to hear from pro-Arab and pro-Palestinian groups like Canadians for Justice and Peace in the Middle East and the Canadian Arab Federation.

In direct response to those who felt ill-represented during the CPCCA’s investigation, Silva argued that such groups “weren’t prepared at all, in fact, to even have any positive contribution, even state the fact that anti-Semitism is a problem…They’d rather just focus on attacking the work we were doing.”

The question of where anti-Zionism is anti-Semitism reaches beyond Canada’s borders. In Iceland, Foreign Minister Ossur Skarphedinsson announced he would support the Palestinians’ initiative to petition for state recognition at the United Nations this fall, a measure that would undermine the Israeli-Palestinian peace process. The foreign minister made this announcement after a trip to Gaza in which he concurrently called for an end to the Gaza blockade and avoided any contact with Israel. In response to criticism of the Foreign Minster’s slighting of Israel, writer Katharina Hauptmann of the Iceland Review insisted, “The fact that the Icelandic government may have issues with Israel’s treatment of Palestine has nothing at all to do with anti-Semitism.” In regards to Yale closing its initiative for the Interdisciplinary Study of Antisemitism, a recent Jerusalem Post article pointed out, “Given the widespread acceptability of anti-Zionism, some anti-Semites have insisted that they’re ‘only’ anti-Zionists, and that Israel and the Jews have become the new Nazis, perpetrating a Holocaust of their own.”

Essentially, it seems that whether anti-Zionism and anti-Semitism are being melded is not the issue. Both sides agree that they are, and a new definition of anti-Semitism is now commonly accepted. Rather, the point of contention is whether such a conflation is legitimate. If you are anti-Semitic, you are probably anti-Zionist, but does the converse also hold true?  If you are anti-Zionist, are you also anti-Semitic? The answer is “not necessarily”; political discourse isn’t usually so black and white.

The CPCCA report evinces a global increase in anti-Semitism. According to the British Community Security Trust, the United Kingdom had 924 anti-Semitic incidents in 2009, finding that the main reason for this record spike was the “unprecedented number” of such incidents recorded in January and February of 2009, during and after the war between Israel and Hamas in Gaza. The CPCCA report draws parallels with this data for Canada, noting 1,306 anti-Semitic incidents in 2010, up from 1,264 the year before. According to the CPCCA report, “As in other jurisdictions [of Canada], antisemitic incidents…tend to be tied to the situation in the Middle East.” Though the report doesn’t provide concrete numbers of anti-Zionism resulting in anti-Semitic acts, the qualitative evidence, particularly on Canadian campuses, should raise some eyebrows. Math might not provide a definitive answer here.  But if it looks like a duck, walks like a duck and quacks like a duck…well, you be the judge.

4 responses to “Blame Canada (for Anti-Zionism)

  1. I personally see no problem with having anti-Israeli views. It is tough because that part of the world is perceived through religion. You have the Muslim Middle East & Jewish Israel.

    The issue I have with anti-Israeli sentiment is that when paralleling situations to the US, there seems to be a bias with Israel that there isn’t with the US. So to me anyways, there’s obviously some bias, whether it’s due to religion or not is hard to say.

  2. There is a very fine line. Being anti-zionist is a legitimate political position. Being anti-semitic is not. There is so much overlap, however, that individuals should be very careful to distinguish.

  3. As far as I am concerned, someone who is an anti -Zionist is also an anti-Semite. Very informative article…perhaps some of our Canadian Jewish friends could comment on any experiences they have had with anti-Semitism to further educate us.

  4. Beth McCracken-Harness

    If someone is critical of Israel, but thinks Israel should exist, are they anti-Zionist? I don’t think so. If someone identifies with the plight of the Palestinians, is that person anti-Zionist? Not necessarily. I am critical of America, but I am not anti-American. That said, this is clearly anti-Zionist and anti-Semitic: “Jewish students are ridiculed and intimidated for any deemed support for the ‘Nazi’ and ‘apartheid’ State of Israel, which is claimed to have no right to exist.”

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