The The "March for Gaza" in Nanaimo, Canada on Saturday, November 4th. Source: Mick Sweetman - Flickr / cropped from orginal / shared under license CC BY-ND 2.0

The pro-Israel establishment is panicking and trying to intimidate and criminalise the growing Palestine solidarity movement, but we can defeat this, argues John Clarke

The scale and momentum that the movement of Palestine solidarity has taken on in Canada has Israel’s supporters very worried. The Zionist bodies that claim to speak for Jewish people throughout the country, and the representatives of the ruling establishment are lashing out in an attempt to intimidate and contain those taking to the streets and speaking out against the crime against humanity that is unfolding in Gaza.

The solidarity movement is having a huge impact at the present time. Protests supporting the Palestinians are now ubiquitous in major cities and smaller centres across the country and are taking on a tone that expresses a sense of outrage over Canada’s complicity in Israel’s crimes. On 20 November, a session of the provincial legislature of Saskatchewan was brought to a halt by a crowd in the public gallery demanding an end to the killing in Gaza.

Recent opinion polls showed overwhelming public support for an end to Israel’s attack on Gaza. While the governing Trudeau Liberals and the Conservative opposition maintained a dogged refusal to call for a ceasefire, all the other parliamentary parties did so. This was largely attributable to the powerful mobilisations taking place across the country.

Those who wanted to buy as much time as possible for Israel to continue its assault on the Palestinians were anxious to contain the growing strength of the demand for a ceasefire. With the agreement to suspend the attack temporarily, the focus will now shift to demanding that the killing not be allowed to resume, but very similar dynamics will be at work.

Slander and intimidation

The effort to undermine Palestine solidarity has moved forward on several fronts. It has ominously included attempts to intimidate through the threat or direct use of criminal sanction. Ontario’s Conservative premier, Doug Ford, has referred to protests against the assault on Gaza as ‘hate rallies going down our streets trying to intimidate our Jewish communities’. He also seems to have some trouble distinguishing between the Hamas flag and the Palestinian national flag.

In early November, Wesam Khalid was charged by Calgary police for chanting the words ‘From the river to the sea, Palestine will be free’ at a demonstration. The charge they laid was that of causing a disturbance, but a hate motivation was applied that might have resulted in a more severe sentence. Two weeks later, the Alberta Crown Prosecution Service ‘determined there was no reasonable likelihood of conviction on the charge laid. As this matter did not meet the ACPS threshold for prosecution, the matter was stayed.’

The decision of the Alberta authorities to back away in this case is an important victory, but it should be understood that the slogan Khalid chanted has been under particular attack by Israel supporters who consistently argue that it is an incitement to genocide. Their setback in Calgary won’t prevent them from continuing to argue that the call for a free Palestine should be criminalised.

A day of walkouts by high-school students took place in Ontario on 13 November, called by a student coalition named ‘Ceasefire Now’. Their demands included a call for school authorities to ‘refrain from censoring and punishing solidarity with Palestine.’ In Toronto, they drew attention to the fact that the district school board had denounced the actions of Hamas on 7 October but had stayed silent on the considerably more lethal Israeli assault on Gaza.

Disgracefully, the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs (CIJA) posted a video of Toronto students chanting, ‘Trudeau, Trudeau, you can’t hide, we charge you with genocide!’ but claimed that the words being used were ‘Judah, Judah, you can’t hide’. After the video had received more than 1.2 million views, the CIJA removed it but, by that time, students whose faces were clearly visible in the video ‘reported receiving multiple threats’.

Even more outrageously, Toronto educator Javier Davila, who stood up to the CIJA and defended the students in the face of this attack, has been suspended by the school board. Davila has faced ongoing attacks for his expressions of Palestine solidarity and his defence campaign is challenging the close connection that exists between the board and the CIJA.

This month, Dr Yipeng Ge, a resident physician in his fourth year of public health and preventive medicine, was suspended by the University of Ottawa, after he shared pro-Palestinian views on social media. Those coming to his defence accuse the University of the misuse of authority and ‘intimidating residents and students through censorship.’ A petition signed by Ge’s supporters had gathered 28,000 signatures as of 19 November.

The ability of university students to show solidarity with the Palestinian struggle has also been threatened. The administration of York University in Toronto responded to a statement issued by student bodies that affirmed the right of Palestinians to resist by demanding the elected student leaders resign and it ‘launched a review to determine if they breached their responsibilities’.

The administration’s readiness to try to muzzle fully lawful expressions of opinion by elected student representatives is doubtless increased by ‘a $15-million class-action lawsuit against the university, undergraduate student union and the student centre alleging a pattern of anti-Semitic incidents dating back to 1998.’ The ‘anti-Semitism’ referred to consists, of course, of expressions and actions related to Palestine solidarity.

A superior court judge has now suspended the implementation of a policy that the student’s society at Montreal’s McGill University passed by a margin of 78% that called for ‘the university to condemn the bombing of Gaza and cut ties with corporations “complicit in genocide, settler-colonialism, apartheid or ethnic cleansing against Palestinians”.’

The Zionist organisation B’nai Brith Canada had filed an injunction request on behalf of an individual student to block the adoption of the policy and the student body will now have to fight in court for its right to free speech on Palestine. In addition to demanding the implementation of the motion be permanently prevented, $125,000 in ‘damages’ are also being sought.

‘New anti-Semitism’

In a determined effort to ensure that official Canadian support for Israel’s attack on Gaza be maintained in the face of growing opposition and resistance, the weaponisation of anti-Semitism is being taken to new levels. The examples I have given only capture a tiny portion of the attack on free speech on Palestine that is underway across the country.

The left-wing publication The Maple is now monitoring and recording incidents of interference with those speaking out for Palestine. From their investigation, it is clear that a concerted drive is underway to prevent any such expressions.

Members of the Canadian Association of Labour Lawyers, Labour4Palestine and the Legal Centre for Palestine have been driven to launch the Palestine Legal Referral Services (PLRS), an initiative that ‘connects individuals facing repercussions at the workplace for expressing views in support of Palestine and Palestinians with experienced legal counsel.’

The common thread at work here is the tired routine of declaring differences with the political ideology of Zionism and expressions of support for the Palestinian liberation struggle to be forms of anti-Semitism. This is a concept of the ‘new anti-Semitism’ that has been taken forward with the harmful use of ‘examples’ drawn from the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s (IHRA) working definition of antisemitism.

The effort to intimidate people and even criminalise solidarity in this ugly way has taken on a rather desperate quality in many countries, including Canada. It certainly needs to be taken seriously and countered vigorously, but there is no reason for pessimism or demoralisation. The movement in support of a free Palestine is growing and winning ever greater numbers to its side. The effort to contain it is failing and the crimes of Israel will not go unchallenged.

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John Clarke

John Clarke became an organiser with the Ontario Coalition Against Poverty when it was formed in 1990 and has been involved in mobilising poor communities under attack ever since.

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