There is no 'new' anti-Semitism

By Aaron Lakoff

The Israel/Palestine debate has been a controversial topic atConcordia in recent years. However, there is a point when discussion ona controversial issue can be used as a pretext for censorship andrepression. With recent political manoeuvring within and beyondConcordia around this issue, I fear that we may be moving in thatdirection.

The presidents of some 25 Canadian universities were invited toOttawa this week to testify at the Canadian Parliamentary Inquiry Intoanti-Semitism, an initiative of the Canadian Parliamentary Coalition toCombat anti-Semitism. Frederick Lowy, who was Concordia’s presidentuntil 2005, testified on Nov. 24.

As a Jewish student at Concordia myself, some might find it odd thatI would oppose such a forum and the participation of personalities frommy university.

I would be in favour of the CPCCA if its purpose were to fight realanti-Semitism, but a closer examination shows us that this isdefinitely not the case. The CPCCA is merely a tool to stifle debate onIsraeli apartheid at Canadian university campuses and elsewhere.

The CPCCA is by no means neutral or unbiased. The two ex-officiomembers of its steering committee are Liberal MP Irwin Cotler andConservative Minister of Citizenship and Immigration Jason Kenney. Bothhave openly equated critiques of Israeli policy to anti-Semitism.Kenney went so far as to denounce Israeli Apartheid Week, stating theinternational event had no place on Canadian university campuses.

Even more troubling is that the CPCCA has made the "newanti-Semitism" a large part of its focus. This "new anti-Semitism" isan intellectually dishonest phrase used to equate principled oppositionto the state of Israel’s policies as an attack against all Jewishpeople.

Ontario-based Faculty for Palestine sent a submission to the CPCCAcriticizing the notion of a "new anti-Semitism," stating, "this focuson the ‘new’ anti-Semitism orients the work of the CPCCA more towardstargeting advocacy for Palestinian rights than to protecting the humanrights of Jewish people."

There is no "new" anti-Semitism. Anti-Semitism, much like racism orsexism, never went away, and it is everyone’s responsibility to combatit.

Last February, just before IAW, B’nai Brith (which touts itself as aJewish human rights organization) took out a full-page ad in theNational Post calling on Canadian universities to shut down the event,calling it a "hate-fest." If anyone from B’nai Brith had bothered toattend any IAW public events in Montreal, they would have found thatthey were scholarly, principled, and featured many events with Jewishand Palestinian speakers.

Unfortunately, those like B’nai Brith who seek to shut down thisdebate have the ear of the Concordia administration. Last August,Concordia’s President Judith Woodsworth gave the opening remarks at aone-day conference entitled "Israel on Campus: Defending OurUniversities," held in the McConnell library building. For an entireday, the building was off-limits to Concordia students seeking to usethe library and Woodsworth’s remarks, despite numerous requests, havenever been made public.

There are no "hate-fests" happening on Canadian campuses. Acts ofanti-Semitism do occur, but Lowy himself remarked at the CPCCA’shearing that universities are not hotbeds for anti-Semitism or hate.

He curiously went on to pin vague allegations of anti-Semitism on"Islamists" who distribute "propaganda" at Concordia. Evidently, fromhis and other testimonies the CPCCA’s hearings are less concerned withcombating anti-Semitism than they are about race-baiting and stirringIslamophobia.

I believe that Israel is an apartheid state for the simple reasonthat it grants preferential treatment to its Jewish citizens whiledenying certain rights to its Palestinian Arab population solely basedon religious and ethnic identity. Some readers may not think thatIsrael is an apartheid state and have every right to believe so.Regardless, this is a matter of legitimate and important debate and itis fundamental that we give it space to be debated at Concordia atforums such as Israeli Apartheid Week.

I take serious offence to the persecution of my people being used as political cannon fodder for censorship and fear-mongering.

In a chilling turn of events last February, both Carleton andUniversity of Ottawa administrations banned the IAW poster from campus.The poster depicted an Israeli army helicopter shooting at aPalestinian child.

Sadly, over 300 Palestinian children were killed by the Israelimilitary during the brutal assault on Gaza in January. How thisposter’s message became twisted into being "offensive" or"anti-Semitic" is puzzling. It seems that the CPCCA’s formulation isthat the ‘old’ anti-Semitism entailed silence in the face of ethniccleansing, while the ‘new’ anti-Semitism means resistance in the faceof ethnic cleansing.

I will not tolerate anti-Semitism at Concordia, nor anadministration that censors and stifles debate around Israeliapartheid. If we head down the road that the CPCCA is leading us, eventhe term "anti-Semitism" will become meaningless, and we will not beable to effectively fight it in the future.

 

Aaron Lakoff is a communications student at Concordia University anda member of Not In Our Name Concordia, a campus-based anti-ZionistJewish group. 

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