Like a postage stamp that has been licked too often, a word can lose its power and authority if it is used indiscriminately.
So it is with the word “terrorist” that is now routinely applied by governments all over the world to demonize and marginalize political opposition. And likewise with the word “anti-semitic” which is a label stuck on just about anyone who is not in total support of the state of Israel and its treatment of the Palestinians.
Indeed, Jimmy Carter, former President of the United States, was given precisely that label after calling Israel an “apartheid state”.
Even South African Judge Richard Goldstone, himself Jewish, who led a UN authorized fact-finding mission into Israel’s invasion of Gaza last year has been called anti-semitic for his findings which have been labeled as “anti-Israel” by the Israeli government.
Closer to home, the aid organization Kairos had its funding cut off by the Harper government because of, the government alleges, its support for the boycott movement against Israel and its “anti-semitism”. Kairos is a joint venture of thirteen Canadian churches and church organizations, including Catholic, Anglican, Christian Reformed, Evangelical Lutheran, Mennonite, Presbyterian, Society of Friends, and United Church.
The latest public figure to get the “anti-semitic” label is NDP MP for East Vancouver, Libby Davies. She has had this pinned on her because she expressed support for the international campaign to boycott and sanction Israel for its blockade of Gaza, as well as suggesting that Israel has been “occupying” the land since 1948.
Prime Minister Harper has since called for Davies to resign as deputy NDP leader and Liberal Bob Rae has accused her of “hostility and ignorance”. Even some members of her own party, the NDP, have attacked her, with Thomas Mulcair NDP MP calling her comments “egregious” and out of step with her party.
It is quite interesting that, while the caucuses of the Conservatives, Liberals and NDP are very quick to jump on Davies, they have made no criticism of the killings by Israeli commandoes of the nine people on the ships attempting to break the blockade of Gaza by Israel.
It is also quite interesting that, as a 2007 BBC poll shows (see footnote 1), 52% of Canadians have a negative view towards Israel, while only 23% had a positive one. The question should be asked: Just who is out of step with who? Is it Libby Davies or is it the three federal parties in parliament who are out of step with the Canadian people?
Indeed, it is these same three federal political parties that have formed “The Canadian Parliamentary Committee to Combat Anti-semitism”, the members of which are claiming that criticizing Israel is a “new form” of anti-semitism. Dylan Penner, founding member of Independent Jewish Voices, believes that the ultimate objective of this Parliamentary Committee is “to introduce legislation that would make it a crime to criticize Israel”.
All of this raises serious questions about freedom of speech and right to conscience in Canada. Parliamentarians and Canadians themselves should have the right to criticize the policies and practices of any of the 190+ countries in the world as they see fit, and that includes Israel. If criticism of Israel is “off limits” and “illegal”, how soon before it become a crime to criticize the Canadian government itself?
In an interview, Libby Davies has also said that there are other federal MPs who do not approve of Israeli actions, such as the blockade of Gaza and the invasion of Lebanon, but who “are actually afraid to speak out.” According to her, this constitutes a new type of “McCarthyism” in Canada.
Why are they afraid to speak out? A number of analysts have commented about the strength of the Israel lobby in the U.S. and that members of Congress are afraid to criticize Israel for fear of being targeted by this well-financed lobby. Is that the case in Canada? More than a few believe that is also true (see footnote 2).
So what are the implications for politics in Canada if MPs are afraid to speak out because they fear reprisal from the lobbyists and supporters of a foreign government? For one thing, perhaps such MPs should not be in Parliament. If they are intimidated by these lobbyists, how can they be expected to stand up for their own constituents?
Secondly, rather than having a parliamentary committee examining and dissecting the beliefs of ordinary Canadians, maybe its time would be better spent looking at the power of lobbyists in Ottawa who lobby on behalf of foreign governments and who seek to make criticism of these governments off limits or even illegal.
Now that is a postage stamp that might just stick.
Peter Ewart is a writer and columnist based in Prince George, British Columbia. He can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org
(1) BBC World Service poll. March 6, 2007.
(2) Canada’s Israel Lobby. By Peyton Vaughan Lyon, Professor Emeritus, Political Science, Carleton University.