Respected human rights lawyer and professor of Law at Osgoode Hall in Toronto Faisal Bhabha (top left) has come under attack by B’nai Brith Canada for alleged “anti-Semitic” statements made in a recent debate on how to fight anti-Semitism. The reason? He openly challenged “Zionism”. Read more…
B’nai Brith Canada is circulating a petition to York University President Rhonda Lenton demanding that law professor Dr. Faisal Bhabha be banned from teaching human-rights courses at the university on the grounds of his “anti-Semitism”.
It is a surprising and very aggressive charge against a Canadian law professor who is a recognized expert in human rights. Dr. Bhabha has researched and published in the areas of constitutional law, disability rights, multiculturalism, legal ethics, national security, and access to justice.
From 2008 to 2011, he served as Vice-Chair with the Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario, where he adjudicated and mediated hundreds of cases. Since 2011, Faisal has been a full-time professor at Osgoode Hall Law School where he teaches in the areas of constitutional law, international law, and legal ethics.
Bhabha crossed what many Canadian Jews feel is a “Red Line”
What exactly did Bhabha do or say, that has so enraged B’nai Brith?
On June 10, Bhabha told viewers of an online debate on anti-Semitism “that “Zionism isn’t about self-determination, it’s about Jewish supremacy.”
By directly challenging the foundational notion of Zionism, to which most Canadian Jews hold dear, Bhabha crossed a hidden “red line” that few dare to challenge in Canada.
Critics of Israel know that it is easier (and safer) to criticize many of Israel’s actions than to challenge the Zionist rationale that underlies it.
After all, many Liberal Zionist organizations including Canadian Friends of Peace Now, J-Space Canada, and New Israel Foundation Canada, openly and strongly oppose the annexation of parts of the West Bank, the occupation and the settlements for example. Courageous Canadian politicians like Alexandre Boulerice or Elizabeth May dare to criticize the Netanyahu government. Church leaders and retired Canadian diplomats have spoken up about about opposing the annexation of further Palestinian lands by the Israeli government.
But they limit themselves to specific actions or policies of the Israeli government and usually accept (or avoid addressing) the basic Zionist notion of Israel as a Jewish State.
In fact, even the much debated IHRA definition of anti-Semitism accepts that criticism of Israel “per se” is not necessarily anti-Semitic, but it draws a red line at criticism of Zionism.
Excerpt from June 10 debate:
Richard Marceau (Vice President, Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs, (CIJA): “and you know what, here you’re crossing a red line”.
Sheryl Nestel (Independent Jewish Voices Canada (IJV-C)): “Who makes the line? Does CIJA make the line?“
Bhabha, a Canadian citizen of mixed French Canadian and South African Indian parentage, knows a bit about the ugly menace of white supremacy. He has also lived for several years in Israel/Palestine, where he got to see Zionism in practice.
CTIP asked Bhabha why he focuses on Zionism for critique – after all most Canadians have patriotic feelings – so what’s wrong with feeling pride in Israel?
“Zionism is a political ideology that calls for the creation of a Jewish state and encourages Jews to move there from wherever they are in the world. Critiquing Zionism is no different than critiquing Communism, Fascism or Wahhabism. Just because you do it doesn’t make you a bigot (though bigots, like anyone else, may too engage in critique),” carefully observes Bhabha.
“The establishment and maintenance of a Jewish-dominant state in Palestine could only be achieved at the unjust expense of the Palestinians. This may have made sense to the European colonial mindset of a century ago, but to my mind it has no moral merit and cannot stand today,” he continues.
For most Canadian Jews, (and apparently even for Prime Minister Trudeau) anti Zionism and anti-Semitism go hand in hand. In fact a recent survey of Canadian Jews undertaken by Environics and co-authored by York’s President and Vice-Chancellor, Rhonda Lenton, (coincidentally Bhabha’s “boss”) found that most Canadian Jews identify very closely with the Zionist idea of a Jewish State.
However, its not unanimous among Jews. A significant intellectual tradition among Jews has questioned Zionism from the beginning, notes researcher Dafna Levit in her most recent book “Wrestling with Zionism” a compendium of discussions on the topic.
Is Zionism really about “Jewish Supremacy”?
There is no such thing as “Jewish supremacy” in Canada. It does not exist. Jews do not run Canada, nor do they have special rights. Jewish Canadians have the same rights in law, in theory and in practice as any other Canadian citizens.
But Israel is not Canada. The basic theory of political Zionism today holds that Jews need and deserve a state of their own on the land that has been known in the west since the time of the crusades as Palestine. It arose in the 19th century as a defensive movement arising out of the horrible oppression of Jews in Christian Europe over several centuries, culminating in the appalling events of the Holocaust in which European Jews were nearly annihilated.
With the creation of the State of Israel on Palestinian lands starting in 1947, the defensive creed of Zionism became an aggressive one which justified creating a Jewish state at the expense of the local inhabitants. The Zionist ideology in practice today supports and justifies a political structure in Israel which keeps Jews on top and keeps the Palestinians down… and (in the case of the refugees) out.
This was brought out in stark relief with the passing of Israel’s “Nation State law“, which was adopted in 2018 and which FORMALIZED the notion that the Jewish majority in Israel has special status, rights and protection. In short, “Jewish supremacy”.
To Palestinians under the control of the Israeli military, Zionism appears to be very similar to Donald Trump’s aggressive (and racist) “Make America Great Again” ideology.
Dr. Bhabha is a courageous man. Anyone who questions Zionism in Canada risks being attacked as anti-Semitic. But he stands on firm ground, both theoretically and empirically. Dr. Bhabha and his right to openly challenge Zionism are being been supported by the Osgoode Hall Faculty Association.
The Bnai Brith petition is politically motivated. It confuses myth with objective clarity. Those who disagree with Bhabha’s claim that “Zionism is Jewish supremacy” should bring forth their own arguments, rather than making an ad hominem attack based on supposed “anti-Semitism”. Zionism should be discussable.
Canada Talks Israel Palestine (CTIP) is a weekly newsletter edited by Peter Larson, Chair of the Ottawa Forum on Israel/Palestine (OFIP). It aims to promote a serious discussion in Canada about the emotional and complex Israel/Palestine issue.
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