“When I argued that Zionism as practiced in Israel amounts to “Jewish supremacy” Bnai Brith Canada falsely accused me of anti-Semitism”: York University professor

After participating in a debate sponsored by Ryerson University on how to oppose anti-Semitism, law professor Faisal Bhabha (top left) was the object of an aggressive campaign by Bnai Brith Canada falsely accusing him of anti-Semitism. Bnai Brith used the controversial IHRA definition of anti-Semitism to try to get him fired. As he explained in a recent article, it didn’t work. Bhabha got support from human rights activists, his faculty association and from other faculty members. He is not backing down. Read more.

On June 10, 2020 York University law Professor Faisal Bhabha participated in an on-line debate organized by Ryerson University’s Centre for Free Expression (CFE) and the Canadian Civil Liberties Association (CCLA). The debate was entitled, “Fighting Anti-Semitism or Silencing Critics of Israel: What’s Behind the Push for Governments to Adopt the IHRA Definition of Anti-Semitism?”.

Two panelists, including Professor Bhabha, argued that the controversial International Holocaust Remembrance Association (IHRA) definition can and would be used to try to intimidate and silence critics of Israel. Two other panelists argued that it doesn’t pose any danger to free speech.

Almost as if to prove Professor Bhabha’s point, Bnai Brith Canada jumped on some of his comments to launch a fierce attack. “Two weeks later“, says Bhabha, “I became the target of a national petition calling on my employer, York University, to ban me from teaching human rights. The petition was part of a smear campaign initiated by B’nai Brith Canada, designed to falsely make me look like an antisemite.”

“The petition put a target on my back,” wrote Bhabha in an article in Obiter Dicta, the student newspaper of the Osgoode Hall Law School. “The racist hate mail began to arrive on cue. The attack on my career didn’t end with the petition. B’nai Brith CEO, Michael Mostyn, wrote private letters to York University President Rhonda Lenton demanding my removal from the classroom.”

Zionism in practice and “Jewish Supremacy”

In the debate, Bhabha had described his observation of what Zionism means in Israel/Palestine where he had lived for several years. “Zionism in practice is necessarily about ensuring Jewish supremacy over Palestinians. As a form of ethno-nationalist ideology, it insists upon greater, not equal, rights for Jews in the historical land of Israel/Palestine.”

Bnai Brith reinterpreted Bhabha’s words to mean that he thinks that “hundreds of thousands” of Canadian Jews who support Zionism are equivalent to white supremacists in the USA. In a petition sent to York University President Landon, demanding Bhabha be fired, BB argues Mr. Bhabha’s twisting of Zionism rhetorically transforms hundreds of thousands of Canadian Jews into “Jewish supremacists.

Its doubtful whether Bnai Brith really believed that Bhaba was claiming that Canadian Jews are “white supremacists” like the Proud Boys. But his critique of the practice of Zionism today in Israel as a form of “Jewish Supremacy” struck a nerve. That critique is becoming louder.

Bt’selem, an Israeli civil rights organization claims that Israel has imposed a “regime of Jewish Supremacy” over all the territory it controls.

As it turns out, some Israeli Jews are also coming to the same conclusion. In a recent report, Israel’s oldest and largest human rights organization has also argued that Israel’s form of Zionism amounts to “Jewish Supremacy”.

“There is not one square inch of land between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Ocean where a Jew is not superior to a Palestinian”, wrote Hagai El-ad, Director General of Bt’selem, Israel’s oldest and biggest human rights organization in a recent article.” It is Jewish supremacy everywhere.”

There is not a single square inch in the territory Israel controls where a Palestinian and a Jew are equal. The only first-class people here are Jewish citizens such as myself, and we enjoy this status both inside the 1967 lines and beyond them, in the West Bank.

Hagai El-ad, Executive director of Bt’selem

Fighting anti-Semitism or protecting Israel?

The fight against antisemitism, like the battles against all forms of discrimination and hate, is important and deserves public attention. But the aggressive campaigning of pro-Israel groups like B’nai Brith aims to smear those who make legitimate criticisms of Israel. It does little to protect Jews from discrimination in Canada.

The threat of censorship that a smear produces is real. Smears seek only to silence and punish. This is a threat to everybody who cares about freedom, not just the smeared. To counter this trend, it is more important than ever for individuals of conscience to stand up for freedom of expression, particularly of marginalized voices and especially in the university setting.

____________________________________________________________________________________

Canada Talks Israel Palestine (CTIP) is the weekly newsletter of Peter Larson, Chair of the Ottawa Forum on Israel/Palestine (OFIP). It aims to promote a serious discussion in Canada about Canada’s response to the complicated and emotional Israel/Palestine issue with a focus on the truth, clear analysis and human rights for all. Readers with different points of view are invited to make comment.

Want to learn more about us? Go to http://www.ottawaforumip.org.

6 comments

  1. Thank you Peter for an excellent article about that debate!
    Professor Bhabha gave a very accurate account of the land between the Jordan and the sea.
    I witnessed what goes on there in 2015 and I agree along with B’tSellem that sadly the crime of apartheid is taking place there and the world should apply sanctions on the state of Israel.

  2. Bnaibrith’s use of the antisemitism smear to defame, deny defllect and dissemble about criticism/ critics of Israel and support/supporters of Palestine is getting overused, failing badly and should be subject to counter processes when individual targets are attacked and damaged. This was an excellent debate about the IHRA definition where even the strong supporters of Israel could not deny the elements of discrimination, apartheid, occupation and control in the system of Israeli presides over from the river to the sea including in the Jewish nation state law amounting to system of “Jewish supremacism”, a term with which they nonetheless took exception and debated to the best of their abilities… There was no sense at all that criticism of such a system, however defined, could or should be in any way considered antisemitic or applying to Jews as a collectivity outside of the context of Israeli state. It is obvious that criticism of South African apartheid, or the current problem of Chinese treatment of Uighurs or elements of systemic racism is not directed at all whites, Chinese, or other dominant groups, but rather at a specific problems of discrimination which can be fixed politically with appropriate corrective interventions. That Bnaibrith would use this debate to try and attack an individual participant as being antisemitic and destroy his reputation and livelihood is proof positive of Bnaibrith’s malicious if erroneous intent in its use of “antisemitism” including its references in the IHRA definition, to shut down any criticism of Israel.

  3. My own experience visiting Palestine/Israel would lead me to use the word “Exceptonalism” rather than “supremacy”. While I met more than enough Israelis who thought that Jews were superior to Palestinians (and others) I also met some who recognized that there were non-Jews who were as talented and educated as Jews but still felt strongly that they could not and should not mix freely with them. I heard sentiments like, “I would be happy to work with Palestinians but they all want to kill us or drive us away”. They would try to “cure” me of my views by reminding me of the way that our ancestors had been treated in Europe and elsewhere. Even if reminded that other groups had encountered discrimination (e.g. Roma) they were convinced that it was worse and fundamentally different for Jews. This convinced them that Jews needed a state that they controlled and that discrimination against non-Jews was justified by that. Feeling exceptional and vulnerable is hard to distinguish from feeling superior because it results in the same laws and policies but it differs in how it might be cured.

    1. I am glad you have met Jews in Israel, as have I, who support Palestinian rights. Barack Obama talks about American exceptionalism in the context that all nations have a somewhat biased positive view of their own state. He defines this as exceptionalism. Part of the difference between exceptionalism and superiority, from my perspective, is when a state enacts laws giving preferential treatment to the majority over the minority and in turn the government receives approval for it’s actions at the ballot box.

      Israelis have supported right leaning parties who have enacted over 50 laws giving preferential treatment to those of Jewish background while discriminating against Palestinians. Typically, right wing parties who have been been re-elected have campaigned on giving further legal benefits to Jewish Israelis over those of a different ancestry. How would you name the different status allotted to Palestinians who live in East Jerusalem?

      Another example, that points to me of a superiority attitude is the ongoing Judaization of Jerusalem. Finally, how would you explain the current practice of prioritizing the vaccine of certain groups over other groups? For me, it is easy to look at other historic situations where discriminatory practices are supported by the majority of the population and they have found allies who called discrimination softer names than what in hind was clearly racial/ethnic discrimination rooted in an assumption of superiority. I wonder whether a typical Palestinian would name it as Israeli superiority or Israeli exceptionalism?

      1. Steve,

        If I have given you the impression that I prefer the word “exceptionalism” to “supremacy” because that is somehow better, then I have been very unclear. I’ll try to do better.

        Barack Obama is not my dictionary. My dictionary defines “exceptionalism” as “the belief that something is exceptional,” I consider the position usually called supremacy as a special case of exceptionalism. As I wrote, the laws and policies are the same, only the claimed justification is different.

        The people that I was talking about are not “Jews in Israel who support Palestinian rights”, quite the contrary. They defend the denial of rights to Palestinians differently. They do not claim that Palestinians as a group are inferior; their justification is that Jews are almost universally hated and will be killed or driven away unless they are in control. If they are smart enough to recognize that other groups are just as capable, that just makes those groups seem more dangerous.

        Those people are not supportive of the Judaization of Jerusalem (and the rest of Palestine) because they necessarily think that they are superior. The exceptionalists who are not supremacists do it because they think they need a fortress and want to get the dangerous enemies outside the walls. I see it as a sickness. If they did ever manage to get Palestine 100% Jewish, they would still continue to try to weaken nearby countries and countries such as Iran. They will never feel secure.

        I met many exceptionalists who were supremacists but not all were.

        I raised the distinction not in defense of Jewish Israeli’s beliefs and policies, but because I would like to see those policies change. Supremacists might evolve if they came to see that the other group contained the same distribution of talents and characters as their own but that would not change the other exceptionalists. They will only change if they come to understand that you do not have to destroy the rights and safety of others in order to protect your own.

  4. I am amazed that in Feb, 2021, we still have to defend justice and honest people from being labeled antisemite,when it has been more than obvious that this term being used maliciously as a tool. (Of course, I am really not amazed, this is due to the political and financial power of the Zionists). By right it should be that when a distinguished and truth speaker like Faisal Bahbba is countered pathetically by a Zionist and than taken by Zionist lobbies, that it should be dismissed without any debate or reference.

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