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.
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.
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