Detailed research by two investigators from Independent Jewish Voices Canada has documented repeated attempts to shut down voices supportive of human rights for Palestinians on Canadian campuses. It reveals widespread efforts by a variety of Israel advocacy organizations in Canada to use the spectre of anti-Semitism to vilify voices critical of Israel. We speak to one of the authors. Read more.
Dr. Sheryl Nestel and MA candidate Rowan Gaudet spent the last year conducting research about the repression faced by anyone expressing support for the Palestinian cause, especially on university campuses across Canada. Their report, entitled “Unveiling the Chilly Climate: the suppression of speech on Palestine in Canada” is based on approximately 80 testimonies from academics, students and Palestinian solidarity activists across the country. It brings to light extensive and determined efforts to shield Israel from criticism on campus, often by attempting to associate criticism of Israel with “antisemitism”.
One of the “tools” used is a highly politicized definition of antisemitism called the “IHRA” definition, which includes a list of “examples” of anti semitism, many of which are in fact criticisms Israel (a state) or Zionism (a political movement), rather than animus towards Jews. Israel advocacy organizations have successfully lobbied several levels of government to adopt the IHRA document as a guide to opposing anti-semitism in Canada.
Examples of obstruction or intimidation
The report lists many examples of obstruction or intimidation reported by academics, students and activists aiming to raise the Palestinian narrative:
- cancellation of planned public events on Palestine, or even attempts to prevent access to events by threatening disruption
- attempts to undermine or oppose candidacies to academic positions of those seen as “pro-Palestine”
- actual threats of violence and genuine acts of violence against student activists,
- Students subjected to warnings of disciplinary measures by university administrators whom respondents often described as being hostile to Palestine solidarity activism on campus.
- Faculty members face restrictions on academic freedom, discriminatory treatment by academic publishing platforms, harassment by pro-Israel advocacy groups and media outlets, attacks from colleagues, political interference by university administration,
- classroom surveillance by pro-Israel student groups, and
- antiPalestinian and anti-Arab racism.
Why? Why now?
Attempts to suppress discussion of Palestinian human rights on campus appears to be increasing. If so, why might this be the case?
It might be related to a rising sense of concern among Israel’s apologists in Canada who see on campus after campus, student and faculty groups voting to support BDS, and criticising Israel for its actions – from the bombing of Gaza to construction of new settlements.
After many years of being marginalized, Palestinian Canadians are edging into the mainstream in the professions and especially in universities. There are now serious Palestinian Canadian academics in many Canadian universities. In 2021, the University of Windsor named Professor Reem Bahdi as the first Palestinian Law Professor in Canadian history and the first Palestinian Law Dean in North America. The University of Waterloo has now established a Foundation for Palestine studies, whose inaugural lecture drew over 500 attendees, both in person and on line. And at the University of Toronto, ”Hearing Palestine” has provided an intellectual hub that facilitates advanced and interdisciplinary research on Palestine since 2020.
This Canadian trend closely copies a US tendency, where the campuses have become a growing front in the debate over Israel/Palestine.
In the face of this sea change, university administrators, are being wooed by pro Israeli groups in Canada, including by offering free trips to Israel. University presidents, always strapped for funds, are concerned about the opinions of the many donors who support Israel, many of whom have been generous in supporting Canadian Universities. In a few cases, major donors have withdrawn support from Canadian universities because of events or faculty appointments they deemed to be anti-Israel.
Who seems to be responsible?:
The report identifies several Canadian pro-Israel advocacy groups which have been at the forefront of a campaign to stifle critical speech on Israel’s human rights violations. Respondents to the study named the following organizations as active participants in campaigns of harassment and intimidation:
• B’nai Brith Canada
• Honest Reporting Canada
• Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs (CIJA)
• Friends of the Simon Wiesenthal Center for Holocaust Studies
• Hasbara Fellowships.
The IJV report describes each of these organizations and highlights some of their actions and
political campaigns to repress speech on Palestine on and off campus.
CTIP spoke to Rowan Gaudet, one of the report’s authors about the significance of the report’s findings. Watch the short video interview here:
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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