Oh, Canada Why anti-Zionism festers in a country otherwise known for its friendliness

By Gil Troy, Tablet Magazine, 4-13-10

Protesters and counterprotesters before Benjamin Netanyahu’s scheduled speech at Montreal’s Concordia University in 2002.

CREDIT: Marcos Townsend/AFP/Getty Images

Although the two-week period in March designated as Israeli Apartheid Week sputtered this year, attracting few participants, it highlighted a great Canadian anomaly. Twelve of the 40 communities the IAW website identified as host cities were in Canada. IAW was hatched in Toronto. Some of the worst anti-Israel violence in North America has occurred in the land of endless winters and polite pacifists. Last year, at York University in Toronto, hooligans chanting, “Die, Jew, get the hell off campus” menaced Jewish students, who barricaded themselves in the Hillel offices, terrified. This year, at the University of Western Ontario, three students who started a Facebook group called “UWO Students Against Israeli Apartheid Week” reported receiving death threats. Why are such virulent anti-Zionism and anti-Semitism festering in Canada despite its national niceness?

The violence contradicts the Canadian government’s dramatically pro-Israel turn in the last several years. Compared to America’s “love-fest,” Canada has always been more “reservedly respectful” of “both Israel and Jews,” says Ted Sokolsky, president of the UJA Federation of Greater Toronto. Former Prime Minister Jean Chrétien’s Liberal government from 1993 to 2003 treated Israel coldly. But since 2006, Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s Conservative government has been enthusiastically pro-Israel. Last spring, Canada led in boycotting the Durban Review Conference in Geneva, fearing a rehash of the 2001 anti-Zionist hate-fest.

Thanks especially to Irwin Cotler, a Liberal MP and former justice minister, support for Israel is what Canadians call “all party.” This year, the Liberal leader and human-rights activist Michael Ignatieff repudiated the false analogy that has become a central anti-Zionist tenet: that of equating the Israeli-Palestinian national conflict with the systematic racism of South Africa’s Afrikaner regime. “International law defines ‘apartheid’ as a crime against humanity,” Ignatieff has said. “Labeling Israel as an ‘apartheid’ state is a deliberate attempt to undermine the legitimacy of the Jewish state itself. Criticism of Israel is legitimate. Attempting to describe its very existence as a crime against humanity is not.”
Nevertheless, despite all this goodwill off-campus, and even considering Canadians’ cultural aversion to conflict, many Jewish college students in Canada report feeling “uncomfortable, unsafe, and targeted” on campuses, says Zach Newburgh, the Hillel Montreal president. Newburgh transferred from the University of Toronto to McGill partially because of Toronto’s aggressive anti-Israel environment, which peaks during anti-Israel week. Many Jewish students felt besieged, “no matter what stripe they were,” Newburgh recalls, “whether they were Orthodox, Reform, Conservative, or just Jewish, had been to Jewish summer camp or not, had been to Israel or not—it did not matter.” Newburgh received death threats, he says, because he criticized the IAW’s activities in online forums….. READ FULL ARTICLE

Gil Troy, a professor of history at McGill University in Montreal and a fellow at the Shalom Hartman Institute in Jerusalem, is the author of six books on American history and Why I Am A Zionist: Israel, Jewish Identity and the Challenges of Today.

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