Education Action: Toronto

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Editorial: Israeli Apartheid Week - Education Not To Be Feared

by Dudley Paul

At a time when Palestinians face yet another year of watching their homes bulldozed and their crops uprooted, when people of Gaza, under continuous blockade, attempt to rebuild houses, schools, places of worship and basic utilities destroyed by the Israeli Defense Forces during Operation Cast Lead, when families grieve the loss of 1400 people including 350 children – at a time that marks a simple fact that Palestinians are not permitted the right to live at home and pursue their lives, we are to be condemned if we call this Apartheid.

On February 25, the Ontario Legislature unanimously voted in favour of a motion to condemn Israeli Apartheid Week, an annual series of lectures and meetings to publicize the conditions of Palestinians. Introducing the motion, Peter Shurman MPP for Willowdale said: “The use of the phrase “Israeli Apartheid Week” is about as close to hate speech as one can get without being arrested, and I’m not certain it doesn’t actually cross over that line. It’s also a thinly-veiled campaign by those whose real agenda is to eradicate Israel entirely.”

This is patently absurd. Israeli Apartheid Week organizers have never called for the destruction of Israel. They do not focus their critiques on Jews or Judaism, but rather on the behavior of the Israeli government and its agencies toward Palestinians living in Israel and under occupation in Gaza, East Jerusalem and the West Bank. That such a motion would find support from all Ontario MPPs speaks more about their willful ignorance than it does about Israeli Apartheid Week.

Sadly, this fear of education has infected the Toronto District School Board. As Director Chris Spence writes:

“Our educational goal includes the building of understanding, trust and co-operation among groups and individuals in the TDSB. The event called “Israeli Apartheid Week” has the effect of fostering ill-will and disharmony among groups and individuals. The Government of Ontario and the opposition parties have unanimously adopted a resolution condemning “Israeli Apartheid Week”. The Toronto District School Board therefore affirms that “Israeli Apartheid Week” and its activities are not permitted to take place on school or Board property, or as part of any activity under the jurisdiction of the TDSB.

The TDSB has sufficient policies about use of school property to make it clear that Dr. Spence’s remarks had more to do with expressing his official disdain for the event than reminding principals about permit rules for their schools. Connecting Israeli actions with an ugly word like “apartheid” will not to be countenanced. Whether this comes in the form of the Conservative government cutting funds to KAIROS Canadian Ecumenical Justice Initiatives for supporting a boycott of Israel products and investment or official condemnation of Israeli Apartheid Week, there is a chill about that threatens enquiry and discussion.

But much worse is what the discussion is about. In the rapidly shrinking Palestinian territories there are Israeli-only roads and Israeli-only housing. A wall delineates remaining Palestinian territories or “Bantustans” as Liberal leader Michael Ignatieff once called them. Palestinian properties continue to be confiscated. Military law applies to Palestinians, while Israeli civil law applies to the Jewish colonists in these areas. Palestinians are not permitted to travel freely throughout the country. Following Palestinian riots in 2000 the Or Commission created by the Israeli government noted: “(Israeli) government handling of the Arab sector (sic) has been primarily neglectful and discriminatory. The state did not try hard enough to create equality for its Arab (sic) citizens or to uproot discriminatory or unjust phenomenon(sic).” More than a year after the Israeli attacks on Gaza basic supplies are only allowed to trickle into that area.

If Apartheid is, according to the United Nations “ acts committed for the purpose of establishing and maintaining the domination of one racial group of persons over any other racial group of persons and systematically oppressing them…” surely the concept of Israeli Apartheid merits discussion rather than blanket and pervasive condemnation.

Surely education is not something to be feared.

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