Free Speech Or Hate Crime? Canadians Who Support Palestinian Rights Will Face Charges

While President Obama has worked to put some daylight between himself and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Canada’s Prime Minister Stephen Harper is doing the opposite. Harper apparently would like to become Bibi’s conjoined twin, using an intimidation tactic that comes right from the Israeli government against advocates who stand up for Palestinian rights.

In January, the conservative Canadian government signed a “statement of understanding” with Israel that pledged to fight the Boycott, Divest and Sanctions (BDS) movement. BDS is illegal in Israel. Recently, in response to inquiries by CBC News, federal ministers have clarified that there is “zero tolerance” for BDS in Canada, and that hate crime laws will be applied against the people and groups advocating its use.

The Canadian government apparently doesn’t — or doesn’t want to — grasp the distinction between Jewish people and the country of Israel, which are not synonymous. They’ve opened the way to lumping together people who speak up against Israel with people who express hatred toward Jews. If a person criticizes Israel, he/she can be accused of being anti-Semitic.

BDS is the most effective tool that rights groups have found to combat Israel’s oppression of Palestinians. In face of the failure of the world’s governments to stem the abuses and bring Israel into compliance with international law, these groups attempt to persuade organizations, governments, and individuals to apply the pressure. They ask for a boycott of Israeli products and companies that profit from the illegal occupation of Palestinian territories. In addition, it asks that investment in these companies come to a halt. Some groups want to stop interaction with Israel altogether until Palestinians are granted their rights.

The fact that the BDS movement is increasingly effective is obvious in Israel’s attempt to stop it. That another country is cooperating by violating the rights of its own citizens is more than a little alarming.

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Last year, Harper’s government amended the Criminal Code on hate speech to include “national origin” along with race and religion. That is the basis for going after BDS activists.

That even many Jews oppose Israeli policies, as well as the BDS movement, is made obvious by liberal Jewish groups that join the cause of gaining Palestinian rights. Tyler Levitan is with Independent Jewish Voices, a group that helps organize BDS in Canada. In response to the government’s actions, Levitan said:

This is about trying to scare people… [BDS is an] entirely passive movement. It is a decision not to take part in something. Not to be implicated, not to be complicit. It’s entirely non-violent. [source]

CBC News reported on the chilling effect of Canada’s aggression against advocates:

Such a move could target a range of civil society organizations, from the United Church of Canada and the Canadian Quakers to campus protest groups and labour unions. If carried out, it would be a remarkably aggressive tactic, and another measure of the Conservative government’s lockstep support for Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. [source]

Groups like the United Church expressed dismay that their voices could be silenced. Journalist Glenn Greenwald mocked the efforts by Harper’s government in a blog post on Monday. He rightfully pointed out the Prime Minister’s hypocrisy:

Stephen Harper is the perfect Poster Boy for how free expression is tribalistically manipulated and exploited in the West. When the views being suppressed are ones amenable to those in power (e.g., cartoons mocking Islam), free speech is venerated…

But when ideas are advocated that upset those in power (e.g. speech by Muslims critical of Western nations and their allies), the very same people acquiesce to, or expressly endorse, full-scale suppression. [source]

Without the freedom to criticize governments that violate human rights, or to act in protest of oppression, it’s not only the rights of people like the Palestinians that are threatened. All of us who live in what we think of as “free societies” are also at risk.

The fact that the defenders of Israel’s brutal policies toward Palestinians are becoming more and more isolated from the rest of the world’s nations provides some sort of balance to the situation. It’s ironic that Palestinian rights are being upheld by most nations in the U.N., but not the United States or Canada.

The West is proving to be less than the bastion of universal human rights it would make itself out to be. If it were, Canada and the U.S. would follow the example set by the Vatican this week, when the Pope officially recognized the state of Palestine. Human rights are either for everyone or no one. Which is it?

Who would have thought that American and Canadian citizens would still be fighting for that principle in 2015?

Feature Image via Wikipedia.