Barbara Kay shares her ‘feelings’ about Israel Apartheid Week (NATIONAL POST COMMENT) 03/13/12)
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You’ve all heard of “Israel Apartheid Week.” But how about Israel
Peace Week (IPW)?
IPW is an initiative by Hasbara Fellowships, a training program that
teaches students to counter anti-Israel propaganda with a positive
message, summed up in its motto: “All we are saying is give peace a
The campaigns focus on evidence of Israel’s desire for a lasting
peace with its neighbours. Materials and activities illuminate the
outsized accomplishments of this diverse, rights-respecting
democracy, and explain the existential perils of its situation. What
one might call the IPW’s “sunshine” approach is non-confrontational.
IPW, which took place this year between Feb. 28 and March 8, is
deliberately timed to anticipate the just-concluded Israel Apartheid
Week (IAW), March 5-13. IAW has been around so long, it’s running out
of steam on many campuses. The Arab Spring has sapped its relevance.
And this year, IAW McGill had additional competition for attention
from anti-tuition-increase demonstrations.
Perhaps it was disgruntlement over IAW’s lacklustre performance in
2012 that motivated an aggrieved student (supposedly anonymous, but
some clues point to a well-known IAW activist) to formally complain
to McGill’s student-society Equity Committee about the mildly satiric
title of a recently held fundraising event for McGill Students for
Israel (MSFI) — “Israel: A Party.”
In fact, an Equity Committee Officer already had directed MSFI to
change the title, threatening, by email, “possible consequences such
as suspension of club status” if they refused. Her rationale was that
even such gentle mockery trivialized the word “apartheid” and the
experiences of many of the world’s oppressed people, citing as well
the indignation of “various colleagues and personal friends”
regarding Israel’s oppression of Palestinians.
The president of MSFI, Lainie Schwartz, changed the title of the
event. But she responded by return e-mail with a defence of the
original choice. She noted the private event was (as I can attest,
since I attended) a “festive,” not a political affair, advertised
only through Facebook.
“A Party” was not meant to mock Palestinians. Rather, the concept
mocked the hypocrisy — a time-honoured target of satire — of
attaching such a wicked canard to Israel. It is IAW, not Israel, that
mocks the suffering imposed by real apartheid regimes. “[MSFI] finds
the usage of the term [apartheid] by the complainants to be every bit
as insulting and demeaning as they perceive our mocking of it,”
What most troubled Schwartz was that legitimization of the complaint
by McGill’s student society (SSMU) via its equity
committee “implicitly recognizes and affirms the misinformed notion
that Israel is an apartheid state.” Ultimately, Schwartz refused a
supervised mediation session with the complainant, because it meant
signing a confidentiality agreement.
I spoke by telephone to Ryan Thom, SSMU’s Equity Outreach
Coordinator. He asserted that Equity “has to protect people’s safety”
and is “mandated to take action” when complainants don’t
feel “physically, emotionally or psychologically” safe. I asked how
the words “Israel: A Party” compromised the complainant’s safety.
Thom didn’t know: He admitted Equity had not probed the
complainant’s “feelings” to gain insight into them or assess them.
And yet the Equity Officer who emailed Schwartz had not hesitated to
probe MSIF for “more insight into why you chose the title ‘Israel-A
Party.’” It reminded me of the Alberta human-rights mandarin who
asked Ezra Levant what feelings he had in his heart when he published
the Danish cartoons of Mohammed.
I drew Thom’s attention to the aggressively public “apartheid” wall
erected by the complainant’s friends in the centre of McGill’s
downtown Montreal campus, where virtually all students are forced to
view it in their daily rounds. Did he agree that many pro-Israel
students would not only find the wall offensive, but might even feel
emotionally or psychologically “unsafe”? He agreed that might well be
Well then, I pressed, could a complainant expressing “feelings” of
being offended or “unsafe” expect the wall to be removed at Equity’s
direction? Apparently not: “Every situation being unique,” Thom could
not speculate on the outcome of such an initiative. Well, I will
speculate that, based on precedent, IAW would not be sanctioned.
Nor would I want it to be. I’m against campus Equity Committees for
the same reason I’m against Human Rights Tribunals. Their existence
kindles the totalitarian impulse to suppress politically incorrect
thought and speech. In other words, it is my “feeling” is that they
encourage “equity apartheid” and create an “unsafe space”
for “freedom of speech.” (© 2012 National Post, a division of
Postmedia Network Inc. 03/13/12)
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