York University backlash an attempt to criminalize substantive criticism of Israel

It’s becoming evident that there is a concerted effort in Canada to criminalize the opposition of the settler-colonial state of Israel.

On Nov. 20, the Herut Zionism Club the Canadian affiliate of the Israeli political party Herut, a partywhich was at one time denounced by Jewish intellectuals, including Hannah Arendt and Albert Einsteinfor its similarities to fascist parties hosted a talk at York University in Toronto, Ont., featuring reservists of the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) which was met with protests from students including Students Against Israeli Apartheid and CUPE 3903.

The protest eventually erupted into violence, with members of the Jewish Defense League (JDL), a group considered to be a right-wing terrorist organization by the FBI in its 200001 terrorism report, assaulting the protesters. Someone on the side of the JDL later admitted on social media that a friend had “knocked one of their guys out,” while he had personally stolen one of the protesters’ Palestinian flag and “poured juice on it.The assault allegedly sent a member of CUPE 3903 to hospital.

Unsurprisingly, almost immediately after the protest, the narrative was put forward that this was a case of anti-Semites attacking an event held by the Jewish community. This resulted in Canadian politicians from Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to Ontario Premier Doug Ford and other members of Parliament roundly denouncing the protesters and expressing shame at the level of anti-Semitic violence in Canada.

Publications such as the Toronto Sun and the Jerusalem Post that put forward this narrative which claims that hundreds of protesters were chanting horrifically anti-Semitic statements have since retracted parts of their articles. But the damage is still done and the ideological goal of further conflating anti-Semitism with the struggle for Palestinian self-determination has been achieved.

The resulting media fallout is unsurprising because the question of Palestinian self-determination is seen by many people as impossibly difficult to navigate unless you’re there on the ground you can’t possibly understand and also has significant implications not only for the legitimacy of the Israeli state but for the settler-colonial states of Canada and the U.S., among others.

What is even more confounding about this situation is that those denouncing the protesters are effectively defending the right of the IDF, an external military organization accused of war crimes by both the United Nations and Human Rights Watch, to spread its propaganda to students in Canada without opposition. This is akin to inviting American soldiers to come to a campus to talk about the invasion of Iraq as it’s happening, and then condemning those who may protest while praising the fanatics that may attack the protesters.

The fact that people protesting an event were physically attacked before being denounced by Canadian politicians for their “violent” actions, essentially victim-blaming, is only coherent when considering the context. Of course, the politicians of our settler-colonial society are willing to buy into narratives that villainize a resisting Indigenous population, including its diaspora and allies. The legitimacy of state violence both here like the villainization of Indigenous land protectors resisting pipeline development on their territory and in Israel rests on the acceptance of such narratives.

In fact, the Canadian government has gone so far as to recently adopt a non-binding definition of anti-Semitism written by an Israeli lobby group that is so vague that others have criticized it for being too easily misinterpreted as conflating anti-Semitism with any criticisms of Israel.

Given these facts, it is clear there is an increasingly concerted effort to criminalize political opposition to Israel which by extension is opposition to settler-colonialism. This isn’t only an attack on the rights of Palestinians and their allies to organize in support of self-determination it’s an attack on the rights of Indigenous people to oppose their oppressors.

The bottom line is that any criticism of Israel on the basis of settler-colonialism is also directly applicable to both Canadian and American settler-colonialism. Conflation of these types of criticisms with anti-Semitism offers an easy way to delegitimize them as valid political speech without needing to defend the rampant human rights abuses which are natural consequences of any settler-colonial project.

Anyone seeking to be an ally in the struggles for Indigenous self-determination in Canada should also be an ally to the Palestinian struggle. Attempts to silence and disparage pro-Palestinian political speech should be met with resistance. We should be defending the rights of Indigenous peoples to fight back against settler-colonialism, not running interference for the settler-colonial states that threaten them.