Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Push comes to shove

Criticism of Israel will shortly become illegal in Canada.

That's the message of the "Ottawa Protocol" agreed to behind closed doors this week by a group of international parliamentarians calling themselves the Inter-Parliamentary Coalition to Combat Anti-Semitism. The Canadian wing, of course, is the Canadian Parliamentary Coalition to Combat Anti-Semitism.

Here is what is about to descend upon us:

[The Ottawa Protocol] aims to implement a series of measures to put an end to hateful propaganda in places like universities. In particular, the group aims to stop the growth in the criticism of Israel and its policies that, it says, is increasingly a vehicle for anti-Semitism. [emphasis added]

It's what some of us have been arguing all along--and we've been denounced as paranoid for doing so. But you don't get a group of parliamentarians deliberating for months and holding hearings if legislation isn't in the works.

Of course the protocol claims not to be what it is. Here's the usual sinuous language:

"Let it be clear: Criticism of Israel is not anti-Semitic, and saying so is wrong," the protocol says.

"But singling Israel out for selective condemnation and opprobrium -- let alone denying its right to exist or seeking its destruction -- is discriminatory and hateful, and not saying so is dishonest."

The first paragraph is a kind of alibi that shields, not the hapless critic of Israel, but the legislative project itself. The second one has the meat. "Selective condemnation"--I've been accused of that in this very blog because of the paucity of posts about North Korea and other hellholes. "Seeking its destruction" could mean anything from mass extermination to merely supporting a one-state solution in the Middle East. Even opposing the current loyalty oath for new citizens of Israel could be interpreted as seeking the destruction of Israel as a Jewish state.

Norm Spector, a former Canadian ambassador to Israel, asks a salient question this morning: will criticism of Israeli building projects in Jerusalem be deemed "anti-Semitic" under the new expanded definition? The answer, I think, is obvious.

And here's Israel’s Minister for Public Diplomacy and Diaspora Affairs, Yuli Edelstein, who is ecstatic about the Ottawa goings-on:

[Edelstein] agreed with the need to expand the definition of anti-Semitism beyond the usual stereotypes, such as “having horns, killing Christ, laundering money.” He said there have been successes in combating overt anti-Semitism, such as Internet stories suggesting that Israeli military doctors in Haiti were harvesting organs. He added that criticisms of Israel that include double-standards, or de-legitimize or demonize its existence, amount to anti-Semitism.

“I think we have to be very inclusive in this definition to really fight the tendency, and not just a certain part of it,” he said.
[emphases added]

"Very inclusive," indeed. Almost anyone can be accused of employing double standards, even if most of us who criticize Israel simply want to impose one and the same standard upon it as currently applies to other nations. "De-legitimize" can refer to nearly anything. "Demonize" means whatever these political exorcists choose it to mean.

So now Israel will achieve a status in Canadian law that no other nation possesses. It will be shielded even from the silly commentary that is so much a part of popular culture. You'll continue to be able to say "Bomb Iran," but possibly go to jail if you say "Bomb Israel." The Toronto Sun can still use the phrase "lock and load" in reference to a boatload of Tamils, but a similar injudicious remark directed against Israeli settlers on the West Bank would become a criminal matter.

Make no mistake, this thing is a slam-dunk. When (not if) the Conservatives introduce legislation to outlaw criticism of Israel, likely when a federal election is in the offing, the Liberals will tamely go along, not wanting to fight accusations of anti-Semitism in the thick of an electoral contest.

No doubt the legislation will pretend to draw a non-existent distinction between "legitimate" and "illegitimate" criticism--non-existent, because the concepts are purely subjective. To some, in fact, there simply is no "legitimate" criticism of Israel. The legislation will, in word and in practice, be "very inclusive."

Such legislation would quite possibly not withstand Charter scrutiny. But that's small comfort at this point. It's on its way, and I, for one--who have fought genuine anti-Semitism for decades, on the Internet and on the ground--can feel a cold wind blowing. So should we all.

[H/t the ever-wakeful Alison]

UPDATE: Full text of the Ottawa Protocol here, via BCL.


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