The following opinion was designed to be published in The McMaster Silhouette and is tailored to that audience.
Reading week is over, which means many campuses are dealing with Israeli Apartheid Week (IAW).
It’s a tough issue to grasp, especially when the truth is so subjective. This year, it is even tougher after the fighting in Gaza this winter and apparent election of a right-wing coalition government by the Israelis.
Emotions are still running high, and not just on campuses. I write this from Doha, Qatar where I’m presently on assignment. Reading the English language newspapers here, one immediately realizes just how important the Palestinian crisis is to the region. On Feb. 25, stories about Gaza were on the front page of both the city’s English-language newspapers.
Interest groups on both sides of the debate have increased their pressure on universities following last year’s incident at McMaster University. For both sides, the decision to impose a community standard on advertising for Israeli Apartheid Week was seen as a significant event.
For the pro-Israeli side, they saw action against an event they believe inspires hate against their country. Some even call it anti-Semitic. The pro-Israel lobby was galvanized to pressure universities to end Israeli Apartheid Week.
The pro-Palestinian side of the debate saw this as a threat to their cause and were galvanized to organize a rally at McMaster University, which resulted in a police investigation to see if the hate crime provisions of the Criminal Code were violated. The Crown decided there was not enough evidence to meet the high bar set for hate speech.
Both sides completely missed the point; but they often do. Whenever I write on the debate, I receive dozens, if not hundreds of emails and even phone calls from people on both sides. My favourites are the ones that accuse me of being Islamophobic or anti-Semitic. The issue was not IAW: it was the individual poster.
This year, a couple of universities have acted to impose restrictions on advertisements promoting IAW. Many universities are citing the decision of McMaster University last year.
Carleton University banned a poster showing a cartoon depicting a helicopter with the word Israel firing a missile on a child wearing Palestinian grab.
While the poster is provocative, it does not reach the level that the banned McMaster IAW did last year. There is no depiction of blood, the Israeli flag is not used and there is no graphical representation that could be seen to depict Judaism as a whole. Carleton should have allowed the poster.
IAW does have a place on a university campus. While I disagree with the choice of methods used by organizers of IAWs on various campuses, the academy has a responsibility to uphold free speech. Upholding the right of others to say something doesn’t mean you agree with them.
Extremists on both sides often forget who they hope to persuade: the people, like me and you, who are in the middle. It was only recently that someone managed to get me to reassess my position on the conflict. Instead of over-the-top chants and propaganda, she asked me to watch a video hosted by Google and to look further into the issue.
There is plenty of wrong that has been done by both sides in the Middle East; there is plenty of wrong here. By engaging in overly provocative graphic advertising, IAW organizers end up hurting their cause. By asking universities to ban IAW, the pro-Israel lobby hurt their cause.
Both sides need to realize they are not achieving their goals with their present methods.
No side gets exclusive claim to being the victim. They are attacking each other.
The Israeli/Palestinian debate is important and it belongs on our campuses. I only wish true academics would take up the issue and organize proper discussions. I understand why they don’t, and lament the cowardly state of the academy in our country.