One of the sessions that I participated in during the Congress was a meeting that the Gindin Chair co-sponsored with Faculty4Palestine. The Gindin Chair has been sponsoring sessions at the Congress ever since its foundation in 2002 trying to bring some activism into Academe. This is the first time that I've been part of a truly activist event including faculty and student discussing a real struggle that had happened over the past year. It was exhilarating. The importance of the event could be noted by the attack against it in the National Post the day before it happened.
The room was packed with students, faculty and some community activists too. The usual suspects were there of course but lots of people I didn't know, younger, just getting involved wanting to know how to get more active, how to deal with the issues. The discussion was animated and engaged sharing information and discussing issues in a comradly manner It felt like a real movement.
The panel included Yasmeen Abu-Laban, a professor from University of Alberta, Yafa Jarra, a student from Trent and me, chaired by Alan Sears from Ryerson. A panel of three women, three generations, two Palestinians and a Jew. It was excellent.
My topic was anti-semitism. One of the major assaults on the Palestinian solidarity movement is the charge of anti-semitism. I countered the argument saying our movement is not anti-semitic but there is anti-semitism within the movement that needs to be challenged. I pointed out an outrageous statement made in Israel by Jason Kenney saying that the so-called new anti-semitism, an alliance of leftists and extremist Islamists was worse than European anti-semitism. Though quoted in Haaretz, not a word of this outrageous accusation appeared in Canada.
Alan Sears and I had already written an article entitled Anti-Zionism is not Anti-Semitism in rabble about the long debate about Zionism within the Jewish community but in my talk I told a story about my first visit to Israel that people found useful.
It was 1969 and I was one of tens of thousands of young people from Europe, Australia and North America who were travelling the world on the cheap. After a couple of months in Spain hanging out with European hippies, I decided to go to Israel, where I could work on a kibbutz. Even though I was a student activist, I didn’t have strong views on Israel one way or another. I knew progressive people who both supported and opposed Zionism and I wanted to see for myself what it was like.
The country was beautiful and magical. Even though I was no longer religious, visiting the Holy Land is an amazing experience. Whether you are Jewish, Muslim or Christian so many of the archetypal stories of our culture are set there, that it is hard not to feel the power of all that history and all that belief. But I didn't like Israeli society. I found it militarist, aggressive sexist, and racist. There was little there that reflected anything I valued about being Jewish.
I gravitated towards the old city of Jerusalem. There I met an old Arab man of about 70 and we became friends. A mutual friend had been in a terrible accident where his girlfriend was killed so we set off to visit him in hospital. I, who had been in the country only two weeks, could walk in the front door. He who had lived there all his life had to go in a side door and be searched and humiliated. This was long before the days of suicide bombers. I was horrified.
And it wasn’t the only thing. I noticed that Palestinians sat at the back of the bus and no Israeli would sit next to them. There wasn’t a Jim Crow law but it was a constant practice. There was racism against dark skinned Jews at the time as well but nothing like the racism against Palestinians. I came to the conclusion that Israel was an apartheid state.
From then on I became an anti=Zionist. Before I was a feminist, before I was a socialist, I came to the conclusion that Zionism was not the right way to combat anti-Semitism in the world. After that visit, I started reading up on Zionism and the book that had the greatest influence on my was the Jewish Question
by Abram Leon.
A 24 year old Marxist who was later killed in Auschwitz, he said not only that Zionism was wrong because it meant the Jewish people were allying with the imperialist oppressor Britain rather than with other oppressed people in the world but also that Israel would be a trap for the Jews because the Palestinians would never give up fighting for their homeland.
He correctly predicted the violence that followed but even he, I am sure, never imagined the extent to which Israel would become an oppressive force in the world supporting other repressive regimes and acting as a laboratory for oppressor states.
On top of that Israel is the most dangerous place on earth for Jews today. It is not Israel that has creating safety and security for Jews in the world, it is the human rights laws that Jews alongside of others fought for following the horrors of the Holocaust.