Israeli Apartheid Week (IAW) is a week of lectures and film screenings that takes place peacefully on campuses each year and hosts prominent academics and community leaders to very high-level political and academic discussions.
IAW condemns all forms of racism and discrimination. It explicitly condemns anti-Semitism, Islamophobia, anti-Arab racism, and homophobia. Many Jewish students are involved in organizing IAW.
This year, for the seventh year, IAW was held in 95 cities and more than 75 universities on six continents, including 3 cities in Israel and 4 cities in the occupied West Bank and Gaza.
Ironically, the motion passed by Markham City Council aims to deny Canadian students and academics the rights of freedom of expression and academic freedom, rights that are enjoyed by Israeli students and academics. In addition it interferes in University affairs.
The motion creates the absurd situation where Canadian students and academics are allowed to freely criticize their own government but are banned from criticizing a foreign government.
The motion put forward by Councillor Howard Shore is one of those several attempts currently being undertaken to censor and suppress public debate on this subject in order to shield Israel’s actions from scrutiny and criticism.
Such actions are an attack on free speech the likes of which we have not seen since the 1950s McCarthy witch hunts.
By its decision, Markham City Council ignored the comprehensive study undertaken by Toronto City staff that determined the use of the phrase “Israeli Apartheid” does not promote hatred or discrimination, and does not violate the Criminal Code or the Ontario Human Rights Code.
Markham City Council also ignored the compelling evidence introduced from the Human Sciences Research Council of South Africa, the Conference of Southern African Christian Churches, the Association of Civil Rights of Israel and the Legal Centre for Arab Minority Rights in Israel, that irrefutably proves Palestinian Arab citizens of Israel are systematically discriminated against and that the situation in the occupied West Bank and Gaza is reminiscent of apartheid in South Africa.
The spectrum of diversity was well-represented by those who spoke against the motion and in support of free speech and Palestinian rights. Those presenters included Jews, Christians and Muslims of all ages and gender, and from various ethnic and racial backgrounds.
Understandably, Councillor Shore’s motion placed the other Councillors in a corner. Markham City Council had unfortunately decided recently to send a trade mission to Israel. The rejection of Councillor Shore’s motion would have implied that they condone the labelling of Israel as an Apartheid state and would have placed them in the awkward position of doing business with an apartheid regime.
Regrettably, this politically expedient decision runs counter to the Town of Markham’s stated mission to recognize and accept the diversity of its residents, to respect the differences in all peoples and their right to hold different opinions, to promote the value of human rights, and to oppose racism and discrimination.