Art by Yousef Amairi

Art by Yousef Amairi
the struggle continues

July 06, 2011


Special to PV

     The municipality of Markham, Ontario, northeast of Toronto, has been known for its rapid population growth in recent years. Now, Markham is in the news for another reason. On May 3, a majority of city councillors adopted a motion to censor "Israeli Apartheid Week", an event held this year in 95 cities and more than 75 universities on six continents. This includes three cities in Israel and four cities in the occupied West Bank and Gaza.

     Organized every March by students on Canadian campuses, Israeli Apartheid Week (IAW) features film screenings and high-profile forums with prominent academics and community leaders. IAW condemns all forms of racism and discrimination, including anti-Semitism, Islamophobia, anti‑Arab racism, and homophobia. Many Jewish students are involved in organizing IAW.

     The Canadian Arab Federation says the May 3 motion "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... 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 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."

     The CAF points out that Markham councillors ignored a comprehensive study undertaken by Toronto City staff, which determined 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.

     Speakers against the Markham motion represented diverse supporters of free speech and Palestinian rights, including Jews, Christians and Muslims of all ages and gender, and from various backgrounds.

     On the surface, the motion is puzzling, since there are no university campuses or IAW events in Markham. But the municipality includes the provincial riding of Thornhill, represented by MPP Peter Thurman - the same MPP who put forward a non-binding motion in the Ontario legislature last year to condemn IAW.

     Also, Markham City Council decided recently to send a trade mission to Israel. Rejection of Councillor Shore's motion would have implied that the city condones the labelling of Israel as an Apartheid state, leaving it in the awkward position of doing business with an apartheid regime.

     As CAF National President Khaled Mouammar stated, "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."

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