None Owes Exclusive Rights When It Comes to Freedom of Expression

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Hussein Hoballah, Montreal

Canadian pro-Israel organistaions continue to suppress the freedom of expression, targeting any voices that try to expose the reality of the situation in the occupied Palestinian lands. Most recently, the target has been York University’s Osgoode Hall Law School’s Associate Professor Faisal Bhabha, who also served as the Ontario Human Rights Tribunal’s vice chairman.

Bhabha was subject to attack following his speech during a seminar held by Ryerson University on 10 June. Alongside the law professor spoke former CEO of the Canadian Jewish Congress Bernie Farber, also Richard Marceau, Vice President of External Affairs and General Counsel at the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs, and Sheryl Nestel, member of the national steering committee of Canada’s Independent Jewish Voices. 

The conferrers debated “Fighting Anti-Semitism or Silencing Critics of Israel: What’s Behind the Push for Governments to Adopt the IHRA Definition of Anti-Semitism,” making way for Bhabha’s words, “Zionism as an idea and as a practice is the suppression of Palestinian human rights for the purpose of ensuring Jewish supremacy, and it is exactly what is being protested against in the United States against white supremacy…”

Consequently, B’nai B’rith slammed Bhabha, accusing him of offending Canada’s Jewish community and calling on the university to sack him. The fervid pro-Israel organisation as well denounced his words, “Accusing Israel of exaggerating the Holocaust could be, for some, a plausible argument.” To support its allegation, B’nai B’rith referred to a study made in 2018, which states that Zionism “is the normative form of Canadian Jewish identification.”

The attack isn’t the first of a kind; B’nai B’rith and with other pro-Israel organisations are always monitoring whomever tries to criticise Israel, and keep an eye on media outlets, university discourses and public actions whenever it is about Palestine-related doings. Eventually, such organisations seek to silence anyone trying to expose what’s happening in Palestine and the humiliation, besiegement and occupation plaguing Palestinians since 1948.

However, to try to crack down on the freedom of expression in Canada, specifically in the case of the Palestinian cause, is unacceptable. So is claiming that only one party speaks in the name of the Jewish Canadian community.

While pro-Israelis insist Jews are entitled to Palestinian lands as a historic right, that doesn’t authorise them to force others to adopt their opinion. They rather have to listen to others’ opinions if people still enjoy the right to express views on public issues in these times. So how about when it comes to a cause as significant as Palestine?

Back in 1948, Palestinians were expelled from their territories by a Zionist theory. Until the very moment, the state built on the smashed Palestinian lives and rights, is exercising all kinds of atrocities against the indigenous people of Palestine. It has also sought to subdue the world to the invaders’ views and to silence whomever stands by the oppressed, and its pleas and reasons make no public sense.

B’nai B’rith’s accusation has, thus, been confronted by Independent Jewish Voices, an organisation introducing self as such: “We are a group of Jews in Canada, who share a strong commitment to social justice and universal human rights. We come together in the belief that the broad spectrum of opinion among the Jewish population of this country is not reflected by those institutions that claim to represent Jewish communities as a whole…” The group as well believes its members are part of the international movement showing solidarity to a rightful Palestinian destination.

An open letter to York University President Rhonda Lenton on 25 June 2020, sent by IJV’s York chapter states, “The panel discussion that Bhabha spoke on highlights that there is not one, singular Jewish community, and that B’nai Brith, by no means, represents the opinion of every Canadian Jew— though that is what they purport to do.”

Concurrently, claiming that Zionism is every Jew’s creed is untrue; many Jews don’t just fit into this. It is our right to ask: Why on earth should criticising a country be perceived as criticising a certain faith?! Targeting Saudi or Iran, for instance, cannot be treated like targeting Islam. And so for censuring US actions or white supremacy, which cannot be considered anti-Christian acts.

Even combatting ISIL (Daesh) by no means counts for fighting Islam; since it was founded, the terrorist organisation has offended Islam above all, and the majority of Muslims denounce ISIL’s barbaric practices.

The pattern continues when it comes to Israel, so censurers cannot be mistaken for haters of Jews. In fact, what Israel has done since it unlawful incursion into Palestinian territories is disobedient and offensive to Jewish teachings – a fact also recongnised by many religious and non-religious Jewish organisations.

Yesterday, protests were held in many cities to denounce the Israeli government’s plan to annex big parts of the West Bank – a decision opposed by many countries and peoples, including Jews. Two ladies even spoke on behalf of a Jewish group during the Montreal protest on this past Sunday.

It is about time voice silencers stopped shutting people’s mouths. Normally, when others disagree, they maintain the right to show opinion. None owes an exclusive right when it comes to the freedom of expression, and none must. The Canadian government really needs to listen to the other side, too, as state all constitutions and laws nationwide and worldwide.