Freedom of Speech Muzzled at the University of Manitoba – Omar Shaban

by Omar Shaban

In yet another effort to muzzle speech that exposes Israeli war crimes and atrocities in occupied Palestine, Zionists at the University of Manitoba in the university’s Student Union (UMSU) passed a resolution to ban the Student Against Israeli Apartheid (SAIA) and its activities from campus on April 11, in a 19-16 divided vote, against the legal advice of the student union’s lawyer.

This ill-worded resolution claims that most “Jewish and Israeli members of the UMSU are Zionists which … are supporters of Zionism, international movement for the support of Israel.” It further claimed that “Zionists are a ‘group of persons’ which national characteristics, Israel being a nation-state.”

Based on these two premises, the UMSU concluded that Zionists are being ‘discriminated’ against and are a subject of ‘harassment’ because of “abusive and unwelcome conduct or comment undertaken or made on the basis of such national characteristics.” It should be noted that this happened shortly after a student union elections campaign focused on silencing supporters of Palestine.

Aside from the obvious fact that there are many factual, and, indeed, grammatical errors in this resolution – indicative of the lack of research and thoughtfulness on behalf of the drafter, and the lack of debate on this topic – the resolution couldn’t be further from the truth.

Many Jews and Israelis – students at the University of Manitoba or otherwise – are not Zionist, and this statement attempts to conflate religious identity and national origin with a specific, and racist, political ideology.

To make such a claim to falsely lump an entire community of believers under the banner of racist political ideology whose fundamental objective is to dispossess Palestinians, ethnically cleanse them and occupy their lands.

Because Zionism is a racist ideology, various Jewish authors and intellectuals have been voicing their objections to its aims. One prominent Israeli Jewish author who has challenged Zionism is Ilan Pappe. In his book The Ethnic Cleansing of Palestine, Pappe declaimed that: “Until the occupation of Palestine by Britain in 1918, Zionism was a blend of nationalist ideology and a colonialist practice.”

The Zionist movement in Palestine was inconvenienced by the existence of the Palestinians on what they regarded as their ancestral homeland which prompted them to design a sadistic plan bent on eliminating this existence. According to Pappe in the same book, to dissuade Palestinians from fighting for the land, Plan C was adopted outlining a serious of punishments:

“Killing the Palestinian political leadership.
Killing Palestinian inciters and their financial supporters.
Killing Palestinians who acted against Jews.
Killingsenior Palestinian officersand officials [in the Mandatory system].
Damaging Palestinian transportation.
Damaging the sources of Palestinian livelihoods: water wells, mills, etc.
Attacking nearby Palestinian villages likely to assist in future attacks.
Attacking Palestinian clubs, coffee houses, meeting places, etc.”

Zionism is the political ideology that led to the expulsion of over 750,000 Palestinians from their homeland, and continues to deny Palestinian refugees their right to return to the present day, and has justified occupation and ethnic cleansing for over 65 years on a racist and discriminatory basis.

This is the Zionism that the UMSU decided to protect; and instead of conducting proper research, opted for a decontextualized and narrow definition from the Merriam-Webster dictionary – something that does not fit an academic institution such as the University of Manitoba.

Free Speech in Canada?

This is not the first time supporters of Palestine were muzzled on Canadian campuses. Previous failed campaigns to engender similar results were thwarted at McMaster University in Hamilton, York University in Toronto, Carleton University in Ottawa and the University of British Columbia in Vancouver.

These attempts ranged from outright banning of clubs, to banning their activities to simply characterizing their events as “controversial” to impose higher standards and dissuade students from participating in them.

Similarly, Canadian politician like Jason Kenney, Michael Ignatieff, Joyce Murray, and many others are on record for labelling of pro-Palestine activists as chauvinistic anti-Semites on a mission to eliminate Israel from existence.

According to Seriously Free Speech, “there is a concerted effort both in Canada and internationally to suppress open discussion on the subject of the Palestine/Israel conflict. This effort manifests itself in the media, in educational institutions, and in government, and includes attempts to criminalize or otherwise stigmatize criticism of Israel.”

Jewish students across Canada are neither intimidated, nor are they targeted for their beliefs by SAIA or SPHR. In fact, many of these groups’ members are Jewish and are proud to voice their opposition to Zionism and the illegal practices of Israel in occupied Palestine.

Considering all Jews as Zionist, and labelling as such in mainstream media and various academic institutions is an explicit act of anti-Semitism. Not only does it strip Jews from the agency of selecting their own worldviews and ideologies, but it also makes them liable for the racist attitudes perpetuated by the Zionists.

If students, academics and politicians are truly interested in the promotion of human rights, then they should voice their unequivocal support of all the efforts conducted by SAIA and SPHR.

If students, academics and politicians are interested in debate on this particular issue, then they should conduct their own research first instead of relying in flimsy arguments and propaganda campaigns and narrow one-line definitions from a dictionary.

My reminders for the Zionists:

Zionists and their supporters must understand one simple piece of information. It is impossible to muzzle criticism of Israel, and it is impossible to put a stop the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) campaign against Israeli Apartheid. Students and academics who are at the forefront of the struggle against Israeli Apartheid are people who have conducted immense research, thought very carefully about the consequences of their actions and are well-aware that Israeli actions are immoral and illegal.

Any effort to muzzle free speech will be counterproductive. Students who support Palestinians and their inalienable rights are more adamant than ever to make it abundantly clear that the fight against Zionism will not interrupted via a single ill-worded resolution that will ultimately have no effect on the ground.

Canadians are becoming more aware of the issues. They have access to the internet and alternative media. They are aware of Israeli war crimes and crimes against humanity against the Palestinians, and they are aware of the plight of the Palestinian people in the refugee camps and the diaspora.

Around the world, ever-growing numbers of people are learning about Palestine and taking action to halt official and corporate complicity in Israeli war crimes. When Israeli officials cause the death of a single Palestinian, there are lawyers around the world committed to seeking justice and accountability in international courts.

Despite all the efforts of those who would silence Palestinians and their allies, the reality is that the truth will not be silenced, and justice for the Palestinians will be attained.

Omar Shaban is a third generation Palestinian refugee from the Nahr El-Bared refugee camp in Lebanon. He is the former president of Solidarity for Palestinian Human Rights (SPHR) at UBC and a member of the organizing committee of Return and Liberation: Conference of the Palestinian Shatat in North America.