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May 15 - Celebrate Israel's Independence Day or Mourn the Nakba?

Blog posts reflect the views of their authors.
Nakba Day, 15 May 2015... taken by author
Nakba Day, 15 May 2015... taken by author

May 15: Should we celebrate Israel’s Independence Day or mourn the Nakba? Yet, as Haligonians heard Friday night at the Nakba commemoration event held in Halifax’s Victoria Park, Israel has forbidden Palestinians or any other person in Israel, or under Israeli Occupation, to observe the Nakba.

The Nakba is the day set aside to mark the expulsion of 750,000 Palestinians from their homes and their land, by Israel when it became a state in 1948. In 1967, Israel again drove thousands of Palestinians from their homes on the West Bank when Israel put the West Bank and Gaza under Israeli military control. This illegal land grab is what is called “the Occupation”. The Occupation has been going on for 48 years!

More than 20% of Israelis citizens are Israeli-Arabs – Palestinians and their descendants who managed to hang on and stay in Israel proper despite the expulsions of 1948.  Today, Israeli-Arabs face discrimination as they have fewer civil rights, worse education, little access to good jobs or careers and cannot buy land freely in Israel—despite being citizens.

In Israel, the "Nakba Law" allows the Israeli government to rescind funds from public institutions that disagree or act against two basic rules. One rule is that Israel must be called the "Jewish state"; the second rule is that no one can mourn (rather than celebrate) Israel’s Independence Day. As absurd as it is, the law was used in 2014 against the Tel Aviv Cinematheque which held a three-day film festival about the Nakba and the Right of Return.  Then-minister of Culture and Sport, Limor Livnat, revoked $65,000 of government funding from the Cinematheque, claiming that it was “unreasonable… when an entity that is supported by the State of Israel enables the holding on its premises of a festival devoted entirely to preaching that the day on which Israel was founded is a day of mourning."

Benjamin Netanyahu won Israel’s recent election, by fear mongering: he insisted that leftists and Europeans raised tens of millions of dollars to mobilize the Arab vote. He said his opponents encouraged a high voter turnout among the Arab population who are “terrorists”, and that they were coming out to vote against him in droves.  After the election, Netanyahu crowed that NO Palestinian state would be established in Israel.

If Netanyahu is a racist, have a look at some of his new Cabinet:
Moshe Ya’alon, a former military chief of staff returning as defense secretary, praised the “Stern Gang,” a Zionist paramilitary that massacred more than one hundred Palestinians at Deir Yassin[1], and in ethnic cleansing operations during Israel’s violent founding. In 2002, Ya’alon said: “The Palestinian threat harbors cancer-like attributes that have to be severed. There are all kinds of solutions to cancer. Some say it’s necessary to amputate organs but at the moment I am applying chemotherapy.”

Ayelet Shaked:  Now Minister of Justice, she posted a statement on Facebook last year which read: “Behind every terrorist stand dozens of men and women, without whom he could not engage in terrorism. …They are all enemy combatants, and their blood shall be on all their heads. Now this also includes the mothers of the martyrs, … They should follow their sons, nothing would be more just. They should go, as should the physical homes in which they raised the snakes. Otherwise, more little snakes will be raised there.”

Eli Ben-Dahan, is deputy Minister of Defense with responsibility for Israel’s “civil administration.” He oversees Israel’s military Occupation of the West Bank. In August 2013, he said Palestinians “are beasts, they are not human.” In December 2013, he broadened the scope of his racism, saying, “A Jew always has a much higher soul than a gentile, even if he is a homosexual.”

Naftali Bennett, the Minister of Education who said Palestinian terrorists should be shot; he said, "I already killed lots of Arabs in my life, and there is absolutely no problem with that."

Finally there is Miri Regev,  Minister of Culture and Sport who called illegal Sudanese immigrants "a cancer in our body."

Ironically, in Canada, any of these ministers could be prosecuted for “hate speech.”

Talking about hate speech, back at the Halifax Nakba gathering, several speakers noted recent efforts by the Harper government to criminalize criticism of  Israel using the our Criminal Code’s ban on hate speech.  It started in January 2015, when then-External Affairs Minister John Baird signed a memorandum of understanding with the Israeli government which promised Canada would combat the Boycott Divestment and Sanctions campaign (BDS) – which  Baird called  “the new face of anti-Semitism”. 

Recently, in speech at the United Nations, Canada’s Public Safety Minister Steven Blaney conflated boycotts with anti-Semitic hate speech. He said Canada had a "zero tolerance" stance against groups that promote boycotts against Israel.

What does this mean? Well, lucky for us, at least one CBC journalist was listening.  Neil Macdonald, the CBC’s senior Washington correspondent, put Blaney and the Harper government on the spot – what does zero tolerance really mean he asked the spokesperson for Public Safety? In fact as we can see from Macdonald’s interview with some higher-up in Public Safety Canada[2] – not a whole lot.

Tyler Levitan, spokesperson for Independent Jewish Voices-Canada says, "This is about trying to scare people." Boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) is nonviolent dissent, boycotts are a time-honoured way to press for change.

Temporarily the Harper government has backed away from criminalizing BDS supporters such as the United Church, the Quakers and activist groups – but it won’t let go in the long run.  In the Tories’ toolkit is Bill C-51, now the Anti-Terrorism Act. Virtually every law professor and most lawyers in Canada have opposed Bill C 51. Trade Unions, church groups, civil society groups, including Amnesty International, and more oppose it.

It will limit freedom of expression, and freedom of assembly.  It will target terrorism ‘in general’ meaning people of colour, indigenous people and Muslims who protest could be the easy targets.  Recall the anti-fracking demonstrations in Elsipogtog, NB. Remember the G20 meetings in Toronto 5 years ago with more than 1100 people arrested – many of whom did nothing more than go downtown to watch the protests. Innocent people will also be swept up with this new law.

People will be jailed longer, without charge—people can be arrested based on what they MIGHT do, on mere suspicion.   The Minister of Public Safety can add virtually anyone to the no-fly list, under mere suspicion. 

This Nakba Day we mourn  -- but we need to fight. Our fight in Canada is to support Palestinian human rights with a more vigorous BDS campaign nationwide.  We need to repudiate the Tory government – and the Liberal MPs who supported them in passing the Anti-Terrorism Act.

Judy Haiven is Jewish and Canadian. She teaches Management at the Sobey School of Business at Saint Mary’s University in Halifax and is chair of the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives-NS. She is also on the steering committee of Independent Jewish Voices -Canada.




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