Ontario Legislature Denounces Israel Apartheid Week
Motion by Thornhill MPP Peter Shurman supported by all parties.
Politicians of different parties rarely agree on anything. However, this Thursday Ontario MPPs unanimously supported a motion by Thornhill Progressive Conservative MP Peter Shurman to condemn “Israeli Apartheid Week.”
The motion denounces the sixth annual “Israeli Apartheid Week,” a series of campus events that begins next week in universities and colleges in 35 cities worldwide.
The term “Israeli Apartheid Week” incites “hatred against Israel, a democratic state that respects the rule of law and human rights, and the use of the word ‘apartheid’ in this context diminishes the suffering of those who were victims of a true apartheid regime in South Africa,” said Shurman.
He rejected the argument that his resolution was not appropriate for the Ontario legislature. “Israeli Apartheid Week” is an annual event in the province and Canada’s values are the same values as Israel – “democracy, education, individual freedom, human rights and the right to defend oneself from aggressors” – he said. He noted that the values of Judaism and Israel, which go back over 3,000 years, were instrumental in the founding of Canada.
“If you’re going to label Israel as apartheid, then you are also calling Canada apartheid and you are attacking Canadian values,” said Shurman. “The use of the phrase ‘Israeli Apartheid Week’ is about as close to hate speech as one can get without being arrested, and I’m not certain it doesn’t actually cross over that line.”
Shurman said that the event is a “thinly veiled campaign by those whose real agenda is to eradicate Israel entirely.”
“Israel, while demonstrating some very remarkable positives, is, in the end, just like Canada or any other democratic country: not always right, and always dealing with political challenges. My resolution is, however, not about any of that. I raise it by way of asserting that I or anyone else can debate such issues any time, any place, as long as such a debate is respectful and fair to all who seek to express an opinion,” he said. “That is precisely what ‘Israeli Apartheid Week’ does not do, and in our free environment, in our hate-free public forum, it has no place.”
Shurman does not have a problem with intelligently discussing Israel or the Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza with people of any political stripe. He furthermore does not have a problem with one-sided views being articulated by either side.
One of his biggest concerns is with the name “Israeli Apartheid Week” itself which he labelled “assumptive” and described as striking an authoritative position without any debate.
“The name is hateful, it is odious, and that’s not how things should be in Ontario, in our Ontario. My Ontario is not about drawing lines between different elements of our diverse society and fighting battles 10,000 kilometres away by using labelling and unilateral positioning and something even outright intimidation to make points,” Shurman said. “It creates a toxic atmosphere on campuses that labels supporters of Israel as racists and lessens their feelings of security. I have seen it personally.”
Cheri DiNovo, NDP MPP for Parkdale-High Park, said that “inflammatory language (has no place) on either side of this issue” and does nothing to advance dialogue.
“We don’t want it. We don’t need it. We reject it. And is ‘apartheid’ an inflammatory term? Absolutely. There are lots of inflammatory terms flying around the issue in the Middle East. They are not helpful. They detract from the cause we’re all engaged in, and that is peace.”
DiNovo suggested that instead of using inflammatory language to divide, campus groups should seek to start from a place of agreement in order for both sides to move forward and lives to be saved.
“We want all faiths and all peoples to work together. We want to take the level of rhetoric down at least a notch or two and start seeing each other the way we see ourselves,” she said. “That is what the Torah calls us to do. That is what the Christian Bible calls us to do. That is what the Koran calls us to do.”
David Zimmer, Liberal MPP for Willowdale described “Israeli Apartheid Week” as a roadblock on the path to peace in the Middle East, stressing that words such as “apartheid” can have a destructive influence, especially in the context of attempting to create peace between Israelis and Palestinians.
He offered an alternative idea to the organizers of “Israeli Apartheid Week”.
“Why not have an Israeli Palestinian Peace Week? Now that would be a novel and constructive step,” he said. “You see the real victim of Israel Apartheid Week is peace itself. Peace in Israel. Peace in the Middle East. Peace for Palestinians. Why do the organizers want to exasperate an already difficult situation? To accuse one side of practising apartheid does absolutely nothing to promote peace. That’s why I’m supporting the member for Thornhill’s motion.”