Friday, April 16, 2010

The following press statement from the Israeli Apartheid Week Winnipeg gives their point of view about the mercifully recently concluded debate in the Manitoba Legislature about a statement of condemnation of the event. The motion, sponsored by the provincial Conservatives was (let's say it again- mercifully ) defeated. The outstanding thing to my point of view is how few people see that the proposers of the motion should be set to work cleaning latrines for at least six months (the equivalent in minimum wage as opposed to their bloated salaries) for wasting the public's money on such nonsense. Is a university debate really a matter of pressing priority for a provincial legislature ? You be the judge.
All that being said this whole subject makes me "itchy" and not just because both sides operate from the twin assumptions that a)one has to chose sides in a dispute on the other side of the world where both opponents have their unsavoury aspects and b)that doing this side choosing actually has a real effect on the world. It also makes me itchy because over the course of decades I have seen that neither pro-Israel nor anti-Israel nor right nor left in this country seems to have much respect for the principle of free speech. I've expressed myself on this matter before, both in terms of the local IAW and on other matters. I have little to say to the "right". Let them conspire away and depend on the likes of Sneaky Stevie Harper to push their agenda that is barely hidden. I have a lot to say to the "left" whose general response to assaults on free speech from their side is cheerleading rather than criticism. In terms of recent events, totally unconnected with the subject at hand, I am not so much disgusted by fools who give a right wing clown the publicity she thrives on as I am by apologists who try to explain away what happened and pretend it was something other than what it was. I can think of better uses for language fluency than low evasion.
That's beside the point. I'm a firm believer in free speech, and I find the attempts of IAW's opponents to stop it before it began and to waste the time of the Legislature when it was over as good evidence that they shouldn't be trusted with power over anything beyond their own bodies. Perhaps not even that. Any volunteers for bathroom monitors for the Conservative caucus ? All that being said I hope though not expect that at least some who oppose Israel's policies will remember their arguments about this sort of thing when they are tempted to do similar things.
OK enough pontificating. Here's the press release.
Israeli Apartheid Week organizers saddened by debate in Manitoba Legislature

While organizers of Israeli Apartheid Week in Manitoba are temporarily relieved that the Manitoba Legislature did not pass Heather Stefanson’s anti-free speech motion to condemn Israeli Apartheid Week, there is still concern that this motion will return at a later date.

While Stefanson and Leader of the Opposition Hugh McFadyen spoke in favour of the motion, they claimed to support free speech in Manitoba. Sadly, their actions in the weeks prior to IAW contradict these claims. Stefanson has stated on her website that she wants to “eradicate” IAW, and McFadyen stood next to David Matas of B’Nai Brith as he called for IAW to be banned. “Despite their protestations to the contrary, this motion is clearly part of a campaign to prevent IAW from occurring in the future,” stated Brian Latour, spokesperson for the Winnipeg IAW Coordinating Committee.

Organizers of Israeli Apartheid Week were saddened by the tone of the debate. During the course of the debate, various MLAs made false accusations of anti-semitism, harassment, and intimidation, and MLA Ron Schuler even made the absurd and offensive on many levels comparison between IAW and its organizers and the Nazis through his references to Neville Chamberlain.

“The entire debate in the Manitoba legislature was a depressing display of ignorance and slander,” stated Latour. “It is a sad day in Manitoba when so many members of the legislature decide to single out a small group of dedicated people fighting against oppression with so many false accusations. Had any member of the legislature even bothered to contact IAW organizers or done the most basic of research, this harmful and pathetic display could have been averted.”

Israeli Apartheid Week is an anti-racist event designed to educate people about apartheid as a system of oppression which Palestinians face on a daily basis, and promote the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions campaign against the apartheid practices of the Israeli state which was initiated by over 170 Palestinian civil society organizations and is now supported by hundreds of organizations around the world. Palestinians face many forms of racist discrimination on a daily basis in the Occupied Territories and Israel, including discrimination before the courts, restrictions on access to clean water, and a system of checkpoints, walls, and travel restrictions.

Last month’s Israeli Apartheid Week was the sixth one held since it was started at the University of Toronto in 2005. It was held in 60 cities in 2010, including Winnipeg for the first time. Events in Winnipeg discussed Israel as an apartheid state, as well as connections between gender discrimination and apartheid, Canadian apartheid and indigenous solidarity, and the freedom to speak and organize against apartheid on campus. The Winnipeg events were sponsored by ActLeft, the Canada-Palestine Support Network, and Independent Jewish Voices.

There were zero incidents of racism, threats or harassment during IAW at the University of Manitoba. The events put on during IAW not only upheld the University of Manitoba's Respectful Work and Learning Environment Policy and the Manitoba Human Rights Code, but were also opened with a statement opposing racism and other forms of discrimination. Minutes of the March 16th meeting of the University of Manitoba Board of Governors cited the University President stating that the IAW events had "proceeded as anticipated and were orderly" and that the University's position to not shut down IAW was the correct choice. Contrary to the fear-mongering by some individuals at the time, IAW turned out to be a positive discussion of the issues around Israeli Apartheid.
Media contact:
Brian Latour
phone: (204) 226-4186

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