While not an unreasonable article, after reading University of Ottawa professor Stuart Chambers’ op-ed in a previous issue, “The label ‘anti-Semitic’ is a tactic used to stifle debate”, I felt obligated to respond and make some things clear.
Professor Chambers took issue with an op-ed by University of PEI professor Henry Srebrnik in which he pleads for the censorship of a York University mural painting that depicts a Palestinian protest of Israeli occupation. Essentially, Srebrnik argues that the mural, titled “Palestinian Roots”, is anti-Semitic, evokes discomfort and hurt feelings amongst Jewish students, and ought to be removed.
Distasteful or not, the painting does not elicit hate and thus falls under the fundamental freedom of expression protected by the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms; so nothing can come of Srebrnik’s—or anyone’s—desire to take it down. It’s a non-issue.
Chambers’ criticism extends even further, alluding to the sanctity of academic freedom and the free flow of ideas on university campuses, and the threat Srebrnik’s attitude poses on those virtues.
Chambers argues that pro-Israel supporters like Srebrnik use the term “anti-Semitic” as a tactic to stifle any debate concerning Israel, but that just isn’t true. In fact, evidence shows the opposite to be true. Anti-Israel movements on campuses, most notably BDS, time after time have shouted down pro-Israel voices—sometimes accompanied by anti-Semitic taunts and even threats of violence.
Where I continue to take issue with Chambers is in the hypocrisy of his claims.
He begins by accusing Srebrnik of highlighting instances of anti-Semitism on campus as a means to advance his own pro-Israel agenda: “It’s not ‘hurt feelings’ he’s protecting but rather his own worldview.”
However, in his concluding statement—“This form of political correctness (concerning Israel) has a single purpose in mind, erasing from memory the daily reality faced by Palestinians,”—professor Chambers blatantly contradicts his initial claim and exposes his use of a nearly identical form of rhetoric as to that which he has accused Srebrnik of using.
It’s not “academic freedom” and “the free flow of ideas” he’s protecting, but rather his own world view—one which opposes Israel.
While there is no harm in criticizing the Israeli government’s policy as you would any other country’s — Israel is surely not immune to criticism, nor should it be—Chambers refers to a “daily reality faced by Palestinians” that is of “Israeli aggression and occupation”.
This highlights my second issue with Chambers’ comments: to state one’s opinion on a highly controversial and debatable topic, like the Israel-Palestine conflict, without providing any support to said opinions seems irresponsible, particularly for an academic like professor Chambers.
Finally, for me to state that anti-Israel sentiment is inherently anti-Semitic would be a troublesome task, so instead one must ask: why is the UN Human Rights Council, the BDS movement, and others like it so singularly obsessed with resolutions against Israel?
While its neighbour Syria kills hundreds of thousands of civilians; while Saudi Arabia unapologetically bombs civilians in Yemen; while thousands are held political prisoners as democracy disappears in Egypt; and while nearly all of Israel’s other neighbours criminally violate human rights on a daily basis; why the obsession with criticizing Israel?
There can only be one reason for that obsession: the oldest hatred in the world, anti-Semitism.
The reality is, not all anti-Israel critics are anti-Semitic, but all anti-Semites are undoubtedly anti-Israel; and they have taken refuge in that movement.
The good professor is either naive or willfully blind to that unfortunate fact.
—Dylan Yegendorf, U of O student