Thursday, February 25, 2010

Open Letter to the Ottawa Citizen

This is an open letter is in response to this article.

Instead of engaging with the issues at hand, Mr. Stern in his article “The dark side of a yearly ritual” focuses his criticism (six paragraphs in fact) on those who are supportive of Israeli Apartheid Week (IAW). From OPIRG, to Carleton’s Womyns Center, the Canadian Arab Federation to “gay and lesbian groups” Mr. Stern’s attacks on these groups, are misreprestative, and at times false. He reserves his hardest criticism for those who happen to be Queer. To Mr. Stern it is disheartening that some gays and lesbians are part of the quest for Palestinian human rights, because all of those queers just don’t seem to understand that Israel is a haven for homosexuals and celebrates LGBTQ culture, with parades and movies. Try doing that in Gaza, or Syria probes Mr. Stern. As queers, activists and academics this logic is not only insulting but flawed. We resist the idea that because there exists a place of relative safety for LGBTQ people in the Middle East, illegal occupation is justified. Mr. Stern fails to mention that Palestinian Queers are targets along side the rest of the population. We should be fighting homophobia everywhere, even in Muslim countries. However, Palestinian Queer groups have said the biggest threat to their organizing is the Israeli occupation, not homophobia, so that’s where we choose focus our energy. Occupation: not it our name.

Now that that’s settled, we need to return to the actually issues at hand, which is the illegal occupation which is exactly what Israeli Apartheid Week is bringing to the forefront.

The main problem with Mr. Stern charging that IAW is trying to “erase the distinction” between Jews and Zionists is that its blatantly false. Judaism is a religion, and Zionism is a political ideology. The example given by Mr. Stern is that the Ontario Public Interest Research Group’s refusal to work with Hillel on an event about development. Hillel, although it claims not to be a Zionist organization, has as part of their structure an Israeli Awareness Committee and their current participation in the Israeli public relations campaign “Size Doesn’t Matter” speaks to a different story, a Zionist story. It is important to note though, that IAW has Jewish members organizing, funding and speaking during the week, making Mr. Stern’s accusations of disconnecting “Jew” and “Zionist” completely ridiculous.

Mr Stern’s article exemplifies a typical defense tactic of the supporters of Israel, which is to say that any criticism or questioning of the action of the state is hateful and anti-Semitic. All that IAW is trying to do, is just that, to legitimately criticize the actions of the state. It maybe true that no other nation is subject to a weeklong event criticism the actions of their government, but that speaks to an important fact. This is that Israel claims to be a liberal democracy, which respects human rights, and demands that their actions be accepted on the international stage. Israel gets special status in the international community to violate domestic and international law, including the Geneva conventions. Yet, these same conventions if broken by other states, these states would face huge backlash in the international community. Again this is what Israel Apartheid Week is aiming to bring into focus.

The word Apartheid brings up strong images and emotions, as it harkens back to the racist ideology exemplified in South Africa during its Apartheid. Mr. Stern is absolutely correct that international law defines Apartheid as a crime against humanity. The Convention on Apartheid spells out conditions in which a state, if met, is considered an Apartheid State. Desmond Tutu- Archbishop Emeritus of Cape Town, John Dugard-a renowned Jewish South African international jurist, and Jimmy Carter –former President all agree that the occupation of Palestine amounts to Apartheid according to international law. If they can see it, why can’t Mr. Stern?

If Israeli actions do amount to apartheid, then we (Queer Faction and Agitate) do question and act to undermine this state. This is not anti-Semitic, nor is it unprecedented, because in fact in the Convention on Apartheid, which Michael Ignatieff cites, calls for that same action to be taken. To fight apartheid until it is gone. We will not stop until Palestine and Israel can agree upon a mutual beneficial solution that respects human rights for all.


Agitate: Queer People of Color and Queer fAction