So much to free speechify about, so little time…

I want to do some more assessment of material coming out of Nepal today. But a few things first.

Yesterday was the end of ‘Israeli Apartheid Week’ at the University of Toronto. It was organized by some energetic and brilliant young people who are called the ‘Arab Students Collective’. I didn’t attend the full week’s events, but I did attend last night’s closing event. There were two speakers, both extraordinary and actually complementary of one another in interesting ways.


I want to do some more assessment of material coming out of Nepal today. But a few things first.

Yesterday was the end of ‘Israeli Apartheid Week’ at the University of Toronto. It was organized by some energetic and brilliant young people who are called the ‘Arab Students Collective’. I didn’t attend the full week’s events, but I did attend last night’s closing event. There were two speakers, both extraordinary and actually complementary of one another in interesting ways.

One speaker was a third-generation Palestinian refugee. Her personal history was one of a person who grew up in refugee camps, facing war and death and deprivation. She talked about her grandparents and their memory of displacement from Palestine in 1948. Her talk, however, focused on action – the sorts of things people could and should be doing now and here, how they fit in with one another – some serious thinking. She, like the speaker who followed, was an advocate of boycotts and grassroots pressure. In Canada, our task is to stop Canadian government and business support for Israel.

The other speaker was a professor at Haifa University in Israel, the only professor who teaches a course on the original ethnic cleansing of Palestinians in 1948. His personal history was also interesting: as a historian he is better acquainted than most with the geography of dispossession in the areas he lives and travels in around Haifa. He talked about the whole design and project of dispossession of the Palestinians. His talk focused, however, on what he called the mechanisms of denial – all the myriad ways that Israeli society uses to avoid coming to grips with the dispossession and ongoing ethnic cleansing of the Palestinians. He did this with a command of historical facts, but also with telling anecdotes – the story of how a TV documentarian got flak for broadcasting Israeli soldiers murdering Palestinians while playing a game – closing an electric fence on Palestinian workers at the Erez checkpoint in Gaza – flak, for broadcasting this, because it would ‘help the enemy’. The story of how a kibbutz, having demanded the fertile land of a neighbouring Palestinian village, first had them displaced, then displaced again after the new village, to which the Palestinians had been relocated, was still visible from the stolen one, and the displacers didn’t want such a view in their nice new village.

The thesis was that a whole society is tainted by this kind of colonization and by this kind of denial. The result, he argued, is that it is very difficult for Israelis to do what they have to do and come up with a just solution without outside help and outside pressure. And by outside help, he means boycotts, sanctions. By a just solution, he means a single, democratic, secular state. And in his view, the first line of defense for unjust solutions, dragging the process out as dispossession continues, is actually the Israeli peace movement. Good people, intelligent people, but very difficult to deal with because of these mechanisms of denial.

This historian has faced tremendous pressure – he discussed how a special committee was struck in order to try to expel him from Haifa University. How the graduate student working with him was, in fact, expelled. He made a point of saying that he was neither has brave nor has he suffered as much as many other Palestinians and Israelis who are struggling for justice. But he wanted to refute the idea that his very presence in the Israeli academy meant that Israel could not be an apartheid state.

I have heard several South Africans say that calling Israel’s actions toward Palestine apartheid is unfair to apartheid, since apartheid was about exploitation of the indigenous people and Israel is simply trying to destroy them. But let’s leave that for a minute.

‘Israeli apartheid week’ caused a lot of stormy press coverage at the same time as Toronto’s York University adminstration had, as I mentioned before, lost its collective mind.

And this, at the same time as Ward Churchill and M Shahid Alam are being smeared, slandered, and pressured to resign.

The idea isn’t so much to crack down on the left or even to crack down on independent thought as it is to deny such thought any meaningful platform. So long as we stick to books or sites or newsletters that are read by very small numbers of people, we can be used to prove the point that we are allowed by the benevolent society we live in to criticize it. But such dissident voices are certainly not available on television or any mass media, and now there is a concerted effort moving to try to cleanse them from the minimal university platforms that exist. It’s interesting to see the same dynamic unfolding in the US, Israel, and Canada. But this is not a battle that has to be lost.

More in a bit – I am supposed to interview one of last night’s speakers now.

Justin Podur

Author: Justin Podur

Author of Siegebreakers. Ecology. Environmental Science. Political Science. Anti-imperialism. Political fiction. Teach at York U's FES. Author. Writer at ZNet, TeleSUR, AlterNet, Ricochet, and the Independent Media Institute.

3 thoughts on “So much to free speechify about, so little time…”

  1. are there plans for the
    are there plans for the second speakers speech to be realeased on audio or as a transcript?
    It sounds like a very good talk.

  2. There were definitely people
    There were definitely people recording both speeches. But I don’t know where they might appear. One day I will be more systematic about these things and do more recording and making things like this available myself. But anyway I just did the interview by phone, so you can at least see that on ZNet in the next week or two.

  3. Does that mean that you have
    Does that mean that you have come over to supporting the single, democratic, secular state solution now, Justin? Last time this came up on your site you were undecided. I hope so. First linux, now this, the few quibbles I had here are quickly disappearing. This is quickly becoming my favourite site. Keep up the good work.

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