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Loose Cannon: Combating the Apartheid label, one word at a time

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

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  • The words being used around Israel Apartheid Week are all the wrong kinds.

    The words being used around Israel Apartheid Week are all the wrong kinds.

Written by Greg Beneteau

Words matter.

Words helps us create meaning from our experiences, which in turn drive our actions.

I know the arguments, spurious and silly as they are, that of all the countries in the world, Israel most closely resembles Apartheid-era South Africa.

It's quite an impressive feat for Israel, a multi-cultural democracy home to people of every race, religion and ethnicity, to beat out countries like, say Cuba (home to an entire capitalist infrastructure, including currency and hospitals, catering to tourists that its own citizens aren't allowed to access) for the coveted title of Apartheid state.

But I digress. My piece isn't about defending Israel, but about confronting the rhetoric. The words being used around Israel Apartheid Week, the annual festival of one-sided hyperbole targeting the Jewish state, are all the wrong kinds.

Unhelpful. Extreme. Untrue.

Organizers of the 7th annual IAW are touting the "incredible successes" made by the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) campaign against Israel.

The BDS campaign might be incredible, but only in the sense that most observers express incredulity at the movement's choice of targets, which include businesses and cultural events with no connection to the present conflict.

So far this year, the BDS movement has made headlines for protesting against:

-Le Marcheur, an independent shoe shop in downtown Montreal that sells a line of women's footwear made in Israel;

-The first ever Jersualem Marathon (the planned route passes through parts of contested East Jerusalem, prompting calls for sponsor Adidas to boycott the event);

-Justin Bieber (a YouTube video with excerpts from Bieber's song "Baby Baby Baby" urges the sixteen-year-old to cancel an appearance in Tel Aviv next month).

Defenders of BDS usually claim that the campaign needs to cast a wide net in order to be successful. It seems more likely, however, that activists go after shoe stores and pop stars because they're easy prey,  or because the fallout generates media awareness for an attention-starved movement.

Words matter.

Among the guests on campus this week is Lia Tarachansky, a U of G graduate and reporter with the left-wing Real News Network, who is presenting excerpts from 7 Deadly Myths, a documentary-in-progress about the "ethnic cleansing" of Palestinians in 1948.

I remember Tarachansky, who was once director of the CSA-run Human Rights Office, was never terribly careful about what words she used.

In one memorable interview, Tarachansky warned The Ontarion that Ontario's Human Rights Commission was being "effectively dissolved" by cold-hearted government bureaucrats, which would lead to "unchecked systemic discrimination."

This didn't sit well with Patrick Case, Director of U of G's Human Rights and Equity Office. As a former director with the Commission, Case knew very well that the proposed restructuring was intended to eliminate bureaucracy and ensure that complainants had their cases heard faster. In a subsequent panel discussion, he rightly took Tarachansky to task for perpetuating her own myth.

Words matter.

Nick Day, a student rector at Queen's University, published a letter last week on rabble.ca criticizing Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff for denouncing IAW.

Signed in his capacity as an elected official, Day accused Israel of being responsible for "genocide" and "the biggest human rights tragedy of my generation."

Alfread Orono Orono would likely disagree. The prosecutor for the International Criminal Court has spent years bringing to justice the perpetrators of the Rwandan genocide, a racially and politically-motivated massacre that resulted in the deaths of an estimated 800,000 people.

By the time this article publishes. Orono Orono will have come to campus to talk about his efforts to indict and convict the world's worst dictators and despots. I can't say for certain if the event was timed to take the wind out of the anti-Israel movement's sails, but IAW supporters would do well to attend his talk to see what real genocide and tragedy looks like.

Words matter.

The IAW website urges people around the world to "join us in making this a year of struggle against apartheid and for justice, equality, and peace."

Israel Apartheid Week accomplishes anything but. Instead, attempts to blame the entirety of the Israel-Palestinian conflict on "Apartheid" ensures that Israel's supporters - which include governments in most of the Western world - will fervently move to distance themselves from IAW by softening even legitimate criticism of the Jewish state.

It emboldens politicians like anti-Arab foreign minister Avigdor Lieberman, who count on the fact that Israelis who feel threatened by outsiders will be pushed toward hard-line, nationalist views.

Most importantly, the argument over whether "Apartheid" applies to Israel distracts both Palestinians and Israelis from a engaging in genuine dialogue. Instead, IAW encourages them to argue in perpetuity over which party should be portrayed as the victim in the eyes of history.

Words matter. Let's make sure we're using the right ones.

Greg Beneteau is Editor-in-Chief of thecannon. Loose Cannon publishes every Thursday in The Ontarion Student Newspaper at the University of Guelph.

The opinions posted on thecannon.ca reflect those of their author and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of the Central Student Association and the Guelph Campus Co-op. We encourage all students to submit opinion pieces, including ones that run contrary to the opinion piece in question

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  1. Posted by: on Mar 16, 2011 @ 9:22pm

    Hello Greg, this article was very disappointing to read and I'm going to try and address some points you've made which I believe indicate some lack of information on your part.

    "The BDS campaign might be incredible, but only in the sense that most observers express incredulity at the movement's choice of targets, which include businesses and cultural events with no connection to the present conflict."
    Any transaction that supports the economy of Israel directly contributes to the resourches that the state of Israel may use to oppress the Palestinian people. The concept of boycotting is not a promotion that is unique to IAW; it was a very important component of the movement that fought South Africa's system of apartheid, and boycotting South African products altogether imposed considerable pressure on the South African government which eventually led to the change in favour of justice.

    In regards to what you had against considering the humanitarian crisis in Gaza and the West Bank "the biggest human rights tragedy of [our] generation", I completely agree with you on quetsioning the validity of such a statement, as I don't believe it is appropriate to compare one humanitarian tragedy to another... yet you proceed to invalidate his argument by discussing the Rwandan genocide and its death count. 800,000 killed is a tragic, but that doesn't make the killing of thousands of Palestinian casualties that have taken place since 1948, and the current perpetual bulldozing of Palestinian homes any less valid. Rather ironic of you to use an unrelated event to minimize the Palestinian struggle, after just having criticized IAW of boycotting events "with no connection to the conflict".

    "Most importantly, the argument over whether "Apartheid" applies to Israel distracts both Palestinians and Israelis from a engaging in genuine dialogue."
    I don't see what's wrong with pointing out the oppressor in any case of injustice... how could this dialogue be at all accomplished before the problem is identified and the violating actions are condemned??

    Speaking of the fact that words do matter, "unhelpful, extreme" and (especially) "untrue" are very bold words to use. I would have appreciated this article more had you justified any of these serious claims with specific examples of "untrue" or "extremeist" facts that were presented at any of the IAW events. As a matter of fact you failed to make any reference to any IAW events that took place on campus (with the exception of the one that hasn't taken place yet, which you critized by attempting to destroy the credibility of the speaker based on a pervious interaction you've had with ther)- the article was based on your mere impressions of the events, it seems.

    I hope that you will manage to dedicate some of your time to attend any upcoming IAW events- perhaps it might help you understand why raising awareness about this conflict, which is exactly what IAW aims to do, is very necessary.

    Peace

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