[Boycott - Other News]
Canadian Jews form alternative pressure group
7 April 2007
First national meeting agrees to put pressure on Israel to end its occupation of Palestinian territory.
The Alliance of Concerned Jews of Canada (ACJC) held its first-ever national conference March 28-30 at Steelworkers Hall in Toronto, featuring Naomi Klein as keynote speaker.
More than a hundred participants from all over Canada, including Jews, Muslims and Christians as well as representatives from unions, religious organizations and social justice groups, came from cities and towns from Halifax to Vancouver. They agreed to organize to put pressure on Israel to end its occupation of Palestinian territory and to form an organization that, by educating and informing the Canadian public, will provide a counterweight to the drum-beat of pro-Israeli, pro-occupation propaganda from organizations like the Canadian Jewish Congress and other members of the Israel Lobby, as well as the major media and the Harper government.
"The Israel Lobby, which pretends to speak for all Jews in Canada, provides unquestioning support for whatever Israel does," said ACJC co-founder Yakov M Rabkin, of Montreal, author of A Threat from Within: A Century of Jewish Opposition to Zionism. "But no organization has that mandate."
In Canada as in the US and Europe, the Israel Lobby labels any criticism of its policies as anti-Semitic. Conference participants agreed that doing this trivializes real anti-Semitism. At the same time they expressed a wide range of opinion about how best to combat this labeling and to assert their right to critique policies that have been condemned by many human rights groups, including Amnesty International.
Some participants recommended trying to educate and persuade members of mainstream Jewish communities to hold discussions, view films, and establish dialogue with Palestinians. "We need to try to reach people where they are," said Sue Swartz, a visitor from Brit Tzedek v'Shalom in the US.
The International Jewish Solidarity Network promoted a different approach, arguing for the adoption of a programme that includes demands for equal rights for Jews and Palestinians within Israel, reparations for Palestinians and the Palestinian right of return.
Most participants found themselves somewhere between these poles of opinion, but all agreed that it is urgently necessary to change Canadian public opinion and to pressure the Harper government to change its unquestioning support for Israel. "After all, Israel has repeatedly ignored the International Court of Justice as well as United Nations resolutions," pointed out Mia Amir, of Vancouver.
In workshops and discussions throughout the weekend many techniques for doing this were suggested, among them:
- challenging dominant views of the crisis in Israel and Palestine in public forums, letters to the press, and demonstrations;
- founding alternative campus organizations for Jewish youth;
- creating a speaker's bureau to educate adults in temples, synagogues and religious schools about the 1948 expulsion of Palestinians and the seizure of their property, known by Palestinians as the Nakba, or Disaster;
- supporting the work of Palestinian and alternative Jewish artists and writers;
- collaborating with allies including trade unions, peace groups and equity organizations.
"It is our aim to provide an alternative voice for Jewish and non-Jewish Canadians, wherever they live, who are inundated with information from only one side of the conflict," explained conference coordinator Diana Ralph, of Ottawa.
Journalist and author Naomi Klein (The Shock Doctrine) delivered the keynote address for the conference. She described how the government of Israel, in celebrating the sixtieth anniversary of its founding, is attempting to "re-brand" itself as a holiday destination. To do this Israel must play down its repression of Arab citizens and Palestinians and ignore the devastating effects of its so-called Separation Wall. "They are normalizing war and violence," Klein said, stressing the "high level of security the Israeli Defense Force [IDF] is able to deliver. They're saying, 'come to the beach, we'll keep you safe and secure'."
Klein went further, linking Israel's repression of the Palestinian population to the United States's "war on terror" and explaining how Israel has become an international specialist in the development and manufacture of surveillance hardware, crowd-control devices, and other high-tech interventions. Security has become "Israel's main export, more than fruits or vegetables," she emphasized.
Klein concluded by urging conference participants to combat the image of Israel as a happy, safe, and secure tourist paradise, saying this "should be an integral part of our work"
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