Messages of Support

Letter from Davis Mirza (Elementary Teacher –TDSB/Elementary Teachers of Toronto Steward)

Dated: March 3rd, 2010

Dear Toronto District School Board Director Chris Spence, 

As an elementary teacher in the TDSB, I was shocked by your ill-considered support for a Conservative (!) member’s motion to condemn Israeli Apartheid Week (IAW). I was deeply distressed to also read in your press release that you consider Israeli Apartheid Week as “contrary to the academic and social goals of the TDSB.” The argument that criticism of Israel as an Apartheid state is inherently anti-Semitic rests on the notion that Israel is singled out for undue criticism because it is a Jewish state. Canadian Immigration Minister Jason Kenney used this ill-gained logic several months ago when he said, “We do see the growth of a new anti-Semitism predicated on the notion that the Jews alone have no right to a homeland.”

This statement is only legitimate if we completely ignore the situation of the Palestinians, the residents of the land Israel claimed as a “Jewish homeland.” The recent assault on Gaza, in which more than 1,400 Palestinians were killed, including at least 346 children, is just the latest in an ongoing saga of displacement, occupation, dehumanization and war crimes dating back to 1948. As a critic of Israel, I am not singling it out for undue criticism, but merely holding it to the same standards as all other nations in such areas as respect for human rights and international law.

Jewish Canadian feminist Judy Rebick notes that the misuse of the term “anti-Semitism” to silence Palestinian voices is a setback in the advancement of such a human rights agenda. Rebick states, “… it is a dangerous strategy that makes critics of the State of Israel into enemies of the Jewish people despite themselves. It even casts those of us who are Jewish allies of Palestinian rights as enemies in the battle against anti-Semitism. Further, it disarms us in the face of anti-Semitic incidents, weakening the credibility of organizations that have used the term too broadly and blurred the line between opposition to the State of Israel and anti-Jewish prejudice.” [Click: http://www.rabble.ca/taxonomy/term/4249] With the TDSB’s latest condemnation of IAW, you not only blur this line Mr. Spence but you undermine the great work TDSB educators do to further peace, human rights, solidarity support and teacher professionalism in the community. Let me explain.

As a supporter of Palestinian self determination (as well as Israel’s right to exist), a major campaign is currently underway to deny me, as an educator, the freedom  to express a dissenting opinion. Yet, the fundamental tenet of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms enshrines freedom of expression and of assembly for all Canadians. My participation in Israeli Apartheid Week is protected under those Charter rights and the basis of “free speech” in a democracy guarantees that, even dissenting opinions, are guaranteed merit – and, in fact, actually strengthen a democratic civil society because it nurtures tolerance toward diverse viewpoints.

So when someone like South African President Nelson Mandela (who himself was labeled as a “terrorist” and an “enemy-of-the-state”) criticizes Israel’s domestic policy by stating “…our freedom is incomplete without the freedom of the Palestinians” (1), do we as educators now condemn him for what you describe in your press statement as “fostering ill-will and disharmony among groups and individuals”? Do we now banish Mandela’s name from our school textbooks? Do we now remove Mandela’s picture from our school’s bookcases because he states the obvious: that the plight of Palestinians reflects in many ways the unfinished business of our own struggle to free all oppressed peoples.

The question must be asked Mr. Spence, because as the new head of the TDSB, how far will you go to quash dissenting opinions – even if it is someone as renowned and respected as Nelson Mandela? Because Mandela supports the right of Palestinian self determination, do we now remove his name from a TDSB public school named after him in Regent Park – that very Mandela quote appearing on an info-sheet I matter-of-factly picked up at an Israeli Apartheid Week conference held at Ryerson University this past Monday (which I have included with other South Africans quoted below).

But Mr. Mandela is not the only South African “fostering ill-will and disharmony” when noting the oppression of Palestinians at the hands of Israel. On his visit to the Middle East, Archbishop Desmond Tutu testified, “…I’ve been very deeply distressed in my visit to the Holy Land; it reminded me so much of what happened to us black people in South Africa… I have seen the humiliation of the Palestinians at checkpoints and roadblocks, suffering like us when young white police officers prevented us from moving about.” (2)  In your broad stroke to condemn IAW and the educators who support and participate in it, you do a disservice to those courageous individuals who come before us, like Mandela and Tutu (and thousands of others) who, contrary to your own opinion, actually further the academic and social goals of the TDSB by fostering critical thinking on Palestine.

So when TDSB’s Social Studies pedagogy describes European colonizers ill-treatment of our First Nations community (still on-going), do we stifle critical thinking on the issue and demonize the messenger, considering how Canada’s own reservation system of isolation and impoverishment of the native population is directly linked to South Africa’s apartheid blueprint that led to the segregation of Black South Africans as third class citizens living in “Bantustans”. By even attempting to censure debate on the issue of truth and reconciliation with First Nations because of the historic “ill-will” between the colonizer and the colonized, Canada may never have made that historic apology/compensation to the First Nations concerning its systemic abuse of natives within residential school. The same analogy holds true with Israel’s occupation of Palestine.

So when Israel’s own Defence Minister Ehud Barack admits in an Associated Press article [Click: “Israel risks apartheid state status, Barak warns” http://www.thestar.com/news/world/article/759344–israel-risks-apartheid-state-status-barak-warns] that if Israel does not reach a peace deal with the Palestinians, it risks becoming an undemocratic “apartheid” state, there is indeed room for diverse opinion on the issue of Israeli Apartheid, that is not only critical of Israeli domestic policy from all sides, but posits a historic opportunity for truth and reconciliation in the Middle East.

It is therefore disingenuous of you Mr. Spence, as head of the TDSB, to libel those dissenting voices as “fostering ill will and disharmony”, when in fact, they are building understanding, trust and co-operation among groups and individuals – from Presidents Jimmy Carter to Nelson Mandela; from Desmond Tutu to Ehud Barack; from Noam Chomsky to Naomi Klein and from myself, as a TDSB teacher/ETT union steward to my fellow Palestinian and Israeli educators – determined to bring about a lasting peace and respect for human rights in the Middle East… which directly parallels my urgent response as an educator to the crisis at hand.

I am currently involved in a human rights campaign to free a Palestinian high school teacher, Adeeb Abu Rahmah, [Click: http://palestinianprisoners.blogspot.com/2010/01/bilin-organizer-abdallah-abu-rahmah.html] who was arrested by Israeli soldiers and has been detained for more than five months for his non-violent protest of the illegal wall (as deemed by the World Court and United Nations) that divides the Palestinian town of Bil’in. Rahmah is not suspected of committing any violence, but was indicted under a blanket charge of “incitement,” which was very liberally interpreted to include the organizing of grassroots demonstrations. Rahmah could be Palestine’s answer to Gandhi or the next Arab Mandela, and I am tirelessly working with teachers, unionists, human rights workers, Canadian, Palestinian, and Israeli officials and of course, IAW activists, to guarantee his immediate and safe release from an Israeli jail.

Yet in your attempt to suppress free speech and perpetrate falsehoods about the nature of IAW and the important work that it does (It in no way serves to incite hatred against Israel or diminishes the suffering of those who were victims of the apartheid regime in South Africa), you discredit victims of  Israeli human rights abuses, those teachers and educators who are in harms way, trying to change things from the inside. When you support those forces that arrest non-violent teachers – those defenders of democracy and human rights in the Middle East – you ignore the legal differential and discriminatory treatment of Palestinian Arab citizens and the illegal arrests of members of Jewish peace groups and Palestinians who oppose the blatant human rights violations carried out by the army and police in Israel, the West Bank, and Gaza. Will the silence of the West be perceived as another opportunity for Israel to carry out Cast Lead II, III or IV when in actuality it was world-wide condemnation of Israel’s bombing of the Gaza refugee camp, particularly the citing of Israel war crimes in the Goldstone Report [Click: http://www2.ohchr.org/english/bodies/hrcouncil/docs/12session/A-HRC-12-48.pdf ], that has tempered further military bombardments by Israel in the Occupied Territories.

I would implore you to immediately revoke TDSB’s condemnation of IAW in light of the concerns raised in this letter and I would urge you, as an invited guest, to attend the many events, film screenings and workshops sponsored by IAW, in order to further dialogue and solidarity among educators. For local city schedules, please visit: www.apartheidweek.org. Thank you for your consideration into this matter and I look forward to your response.
In peace and solidarity,

Davis Mirza

Elementary Teacher –TDSB/Elementary Teachers of Toronto Steward

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To Whom it May Concern,

Hello, My name is Keith Thompson, a fairly well known musical type in the Guelph and surrounding region. One of my latest endeavours is a radio talk show on www.erinradio.ca with my show called Outside the Box. Below is a letter I sent to Peter Shurman after his flagrant remarks about this crucial week hit mainstream media….I will be covering the IAW heavily in my show this weekend, Saturday morning, 9 until 10 am.

I’m just letting you know that there are others getting the word out every way we can and I’ll be using my voice to assist. If there’s anything you want to add regarding what you’re doing that I can air this weekend, please let me know asap. My show is already written but I always have and make room for more pertinent things as required!…take care, I hope you enjoy my letter. FYI, that letter went out to a list of mine hundreds of names long as well…regards, Kt….keep fighting the good fight!

p.s. not a peep from anyone in that camp yet, not expecting one.

Israel Apartheid Week- A letter to Peter Shurman MPP Thornhill‏
peter.shurmanco@pc.ola.org

Dear sir,

Although I am not in your riding, your comments regarding the IAW being in your Ontario include me as a resident living here. So here, for you, is an education and a question or two.

Apartheid :n.

  1. An official policy of racial segregation formerly practiced in the Republic of South Africa, involving political, legal, and economic discrimination against nonwhites.
  2. A policy or practice of separating or segregating groups.
  3. The condition of being separated from others; segregation.

Can you please explain to me, which part of this definition Israel fails to qualify in?

From a recent newspaper article:

Shurman motion attracting the attention of media abroad Canadian Media, Ontario Legislature, Condemn ‘Apartheid Week’
Adar 15, 5770, 01 March 10 12:29
by Tzvi Ben Gedalyahu – Israel National News

…The legislature unanimously agreed with him and passed a resolution against the name, which Shurman says in effect means a monologue, not a dialogue. “The name is hateful, it is odious and that’s not how things should be in my Ontario.” he declared. “It’s a term that frankly I’m sick of hearing. Get rid of the word apartheid, ” he said the term “is close to hate speech.”

Mr. Shurman, was it a bad word when the world rallied against apartheid in South Africa to end that foul practice of subjugation? Are you and your fellow politicians really that afraid of the dictionary?

While I’m at it Mr. Shurman, let me “educate” you some more as per the dictionary shall we?

Here’s a personal fave of mine!

Anti-Semite: based on Semetic/Semetism with the prepositional Anti with hyphen.

Thus:

Semitic [sɪˈmɪtɪk] less commonly, Shemitic

n

(Linguistics / Languages) a branch or subfamily of the Afro-Asiatic family of languages that includes Arabic, Hebrew, Aramaic, Amharic, and such ancient languages as Akkadian and Phoenician

adj

1. (Linguistics / Languages) denoting, relating to, or belonging to this group of languages

2. (Social Science / Peoples) denoting, belonging to, or characteristic of any of the peoples speaking a Semitic language, esp the Jews or the Arabs

3. (Social Science / Peoples) another word for Jewish

ANTI: AS A PREPOSITION i.e prep.
Opposed to; against.

So you see dear Peter, by definition, you are an Anti-Semite….how does that make you feel?

Before you go shooting your mouth off in Parliament again and including other Ontarians in your own linguistic ineptitude, might I suggest you get a little more educated in the use of at least one of our official languages please?

Your years on CFRB have followed you well sir and I feel you are beginning to master political double-speak. Unfortunately for people like you, there are people like me who choose to be open minded and look at the entirety of any given situation before “shooting from the hip”? Your attempt at censorship and your fellow politicians that “applaud” it are only an indication of the true nature of yours and their beingness. While I do not expect a response to this, ’tis enough that I feel I have done something, anything to stave off censorship of legitimate uses of legitimate words for legitimate reasons.

Some interesting quotes from the leaders and former leaders of this Israel you so vehemently support. Enjoy!

“Let us not ignore the truth among ourselves … politically we are the aggressors and they defend themselves… The country is theirs, because they inhabit it, whereas we want to come here and settle down, and in their view we want to take away from them their country.”

David Ben Gurion, quoted on pp 91-2 of Chomsky’s Fateful Triangle, which appears in Simha Flapan’s “Zionism and the Palestinians pp 141-2 citing a 1938 speech.

“There is no such thing as a Palestinian people… It is not as if we came and threw them out and took their country. They didn’t exist.”

Golda Meir, statement to The Sunday Times, 15 June, 1969.

“The Partition of Palestine is illegal. It will never be recognized …. Jerusalem was and will for ever be our capital. Eretz Israel will be restored to the people of Israel. All of it. And for Ever.”

Menachem Begin, the day after the U.N. vote to partition Palestine.

“The settlement of the Land of Israel is the essence of Zionism. Without settlement, we will not fulfill Zionism. It’s that simple.”

Yitzhak Shamir, Maariv, 02/21/1997.

“(The Palestinians) would be crushed like grasshoppers … heads smashed against the boulders and walls.”

— Isreali Prime Minister (at the time) Yitzhak Shamir in a speech to Jewish settlers New York Times April 1, 1988

Nice, really nice eh? Oh wait, it gets better!

“I would have joined a terrorist organization.”

Ehud Barak’s response to Gideon Levy, a columnist for the Ha’aretz newspaper, when Barak was asked what he would have done if he had been born a Palestinian.

“Everybody has to move, run and grab as many (Palestinian) hilltops as they can to enlarge the (Jewish) settlements because everything we take now will stay ours…Everything we don’t grab will go to them.”

Ariel Sharon, Israeli Foreign Minister, addressing a meeting of the Tsomet Party, Agence France Presse, Nov. 15, 1998.

“Israel may have the right to put others on trial, but certainly no one has the right to put the Jewish people and the State of Israel on trial.”

— Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, 25 March, 2001 quoted in BBC News Online

If you actually got this far, I’m impressed but right now I feel like I’m just writing to satisfy my own needs again. My needs and the needs of every peace-loving person on this planet. Any support of Israel in its’ current form is supporting these hateful comments. That, Sir, is what hate really is. Please excuse the sarcasm of some of my comments, I just get that way when I’m dealing with childish and repugnant remarks. Feel free to pass this along to your fellow hate mongers and let them know that some Canadians are watching and paying close attention come election time. Really Peter, who IS your true master: We, the people or something more sinister?

Regards, a concerned Canadian, Keith Thompson