Censoring the debate, or just the left-wing?

The Canadian public needs to demand that all viewpoints be respected

  • Jonathan Dyck

After decades of militarization, occupation of Palestinian territories and disrespect for international law, it’d be a noteworthy task for the Israeli government to be any more repressive of opposing intellectual opinions.  But they managed to show the global community that they could do so, and they did so this time by refusing to let Noam Chomsky into their nation to be a guest-lecturer at the West Bank Birzeit University.

Chomsky, a Jewish academic, is notorious in Israel for his critical views of Isreali policy and for being a supporter of the rights of Palestinians to self-determination and the repatriation rights of Palestinian refugees.

The Israeli government is increasingly notorious for its violations of international law through its occupation of Palestinian territories, and most recently, for announcing its new plans to build new settlements in East Jerusalem; the proposed location of a yet-to-be-determined Palestinian national capital. Now they’re trying to quench open intellectual debate in Palestinian universities.

Chomsky, who is often classified as a left-wing intellectual, is hardly the first of such individuals to be barred from entering Israel. The Association of Civil Rights in Israel reports a variety of similar cases.

For example, Danish student and Palestinian/Israeli peace activist Rikke Gram was detained for three days and then blacklisted and flown home. He had just completed a history degree at the University of Haifa in Israel and completed an internship at the Israel/Palestine Center for Research and Information.

Israeli’s Interior Ministry is saying it’s all a misunderstanding, and that there are a million reasons why somebody could get turned away.  Yet the only regulation that appears on the Interior Ministry’s website regarding refusal of entry is if a visitor is entering Israel for employment or any other unlawful purpose.

Disrespect for left-wing viewpoints is something that Canadian and American political parties routinely participate in.

Since free speech is legal in Israel and Chomsky has been there many times before, it’s a blatant lie for Israel to say it was a misunderstanding. Chomsky spent hours in an interrogation room and was asked why he wasn’t also lecturing at an Israeli university like Tel Aviv. When he replied he frequently lectures there, he was told, “Israel does not like what you have to say.” 

Israel’s daily Ma’ariv reported that the Interior Ministry barred him for being a “leftist.”

In an aftermath interview, Chomsky remarked, “I find it hard to think of a similar case, in which entry to a person is denied because he is not lecturing in Tel Aviv. Perhaps only in Stalinist regimes.”

Yet for us in Canada, we can’t even point our fingers in condemnation. Our own government is heading down exactly the same path and the public has failed to demonstrate opposition. 

Disrespect for left-wing viewpoints is something that Canadian and American political parties routinely participate in. Most notably in Canada, last year Immigration Minister Jason Kenney banned British MP George Galloway from entering Canada based on his aid work in Palestine. As an activist for Palestinian self-determination and human rights, he was banned for having suspected ties to Hamas. He was trying to enter Canada to do a series of talks to talk about the conflict; exactly what Chomsky was trying to do in Israel.

Kenney even flew to Israel later in the year to explain Canada’s biased pro-Israel behaviour, claiming that Canada “defunded organizations, most recently like Kairos, who are taking a leadership role in campaigns to boycott Israel.” The Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA) cut funding to Kairos because they no longer fit the priorities of the Canadian government, despite Kairos being a non-partisan NGO that promotes human rights and sustainable development.

There’s a word in the English language for such biased accusations against people for their political digressions to the government’s interests: McCarthyism. The Canadian public needs to rise up and demand that it not be included in this disturbing trend.

Matt Austman is a University of Winnipeg student.

Published in Volume 64, Number 26 of The Uniter (May 27, 2010)

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