What’s in a name

Raphaël Fischler

By Raphaël Fischler

Members of the Israeli Apartheid Week committee claim that opponents of the event are trying to demonize them (McGill Reporter, April 2, 2009). In fact, their critics reacted to the fact that the event, even by its very title, was dedicated to demonizing a democratic state.

Despite its flaws, Israel is obviously not an apartheid state. Saying that it is so is intellectually dishonest. The goal is apparently not just to document the suffering of Palestinians and to denounce the role Israel plays in it. As the title of the event indicates, the objective is to question Israel’s very legitimacy. If Israel is an apartheid state, then it is fundamentally flawed; and if it is fundamentally flawed, it should not continue to exist as it is.

Perhaps the promoters of the event do want to help foster “debate or dialogue about one of the most burning social issues of our day.” But look at what their actions actually amount to in the contemporary context of considerable anti-Israeli and anti-Jewish hatred. Whether consciously or unconsciously, they are doing in the intellectual field what Iranian President Ahmadinejad is doing in the political field: they promote the idea that the Jewish state ought not to exist.

No other country is so publicly and forcefully denounced for its human-rights abuses as is Israel, even though its faults pale in comparison with those of other countries. The special treatment accorded the Jewish state sets it apart in the community of nations. That is the real “apartheid” that is at stake here.

As Ishmael Khaldi, a Muslim and a Bedouin who is deputy consul general of Israel for the Pacific Northwest put it recently, organizers of Israel Apartheid week “are part of the problem, not part of the solution. . . . [they] are betraying the moderate Muslims and Jews who are working to achieve peace.”

The organizers thank the administration of McGill University for its support because of its “firm stance against censorship.” But Deputy Provost (Student Life and Learning) Morton Mendelson defended free speech in these pages “as long as the discourse […] does not violate the law” and as long as the speakers “do not create a hostile environment for members of our diverse community.” I believe the event contravened these conditions: by its use of a libelous title and by the agenda it pursued, it constituted incitement to hatred against a country and its people, and it created a hostile environment for that country’s citizens and supporters.

I would attend an event called Palestinian Rights Week, during which the plight of Palestinians in the Palestinian Territories, in Arab countries and in Israel is denounced and avenues for improvement are studied. I will never attend an event that uses the problems of one people to legitimate prejudice against another, and I urge others to stay away from it as well.

Raphaël Fischler is an Associate Professor in the School of Urban Planning

Editor’s note: Both sides having now had a chance to express their points of view on this issue, we are now

closing this conversation on these pages.