Mordecai Briemberg

Remember the Israeli bombardment of Gaza in December and January? It seared the conscience of millions around the world. Reports from numerous human rights organizations and United Nations commissions continue to document the horrors meticulously. Human Rights Watch just released a report on the unarmed Palestinian women and children who, holding up white flags, were shot down by Israeli soldiers.

Libby Davies, part of a three-person group of MP’s in August, was able to enter Gaza for only 24 “intense hours”. She wrote in her blog what took her by surprise, something that will hit home with many working people. 

“You never know in advance what it is that will get to you, so I am surprised that for me, it’s the Karni industrial area. It’s not the parliament building, a cascading wreck of concrete, nor the shelled and bombed houses, nor the horrendous refugee camps (800,000 of Gaza's 1.5 million population are refugees) that have existed for ever. Nor is it the garbage, dead animals here and there, and the vacant empty buildings with broken windows and doors hanging off. It’s this industrial area in the north-east part of the city - flattened and obliterated by exiting forces of the IDF. In the last 48 hours of the war they left via this area and destroyed it on their way out. There were 4000 factories and industries. Now there are 250. Gaza was famous for its furniture making. There were biscuit factories, ice cream factories, and machine and industrial enterprises, to name a few. Almost all gone, almost as a parting shot on their way out. It’s only then that I begin to get it - we are so used to the messages that the war was about destroying terrorists. But this was about destroying the economy and livelihood of the whole of Gaza society.”

The words of Sir Gerald Kaufman, a Labour Party member of the House of Lords, spoken at the time of the Israeli assault on Gaza also remain memorable to this day. Kaufman was raised as an orthodox Jew, is a long-time supporter of Israel, and a personal friend of several Israeli Prime Ministers. His parents were refugees from Poland prior to World War 2. But others of his family were not so fortunate. Kaufman described how his grandmother was ill in bed, where an invading German soldier shot her dead. He continued: “my grandmother did not die to provide cover for Israeli soldiers murdering Palestinian grandmothers in Gaza. The present Israeli government ruthlessly and cynically exploit the continuing guilt among gentiles over the slaughter of Jews in the Holocaust as justification for their murder of Palestinians.”  [

When those words were repeated by Ronnie Kasrils in Vancouver at a public meeting, recorded on video by Working TV and submitted to Shaw cable for public broadcast, Shaw said these words had to be censored out, or it wouldn’t be broadcast. Many other words also had to be censored.

And who is Ronnie Kasrils? He was a major activist in the South Africa liberation movement lead by Nelson Mandela, joining the struggle as a young, white, Jewish man when black Africans were gunned down in Sharpeville, March 1960. After the victory over apartheid, Ronnie Kasrils served as a Cabinet minister in the Mandela government. Now he is a leading figure in South Africa, in the international movement of solidarity with the Palestinian people, opposing apartheid in Israel.
And Shaw are not the only ones trying to silence critical comment of Israeli state structures, policies and actions.

Indeed there is a pattern. When Israeli massacres ‘blow-back’, and awaken the conscience of greater numbers of people about the suffering and humiliation inflicted on the Palestinian people – women, children, girls, boys, and the elderly – supporters of Israel rush to smother the sparks of that awakened conscience.

They have launched and re-launched repeatedly over the years the same campaign -- a campaign against what they call the “new” anti-semitism. They try to scare people into believing that legitimate criticism of the political actions of the government of Israel is a hidden way of promoting bigotry against Jewish people. They hope this “big lie”, repeated enough times in a bullying way, will freeze people with fear, and silence their conscience.

In August the Canadian Jewish Congress (CJC) hurled this accusation at the United Church of Canada who dared to discuss motions calling for support of boycott, divestment and sanctions against Israel, as had been done successfully to help end South African apartheid. The CJC was not successful.

A group of MPs from all parties, under the leadership of Jason Kenny and Irwin Cotler, are lobbying for Parliament to pass legislation that will make it a crime to discuss boycott of Israel or to refer to it as a country that practices apartheid.

Canwest Global, the giant media conglomerate, has launched a SLAPP (“strategic lawsuit against public participation”, a tactic that large corporations use to try and silence critics, particularly environmental activists who oppose destructive mining and logging practices). The Canwest target is people they claim produced a parody issue of the Vancouver Sun. The parody poked fun at the pro-Israel bias of this media conglomerate, a bias that Izzy Asper, founder of the corporation, openly boasted was his goal.

Izzy Asper once complained that his parents had no sense of humour, and didn’t appreciate his pranks. What might he say about his grim-faced children who inherited his business and launched the SLAPP suit?

On university campuses the same silencing tactic has been tried. Students have been forbidden to use the words “Israel” together with “apartheid” on posters or banners.
Attempts are made to fire faculty who have written scholarly books, and articles, or given speeches, critical of Israeli practices.

Can we speak freely without intimidation or harassment? That is the question. No says Canwest. No says the Canadian Jewish Congress. No says Jason Kenny and Irwin Cotler. No, if the topic is Israel, its state structures, policies and actions. No, that is, if you are critical of these.

And what is the implication for a democratic culture in Canada of these concerted campaigns? If we submit? If we resist?

Mordecai Briemberg is a member of the Seriously Free Speech Committee ( and the Canada Palestine Support Network (

Check the Seriously Free Speech Committee website at “”. Donations can be made on-line to assist their work or mailed: Seriously Free Speech Committee, PO Box 57112, RPO East Hastings St., Vancouver, BC V5K 1Z0.

Part 2 of this series on the campaign against free speech on Israel and Palestine will give more information on the Canwest legal case and on the “Canadian Parliamentary Coalition to Combat Antisemitism” a project headed  by MPs Jason Kenny and Irwin Cotler. Part 3 of the series will discuss the movement to defend free speech on Israel and Palestine.

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