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CEGEP teachers betray mission in targeting Israel for boycott

June, 2010

We send our children to public schools and expect that, at least until the university level, they will be exposed evenhandedly to the broad strokes of that seemingly intractable and painful conflict – the one pitting Israel against the Palestinian Arabs and surrounding states.

We were shocked last month to see a one-sided, distorted and anti-historical view of the conflict in the spring issue of Carnets, published by the union representing 41 CEGEPs, the Fédération nationale des enseignantes et des enseignants du Québec. It also represents teachers at Dawson College – Quebec’s largest English CEGEP, attended by many of our children and grandchildren.

Equally pernicious is the fact that the Dawson union executive voted this spring to formally support the BDS movement – the worldwide campaign for boycotts, divestments and sanctions against Israel, its scholars and academics, products and those who invest in its burgeoning economy. Understandably, some teachers are upset they were not consulted on such a radical position. Students and their parents have every right to be concerned that, at least formally, the union representing Dawson teachers is pushing an anti-Israel bias.

In the magazine’s so-called “understand the history” piece, writer Denis Kosseim claims the Israeli-Palestinian question is “not complicated” and boils down to “a classic colonial conflict for control of land.” Talk about context!

He fails to note that, as depicted in the Arch of Titus built in the 1st century, after the Romans sacked Jerusalem, the Hebrews were exiled from their land and ever since, their descendents have prayed and dreamed of a return to their land of origin, and that modern political Zionism initiated this return. The fundamental underpinning of Israel’s creation is absent from this truncated version of history.

The rejection by Palestinian Arab leadership of the United Nations General Assembly vote in 1947 to partition Palestine into Jewish and Arab parts is absent. The fact that its militias attacked Jewish settlements to trigger the “civil war” aspect of the conflict is absent. The fact that nascent Israel was then invaded by regular troops from Egypt, Syria, Iraq, and the well-trained Arab Legion, commanded by General John Glubb, with contingents from Yemen, Morocco, Saudi Arabia and Sudan is absent.

The affirmation that 800,000 to 850,00 Palestinians were “expelled” is wrong. Most experts put the number at 700,000 to 750,000. Neither side took substantial prisoners, there were massacres on both sides, people fled.

As Izzeldine Abuelaish, a Palestinian physician, wrote in his recent I Shall Not Hate, people heard rumours of massacres and his family moved to safety in Gaza from the northern Negev farm until things cooled off. Of course they never were allowed to return, but at least an equivalent number of Jews living at best as second-class citizens in Arab and Muslim-majority countries from Morocco to Iran felt compelled to depart, leaving behind property, roots, and, in the case of Iraq, more than two centuries of history. Many settled in Israel, making for an effective tradeoff.

The so-called history of the conflict fails to explain why in June 1967 Israel staged a pre-emptive strike, the Six-Day War, against Egypt and Syria and occupied the West Bank after Jordanian troops attacked Israeli forces. The cause was saber-rattling by Egyptian strongman Gamel Abdel Nasser in ordering the United Nations Emergency Force to leave Sinai, where it was supposed to act as a buffer against invasion, and the closing off of access to Israel’s southern port of Eilat. Israel’s invasion of Hamas-ruled Gaza in December 2008 was in response to its incessant rocket attacks. Israel is not perfect, and when it unleashes its mighty forces against ostensibly weaker opponents, innocents get killed. Israel’s blockade of Hamas-ruled Gaza is now a focus of protest following Israeli commandos boarding of a humanitarian flotilla. It seems clear from videos of the incident that resistance by Turkish nationals on the ships led to live-fire response that resulted in nine fatalities.

Hamas is committed to Israel’s destruction and has rained rockets on civilian targets. Israel has no choice. It must ensure that weapons and material that can be used to manufacture bombs be kept out. Hopefully, future humanitarian shipments will accept the reasonable position that they dock at the Israeli port of Ashdod where the contents can be examined and cleared before being sent on to Gaza.

When it comes to a key issue, the demand for the refugees’ right of return, let’s look around the globe. Population exchanges are not new. In modern times, the territorial partition of India and Pakistan led to the displacement of an estimated 20 million people – Hindus and Sikhs to India, and Muslims to Pakistan. After WWI, Greece and Turkey forcibly exchanged about 2 million people – Greek Orthodox in Turkey and Muslims in Greece, who became refugees. After WWII, millions of ethnic Germans, Poles and Ukrainians were resettled as the victorious allies sought to create ethnically homogeneous states. These are the consequences of war. People are forced to move, and they move on.

Even more dangerous to Israel’s viability as the world’s only Jewish state is the BDS movement, which demonizes an entire society, one that is productive, vibrant, democratic and in spite of imperfections, a model to all its neighbours in terms of rule of law, freedom of expression and opportunity for and access to education, health care and ‘one person, one vote’ for all citizens.

Why do we never hear a word from this union about Palestinian abuses of free speech? Why does this union not denounce the oppression of women in Saudi Arabia, where theft is punishable by having your hands cut off? Where is Dawson’s outrage against female circumcision in many Muslim-majority countries? Where is the union’s boycott of Iran because of its murderous suppression of dissent? One has the distinct impression that the world’s only Jewish state makes for an easy target.

As for the territories occupied by Israel after 1967, this newspaper supports the two-state solution and mutual recognition, with the proviso that Israel’s security is not threatened. We believe that encouraging both sides to compromise for the sake of accommodation and lasting peace will be more effective than attempting to demonize an entire society through BDS.



At June 16, 2010 at 3:46 PM , Anonymous Shloime Perel said...

Excellent editorial. Thanks.

-- Shloime Perel

At June 30, 2010 at 8:54 AM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

Here's a link to an interesting article from Ha'aretz. i tried posting the whole article here but it wouldn't fit the comment box's space. i believe that the site has the article in Hebrew:

At July 2, 2010 at 8:39 AM , Blogger benjamin said...

this is very true


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