It is not a crime to criticize Israel: Press release

Canadian Unitarians for Social Justice
P.O. Box 40011, Ottawa, ON, K1V 0W8
President, Margaret Rao president@cusj.org
www.cusj.org

Communiqué
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
DATE: 16 April 2015

CIVIL SOCIETY REJECTS CRIMINALIZATION OF CRITICISM 
OF STATE OF ISRAEL
CUSJ joins other civil society organizations in defending freedom of speech
Canadian Unitarians for Social Justice (CUSJ) has issued a joint statement with 75+ civil society organizations from across the country, including Independent Jewish Voices Canada, the International Civil Liberties Monitoring Group, and Confédération des Syndicats Nationaux, condemning the Canadian government’s attempts to criminalize criticism of Israeli Government policies. The B.C. Civil Liberties Association has released its own statement on the issue, as has the Canadian Labour Congress and national union affiliates.“By deliberately conflating criticism of government action with racism, the Canadian government is making a bald-faced attempt to gag critics of Israel,” said Margaret Rao, President of CUSJ. “Attempts to re-classify any criticism of Israeli policies as anti-Semitic are dishonest and a step back from the open dialogue necessary to achieve peace in the region.”

“Unitarians and Universalists have long opposed racism, including anti-Semitism,” noted Rao. “We continue to condemn it today. But criticizing government policy is not racism. Advocating for basic human rights is not illegal. Peaceful actions – such as those the Boycott, Divestment & Sanction (BDS) movement employ to stop human rights abuses by the Israeli state – are not criminal. CUSJ is proud to stand on the side of justice along with the Palestinian human rights movement.
“We will continue to speak up for the rights of those persecuted by governments,” added Rao. “This is why, regardless of one’s stance on the issue of illegal Israeli settlements, Canadians should oppose this attempt to criminalize criticism of government policy.”

The joint statement, “Oppose the Canadian Government’s Threat to Criminalize Criticism of Israel” is below.
Canadian Unitarians for Social Justice (CUSJ) is a national faith-based organization founded to support Unitarian values through social action.

For more information:
Margaret Rao president@cusj.org

Statement:

Oppose the Canadian Government’s Threat to Criminalize Criticism of Israel

In 2009, the Canadian government gave major support to the Canadian Parliamentary Coalition to Combat Anti-Semitism (CPCCA), a group of parliamentarians who accused those challenging Israel’s unjust treatment of Palestinians of being anti-Semitic. The goal of the CPCCA was to create a climate in which criticism of Israel could be criminalized in Canada. Fortunately, that initiative was unsuccessful, thanks to widespread opposition from members of the Canadian public.

In what appears to be another attempt to suppress criticism of Israel, the Canadian government has signed a Memorandum of Understanding with Israel which makes the claim that “the selective targeting of Israel is the new face of anti-Semitism” and declares that Canada will oppose those who support the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement. Shortly after the MOU was signed, Public Safety Minister Steven Blaney announced to the UN General Assembly that the Canadian government would exercise “zero tolerance” toward “all forms of discrimination including rhetoric towards Israel, and attempts to delegitimize Israel such as the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement.”

All this follows on the fact that in October 2014 the Canadian government passed changes to the criminal code in Bill C-13 which expanded the definition of identifiable groups to be protected against public incitement to hatred to include “nations”. This change to Canadian law parallels the situation in France, where alterations to the French penal code have led to the conviction of twenty French citizens who support the BDS movement, on charges of inciting racial hatred. It is not yet clear how the Canadian government intends to implement a policy of “zero tolerance” to those who exercise their freedom of speech by advocating and participating in boycott, divestment and sanctions campaigns to pressure Israel to respect the rights of Palestinians. What is clear, however, is that the Canadian government is determined to target people who expose and oppose Israel’s mistreatment of the Palestinians.

Such efforts by the government can only put a chill on Canadian democracy and may lead to the criminalization of such dissent down the road. We are unequivocal in our condemnation of all forms of racism, including anti-Semitism. It must be stressed that it is not anti-Semitic to criticize the state of Israel. Those who equate such criticism with a hatred of Jewish people are simply attempting to silence Israel’s critics. In the face of these actions on the part of the Canadian government, we must defend the right of people in a democracy to criticize any government’s behaviour and to participate in boycotts designed to alter that behaviour if they choose to do so.

We, the undersigned organizations, oppose attempts by the Canadian government to criminalize criticism of or opposition to the actions of any country.

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