Winnipeg Free Press | 24Apr2010 | Orest Slepokura

"Is this free speech?"

Comment posted by: Orest Slepokura
April 24, 2010 at 8:59 AM
Anyone sitting through the 3-hour-long audio-visual presentation on the severe medical crisis provoked by Israel's 22-day-long Operation Cast Lead invasion of the Gaza Strip by the Norwegian physician Dr Mads Gilbert, as I did this past winter in a University of Calgary lecture hall, will grasp that Israel is a criminal state that does not hesitate to maim or massacre defenseless civilians, including small children -- as much today as it did in 1982, during its brutal invasion of Lebanon, culminating in a relentless weeks-long terror-bombing campaign of civilians in West Beirut's residential districts, in which thousands were burned by phosphorus bombs and dismembered by cluster bombs and punctuated by the bestial slaughter of several hundred Palestinian civilians at the Sabra and Chatila refugee camps by Israel’s Lebanese Christian allies.

Against that grisly backdrop, watching Manitoban pols debate the use of the term “apartheid” is risible.

Letter of the day: Is this free speech?

I wish to comment on the article concerning the debate in the Manitoba legislature (NDP draws flack from Jewish leader, April 16, 2010) about the private member's bill condemning Israel Apartheid Week (IAW) at the University of Manitoba. It is evident that none of the members who spoke on the motion attended the event they so thoroughly condemned and asked to be banned. This is so because none of their accusations comes close to describing its content or the atmosphere that prevailed throughout the week.

I attended all the sessions and was involved in arranging a debate that was to include a representative of the mainstream Jewish community. David Matas originally agreed to be a panel member, then withdrew at the request of the B'nai Brith, he informed me. Other prominent members of the Jewish community were subsequently approached and they refused as well. It is evident that leaders of the Jewish community were determined to boycott the IAW -- which is, of course, their right to do. But then to accuse the organizers of IAW of violating the canon of free speech is unfair, to say the least.

Apartheid is a legal term, not a hate word, and nothing hateful transpired over the week. The Jewish people were not "smeared." The discussion was calm, respectful and academic as is appropriate at a university setting.

Is Israel an apartheid state? Several prominent South Africans including Desmond Tutu, believe so. But more to the point, why is this not a legitimate topic for discussion and debate? Why would Manitoba legislators want to censor this question -- in the name of free speech, of all things?

Finally, the B'nai Brith does not speak for the Jewish community. Why would the Free Press not also contact Independent Jewish Voices, one of the co-sponsors of Israel Apartheid Week for its comment on the debate in the Manitoba legislature?


Those who cherish democratic values will celebrate the defeat of a resolution in the Manitoba legislature condemning Israeli Apartheid Week. The recent IAW events at the University of Manitoba took place without any incident that violated the Manitoba Human Rights Code or the university's respectful work and learning environment policy. That did not stop MLAs Heather Stefanson and Hugh McFadyen from engaging in fear mongering to convince legislators to eradicate IAW.

Apartheid: The term is being used widely to describe government policies that use forms of segregation to perpetuate racism. In India, apartheid is employed to describe segregation facing Muslims and Dalits. In Canada, it has been used to describe government policy toward aboriginal people. In Israel, academics, journalists and politicians discuss the danger of "creeping apartheid" in reference to policies towards Arab Israelis and Palestinians in East Jerusalem. Typically, we think the term applies only historically to South Africa. This is not true.

Is apartheid always applied appropriately? We will have different views. Why do Manitoba MLAs want to prevent us from debating our differences, but only in relation to Israel? Apparently, we could organize Canada Apartheid Week; in fact, this topic was discussed during IAW at the U of M. Why do the MLAs not care if we discuss our differences except in the case of Israel? MLAs must dismiss groups like B'nai Brith that seek to pressure them into adopting exceptional measures for Israel at the cost of jeopardizing our democratic rights. Fortunately, most Manitoba MLAs agree.


Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition April 23, 2010 A15