MONTREAL — When her mother’s hairdresser in Winnipeg started talking about the way the Palestinians are being treated, historian Catherine Chatterley realized that propaganda against Israel is having an impact on the “average non-Jewish Canadian.”
Neither Chatterley nor her mother is Jewish, but the former is the founding director since last year of the Canadian Institute for the Study of Antisemitism (CISA) at the University of Manitoba.
The “insidious” campaign accusing Israel of being an apartheid or racist, even Nazi, state is succeeding among ordinary people with no personal stake in the Arab-Israeli conflict and who are not haters, she indicated.
“As a non-Jew, I say, with respect, that I do not think the Jewish community is prepared for what’s happening,” Chatterley said at a daylong conference on “Combating the Delegitimation of Israel,” organized by the Canadian Institute for Jewish Research (CIJR), with support from Federation CJA, the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs and the U.S.-based Middle East Forum.
“Much that is being said about Jews on campuses and in the media is libelous, and some of it is by respected people,” she said.
When she entered university in 1987, it was extremely difficult to access antisemitic material, like The Protocols of the Elders of Zion. “Today, it is on the Internet and everywhere,” she said.
Chatterley teaches a year-long course on Antisemitism and the Holocaust, but even non-Jewish students interested in the subject “know nothing about Israel or Zionism, little about the Holocaust or Jewish history, but they do know about Hitler and fascism and it fascinates them.”
The Jewish community, she thinks, should be concerned with educating non-Jewish youth, as well as their own, because “allies are key” in the fight against the undermining of the Jewish state and antisemitism.
Throughout the day, the 200 conference participants heard from speakers from Canada, the United States and Israel who believe Israel’s ideological enemies are gaining ground. The overall tone was that the Jewish community and Israel itself should more vigorously defend the Jewish state.
“We cannot allow any posthumous victories for Hitler,” said CIJR founding director, Concordia University professor Frederick Krantz.
The threat is not only coming from the Arab world or the left wing.
Sally Zerker, York University professor emeritus and a pioneer in Canadian Professors for Peace in the Middle East, deplored the apparently increasing number of Jews who publicly denounce Israel.
She accused them of playing into the “old canard of Jews damning other Jews, making themselves ‘good Jews’ in the eyes of the gentile world.”
Zerker also thinks the American political action group J Street, that describes itself as pro-Israel, is actually damaging Israel, including by their support of President Barack Obama, who she does not believe is a friend of Israel.
Jewish professors who oppose Israel should be “exposed for who they are and what their true motives are,” she said.
Zerker is especially enraged by Israeli professors she calls “fifth columnists” and “traitors,” terms she doesn’t hesitate to use because “Israel is at war, delegitimation is war, which means the Jewish people is at war as well.”
Fellow panelist National Post columnist Barbara Kay concurred, but instead of getting angry she finds Israeli academics and intellectuals who denounce Israel ludicrous.
She cited several examples, singling out Tel Aviv University as “the epicentre of the phenomenon. They’ll never see another dollar from me.”
Charles Small sees the political left and radical Islam, especially when they combine forces, as the most cause for worry. The Montreal native was founding director of the Yale Initiative for the Interdisciplinary Study of Antisemitism (YISA), which was shut down by the university this summer after five years.
He believes university officials caved in to the “red-green alliance,” liberals and Muslim groups that did not like YISA’s speaking out against the “genocidal” antisemitism of radical Islam, in which Small includes Hamas.
The owners of Boutique Le Marcheur, Yves Archambault and his wife, Ginette Auger, were honoured at the conference lunch for their courage in resisting for more than a year a boycott campaign by Palestinian and Jewish Unity. The store’s stock includes a small percentage of Israeli shoes.
Archambault said his determination not to acquiesce is motivated by principle, not politics.
Quebec, he said, is a democracy, and that includes commercial freedom and the right to be free from intimidation. Archambault thanked the Jewish community and other Quebecers for their solidarity and friendship.
The conference concluded with the adoption of a resolution calling on “all Jewish organizations that claim to represent us to do everything in their power” to combat the delegitimation of Israel wherever it occurs.
Kay, however, felt the conference did not “alleviate the frustration many people have” about what to do.
She thinks those who are pro-Israel should not attempt to engage with their opponents because rational discourse is impossible, but rather “go over their heads” to the public at large. She also thinks Israel has to improve its international public relations.
A videotape of the conference will soon be posted on CIJR’s website, www.isranet.org, as well as abstracts of the papers presented.D?