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March 24, 2010

Israel's apartheid: Making Palestinians pay for Hitler's crimes

Suzanne Weiss

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This speech was given on March 2, 2010, to a meeting of students at the University of Waterloo in Canada, held as part of the Israeli Apartheid Week. She, a holocaust survivor, is a member of Not in Our Name: Jewish Voices Against Zionism and of the Coalition Against Israeli Apartheid in Toronto.

A year after a murderous Israel’s assault, the war on the people of Gaza continues. Gaza is still under siege – still surrounded by walls and checkpoints. Its people are denied the necessities of life and the right to rebuild and shape their future.

For me, as a survivor of the holocaust, the tragic situation in Gaza awakens memories of what I and my family experienced under Hitlerism – the ghetto walls, the killings, the systematic starvation and deprivation, the daily humiliations.

The tragedy of Palestine is, of course, different from the holocaust. Israel has no gas chambers. Its government does not strive to kill all the Palestinians. Israel's intention is, instead, to take the Palestinians' homeland and property and to deprive them of civil and human rights. Every case of oppression is unique, but the struggle for justice is indivisible. As we then fought for freedom for European Jews, we now call for freedom for the Palestinians.

The holocaust is linked to Palestine in another way. Many Jewish survivors of Hitler’s slaughter lost their families, homes and communities and sought a new life. There was a campaign to convince them that they needed a homeland – in Palestine. They were told lies that Palestine was an empty land, with few inhabitants. The Israeli government terrorised, brutalised and expelled Palestinians from their homelands. Palestine became a colonised settler state. Thus, the Palestinians were made to pay for Hitler’s crimes.

Like the Nazis, the Israel government enforces collective punishment. It aims to kill enough Palestinians, to punish them sufficiently, drive them out of their homeland, so they will disappear as a people. Israel seeks to remove Palestine from the world's family of nations. That too is a form of genocide.

Israel was founded as a militarised state, and a partner of British and US imperialism, of the apartheid regime in South Africa and of murderous dictatorships in Latin America.

The crimes against the Palestinians inspire guilt in the Jewish settlers and breed fear that the Palestinians might carry out a supposed new "holocaust" against them. Once again, holocaust memories are being mobilised to justify maintaining Israel as an exclusively Jewish state.

As a child in France, I survived the holocaust because a strong resistance was organised. Thousands of people – Christians, Jews and Moslems – joined the fight for freedom against the French fascist Vichy government. They struck powerful blows against racism, whose impact endures in France today. They organised a network to save Jewish people. That's why I am here today.

For me, as for many Jews today, the memory of the holocaust inspires us not to support war and oppression but to work for solidarity and freedom – in this case, freedom for the Palestinians. The Israel government claims its wars are waged on our behalf. That's a lie. We say, "Not in our name". And in increasing numbers, Jewish people join with our Palestinian brothers and sisters to demand justice for Palestine.

Israel – an apartheid state

We raise a simple demand, in the interests of all the peoples of the region: end Israeli apartheid.

The United Nations has defined the crime of apartheid as "inhuman acts committed for the purpose of establishing and maintaining domination by one racial group of persons over any other racial group of persons and systematically oppressing them". The word apartheid, which means "separation", was coined by the racist regime of South Africa, which denied civil and human rights to non-Europeans.

We know apartheid in our colonised country of Canada: the process through which Indigenous peoples were robbed of their lands and deprived of their livelihood, while every attempt was made to destroy their culture. The architects of South African apartheid studied Canada and took it as a model. The founders of Israel studied it too.

Today we see an apartheid state in the land of Palestine/Israel. It is symbolised by the so-called "separation wall" that confines Palestinians to segregated ghettos, by the checkpoints, the arbitrary killing and arrests, the systematic material deprivation.

How to fight Israel’s apartheid

Nelson Mandela, who led the campaign of boycotts, divestment and sanctions against South African apartheid, has said that justice for the Palestinians is "the greatest moral issue of the age". He also has stated, "We know too well that our freedom is incomplete without the freedom of the Palestinians."

On July 9, 2005, a unified call of Palestinian civil society organisations proposed a campaign for boycotts, divestment and sanctions as a central focus for efforts to end Israeli apartheid. Boycotts, divestment and sanctions was crucial in the victory over apartheid in South Africa. Now is the time to apply this method to the catastrophic situation in Palestine.

The Palestinian resistance and freedom struggle has three demands to gain justice: (1) their right to return to their land; (2) their right to equality as citizens in Israel; (3) an end to Israeli occupation of Palestinian territory. Only an end to Israeli apartheid will permit Jews and Palestinians to forge new relations and to resolve the issue of state structures on the basis of equality.

Government threats against free speech

At this very moment, the province of Ontario and the Canadian federal government are working to muzzle and criminalise the movement against Israeli apartheid and the call for boycotts, divestment and sanctions.

The government of Canada is the world’s staunchest supporter of Israel’s wars and oppression. It raised no whisper of concern about the massacre of Gaza. Instead, it attacks those who protested the slaughter.

In March 2009, Jason Kenney, Canada’s minister of citizenship, immigration, and multiculturalism, banned British MP George Galloway from entering Canada because he had led convoy of humanitarian relief to Gaza. Kenney has cut funding to several religious and ethnic agencies for similar reasons.

Prime Minister Steven Harper and Kenney say we must act against "a new kind of anti-Semitism", namely, criticism of the Israel government.

A year ago, Kenney said that Israeli Apartheid Week did not fall under the protection of Canadians' right to free expression of political opinion. He condemned Israeli Apartheid Week as consisting of "efforts to single out and attack the Jewish people and their homeland".

It is not we who single out Israel. The Palestinian solidarity movement merely subjects Israel to the same standards as any other country. It is Israel that singles itself out, by carrying out crimes, like the siege of Gaza, with no parallel elsewhere in the world. It is the Canadian government that singles out Israel by declaring it exempt from challenge.

Educational programs such as Israeli Apartheid Week give voice to Palestine’s suffering and are free of even the slightest hint of hostility to Jews. Yet Kenney implies we are in violation of Canada’s laws against "hate propaganda".

Kenny and Liberal Party member of parliament Irwin Cotler have organised the Canadian Parliamentary Coalition to Combat Anti-Semitism, a privately funded association of 13 members of parliament. It is currently holding an inquiry into anti-Semitism, which it says is "at its worst level since the end of the Second World War".

This is because of what it views as "accusations of blood libel … against the State of Israel". "Blood libel" is a charge that a group engages in ritual human sacrifice, especially of children. The parliamentary coalition seems to be using this term here to stigmatise criticism of Israel’s killing of hundreds of innocent Palestinian children.

Another focus of the coalition is Canadian universities where pro-Palestinian educational activity has been intense. Some university administrators have tried to block this by placing limits on free discussion.

Is criticism of a government out of bounds?

Criticism of Israel is anti-Semitic, Cotler explains, because Israel embodies the "collective Jew". When we call Israel an apartheid state, we are he says, "attacking all Jewish people and their homeland". How absurd!

If we criticise the Harper government, is this an attack on the "collective Canadian"? By this rule, all criticism of governments anywhere could be made illegal.

The Canadian government implies that Jewish people’s first loyalty is not to Canada but to Israel. This is defamatory. This diminishes their Canadian citizenship. The government echoes a core idea of traditional anti-Semitism, with its false concept of a world Jewish conspiracy.

The Canadian government says that its campaign for the rulers of Israel speaks for the Jewish people of Canada. In increasing numbers, Jewish people respond, "Not in our name!". Jews are strongly represented in the campaign for boycotts, divestment and sanctions. In demanding freedom for Palestine, we speak for the proud tradition of Jewish universalism, which draws on the strengths of Jewish culture in a quest for justice for all humanity.

The goal of the so-called Canadian Parliamentary Coalition to Combat Anti-Semitism is to have the Canadian government legally define criticisms of the State of Israel as anti-Semitism, and therefore an incitement to hatred.

This could apply to calls for boycotts, divestment and sanctions against Israel’s mistreatment of Palestinians, as well as to using the term "apartheid" with regard to Israel.

These threats to freedom of expression aim to create a chill on university campuses and civil life. Professors will be afraid to discuss Israel’s policies in their classrooms, while Israeli Apartheid Week organisers will find it hard to reserve rooms or put up posters.

Today, there is a united world campaign to secure a Palestinian victory. It is expressed in the boycott, divestment and sanctions campaign.

If the crimes against the Palestinians prevail, it would mean that Hitler's spirit had triumphed. To be true to the memory of the victims of the Jewish Holocaust and of all Hitler's victims, we must defend the Palestinians. The united campaign for peace and justice for Palestine aims to secure for all inhabitants of Israel and Palestine, Jews and Palestinians alike, an equal voice and equal rights.

The day will come when the Gaza ghetto wall will fall and we will see liberation of the Palestinians. It will be a new day for freedom for all of us around the world.

Let us work together for that day of liberation.

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On July 7, 2024 in Toronto, Canada, Dimitri Lascaris delivered a speech on the right to resist oppression.

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