Building an anti-apartheid activist

Like most people, I have a tough time caring about events and issues that don’t directly influence me or my immediate surroundings. I don’t think this makes us bad people; it just makes us products of our finite capacity for compassion and a culture that trains us to be both ethnocentric and egocentric. When I do read the odd news article about events in other countries, I get easily overwhelmed by the amount of new information for which I have no frame of reference. I also get overwhelmed by the enormity of the horrors that take place that I have no hope to prevent.

It took a lot of internal struggle and study of the issues, but I’m now a member of the committee that is organizing this year’s Israeli Apartheid Week. I have found that being an active participant in the “Is Israel an apartheid state?” debate is quite strange. For example, while tabling over the course of just two days at the U of W, I had several people give me the middle finger, someone balled up our handbill and threw it in my face, and I was called a “disgusting human being” and a “Jew hater.” I’ve been involved in some pretty controversial political actions and I’ve never had so much hatred directed towards me as there was during those two days. Despite what I experienced, I will be back tabling again and will continue to publicly speak out against Israeli apartheid.

Here’s how my journey from wilful ignorance to active participation shook out:

Prior to the spring of last year, I knew next to nothing about Israel. I knew that it was the only Jewish state, that it was the site of turmoil that went back centuries, and I knew that a bunch of crazy Christians thought that once Jews returned to Israel it would trigger World War III and usher in the second coming of Christ.

So with few preconceptions and nothing better to do, I decided to attend Yves Engler’s Canada and Israel: Building Apartheid book launch on April 16, 2010. Although I didn’t understand very much of what Engler talked about, I knew that between partition walls, white phosphorous grenades, “Operation Cast Lead,” illegal settlements and a naval blockade that the state of Israel was clearly acting like a complete asshole. And Canada supported Israel and protected them from criticism more than any other country, which makes Canada an even bigger asshole.

I didn’t buy the book that night, and I still wasn’t able to pick a side in the Israel-Palestine conflict. Maybe Engler had presented some falsehoods or left out important information that would make the situation more complex. The idea that Hamas, and other groups that were fighting against Israel, had an overtly racist agenda that was troubling. The fact that I wasn’t Jewish or Palestinian and didn’t know anyone who felt strongly about either side made me feel uncomfortable with declaring one side the victim and the other the victimizer.

Then, on May 31, the Gaza flotilla raid happened. The Mavi Marmara was boarded illegally in international waters from an Israeli Defense Force helicopter. Nine activists were killed; one of them only 19 years old. All the activists were trying to do was to break a blockade that stopped things like building supplies and cookies from coming into the Gaza Strip. Fucking cookies had to be stopped to ensure the security of Israel. And the government of Canada knew this blockade was going on and did nothing to stop it?

Another flashpoint moment was when I learned that the Manitoba minister of education was teaming up with a Jewish rights organization called B’nai Brith to condemn a question that appeared in a provincial high school exam. The question used an excerpt from an essay by Chantal Kreviazuk that mentioned suffering children in Gaza. Somehow, it’s anti-Semitic to draw attention to the plight of Palestinians?

Eventually I bought Engler’s book and read it over the course of the next few weeks. The most fascinating thing to me was learning about how Israel came to be. According to Engler’s book, after WWII, Canada could have accepted the Jewish refugees from Europe, but they decided against it. Instead, they sent them to Palestine because it was the plan that the United States advocated and Canada was keen to align itself with the emerging superpower. Populating Palestine with displaced Jews served U.S. interests by giving them a strategic position to attack the USSR and ensuring access to oil supplies. Additionally, and this is completely insane, anti-Semitism was so rampant that it factored into not letting the Jewish refugees to emigrate to North America.

What this meant was that Israel was a colonial state just like Canada is, and that Israel’s existence and location was neither an inevitability nor an accident.

I finally understood enough about Israel and Palestine to know where I stood. It’s not about being pro-Israel or pro-Palestine. It’s not about a one-state or two-state solution. It’s about the powerful oppressing the weak and about protecting human rights for all.

Rob McGregor encourages you to join him in attending Israeli Apartheid Week events starting March 14 at the U of M and the U of W to learn more.


11: 6.

6 Comments on "Building an anti-apartheid activist"

  1. It is interesting how Mr. McGregor ignores much of the historical reality of the Israeli-Palestinian situation. I’m not going to accuse him of being an anti-Semite. However, I suggest to him very strongly that he reads many of the historic records that are, in fact, not merely propaganda.

    The first he should read is the Partition Plan of the United Nations, which was drafted in 1947. This Partition Plan gave Jews a very small portion of the British mandate area of Palestine and made Jerusalem an international city. When Israel declared its independence, it was simultaneously attacked by Egypt, Syria, Iraq, Saudi Arabia, Yemen, Lebanon and others.

    I would also strongly suggest that he read the Israeli Declaration of Independence, which pleaded for peace among neighbours for the benefit of the entire Middle East.

    Next, I would commend him to read the Covenant of the PLO. To the best of my knowledge, this has never been amended.

    Next, I would commend him to research the facts behind the Six-Day War. Initially, the war was between Israel, Egypt and Syria. At one point, Israel told the Jordanians to stay out of the battle. They did not. They lost. Israel occupied the West Bank. If Mr. McGregor looks at a map of the Middle East prior to 1967, he will find that the West Bank was Jordanian territory and not Palestinian territory.

    After the war, Israel offered to exchange land for peace. I would suggest that Mr. McGregor look up and research the Khartoum Conference of 1967, to find what the Arab nations’ response was.

    Next, I would commend him to research the fact that upon signing a peace treaty with Israel, every square inch of the Sinai Peninsula, which was captured in 1967, was returned to Egyptian control.

    Next, I would remind him that Israel voluntarily withdrew from the Gaza Strip, upon which tens of thousands of rockets were fired upon innocent civilians.

    In terms of the flotilla, the killing of activists is always tragic. It is no less tragic than what is happening currently in Libya and what happened in Egypt. The simple fact of the matter is that Hamas has called for the destruction of Israel by all means necessary. People can say that it was only carrying humanitarian supplies, but does Israel not have the right to ensure that armaments, which are being used against civilians, are not being shipped into the Gaza Strip?

    However, if Mr. McGregor is serious about the end of colonialism, I would suggest the following:

    First, that he advocate strongly for the dissolution of Canada and the return of all land to France. This would naturally be followed by France returning all land to the First Nations peoples.

    Second, that he advocate a complete boycott of the United States of America, which has been occupying Japanese soil (Okinawa) since 1945, and has been occupying Mexican territory since approximately the 1830s. I would particularly call to Mr. McGregor’s attention the fact that the U.S. is currently building a security wall across the Mexican border, not to prevent bombers from entering the homeland, but to keep Mexicans on their side of the fence.

    I would also suggest that Mr. McGregor look up the history of Jordanian treatment of Palestinians and the rise of Black September and what that means.

    I admire Mr. McGregor’s firm belief in his own absolutely correct way of looking at the world. It must be wonderful to be able to know that everything you say is just so full of wisdom, truth and perfect insight. I only wish that I could be as perfect as he.

  2. Thanks for your facts, Stephen, but it seems to me Rob expressed self-doubt & questioning throughout his article, and made repeated efforts to distance himself from confidence in his own “wisdom, truth and perfect insight.” That accusation was way off.

    Do you think the history you’ve painted justifies occupying Palestine & denying so many Palestinians basic political, civil, human, and citizenship rights? Collective punishment? The creation of a massive open-air prison? a partition barrier? The denial of the right of return?

  3. Stephen Chapman | March 9, 2011 at 11:49 pm |


    Again, turn to the history and determine why Palestine was “occupied.” Look at the fact that the Israeli Supreme Court has determined that parts of the partition wall is illegal and required it moved. You are entitled to your opinion and though I disagree with it, one question that has never been answered by Sid (sp?) Ryan of CUPE Ontario, the MP from BC whose name escapes me (Davis?), Brian LaTour and so far Mr. McGregor is why only Israel is being targeted? If you find what has happened and what is happening in Israel is so wrong, do you support the measures that I outlined in my initial response? I would also suggest a boycott of England for their longstanding occupation of Ireland, Scotland and Wales. Naturally, you will also call for the disolution of Australia and New Zealand.

    Just once, I would like someone who takes such a firm position against Israel to tell me what the difference is with the situations I mention. Also, do you support the right of Jews who were expelled from Egypt to return to the homes they occupied prior to this? Would you support the efforts of my mother-in-law to reclaim the farm they had in Poland that was taken from them during the Nazi occupation and subsequently occupied by Poles who refused to return the land and essentially threatened her and her sister’s lives?

    Please, explain to me the difference!

  4. Not once in my article did I ever say that all Jewish people should leave Israel or that the State of Israel should be dissolved.

    I just think it would be nice if the IDF would stop breaking into the homes of elderly Palestinians and murdering them in their bed.

    Or if Israel would stop bombing Palestinian medicine factories.

    Or if the State of Israel would stop doing things like invading Gaza and killing 1,200 to 1,400 Palestinians over the course of a 22 day slaughter.

    Are these things too much to ask?

  5. Stephen Chapman | March 11, 2011 at 12:40 am |


    I couldn’t agree more that it would be wonderful if all the killing would stop. I agree that some of the actions of the IDF are reprehensible. What I will NOT do is say well, the PLO did this and Hamas did that so Israel had to do that. The violence MUST stop on both sides of the dispute. I will leave it to you to research some of the actions which were taken against Israel in the past and those which continue.

    Have you familiarized yourself with any of the historical facts that I suggested you consult? Have you researched the offer the former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barack made to Yassir Arafat at Camp David?

    To rely on one book to gain an understanding of a titanically complex situation is absolutely and unbelieveably irresponsible. Again I am not accusing you of being an anti-semite and I use this hypothetically – if the only book you ever read was Mein Kampf would you then accept the idea that Jews are inferior and deserve to be exterminated?

    But I ask AGAIN and this is a question that no one who advocates a boycott of Israel has answered -what is the difference between the Israeli occupation of the West Bank and the US occupation of Mexican Territory and Okinawa? What is the difference between Canada and its occupation of French Territory which was First Nations Territory? Why are you not calling for a boycott of these countries? Why just Israel? Why won’t anyone answer me?

    Until such time that you do thorough research into the matter, I would strongly suggest you refrain from making statements such as “I finally understood enough about Israel and Palestine to know where I stood.” Such an uniformed opinion

  6. Stephen Chapman | March 11, 2011 at 5:05 am |

    My apologies but I hit submit before I finished the last sentence. It should read “Such an uninformed opinion shows an unwillingness to look beyond the surface and a lack of critical analysis.”

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