Saturday 23 September 2023 
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Academics in Canada face harassment, suppression for pro-Palestinian speech

A new report shows academics, students and activists have been facing harassment, intimidation, repression and reprisals across Canada for their pro-Palestinian views.

While the new 106-page report by Independent Jewish Voices (IJV) is mostly focused on Canada, it also touches on the experiences of European academics, artists and students who are publicly pro-Palestinian.

 

The report, which includes 77 testimonies, describes both the overarching effects of the crackdown and the personal impacts it has on students, faculty and activists.

 

"When it comes to Palestinian human rights, too often academic freedom and freedom of expression are undermined," the report states, "and with them the possibility of finding just solutions to intractable problems."

 

The report, named "Unveiling the Chilly Climate - The Suppression of Speech on Palestine in Canada" is thought to be the first detailed examination of the experiences of faculty and students who criticize Israel's policies toward Palestine.

 

Independent researchers say equating criticism of Israel with antisemitism is suppressing discussion in educational institutions in Canada and elsewhere across the Western countries.

 

The report also examined Palestinians who are actively attempting to change these policies by both their support for the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) movement, and their opposition to the adoption of the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) working definition of antisemitism.

 

"There is a connection to be made here between these attacks and efforts by pro-Israel advocacy groups to market the IHRA, a document that has come under vigorous attack by defenders of academic freedom and Palestinian human rights," the report said.

 

"While its proponents argue that this definition will not threaten freedom of expression or inhibit criticism of Israeli policies, the findings of this report demonstrate that these basic rights are already under threat and could be further imperiled if the IHRA were to be widely adopted."

 

 

The report documents the widespread use of the IHRA by lawmakers and Israel lobby groups to silence speech on campuses and repress Palestine solidarity activism around the country.

 

Several interviewees reported their submissions to publishers and academic journals and book publishers were met with negative reviews which cited the author's critical stance on Israeli human rights violations.

 

A number of interviewees felt the academic environment in Canada was particularly unwelcoming to those working in the area of Palestine studies.

 

Student activists also reported threats of violence, which contained racial and sexual slurs. Many students have been subjected to warnings and disciplinary measures by university administrators.

 

It also denounces several attempts to prevent access to event venues and the attempted cancellation of public events on Palestine.

 

In 2016, elementary school teacher Nadia Shoufani was suspended from her teaching job after speaking at an International al Quds Day rally.

 

Also in 2009, several universities banned a poster advertising Israel Apartheid Week. The poster depicts a helicopter labelled "Israel" shooting a missile at a toddler holding a teddy bear, labelled "Gaza".

 

In the IJV report, the academics reported encountering Islamophobia and anti-Palestinian racism from colleagues and students. They also reported pressure to self-censor when it came to writing or speaking about Palestine.

 

Commenting on the report, Anthony Lerman, a senior fellow at the Bruno Kreisky Forum for International Dialogue in Vienna, pointed to multiple factors behind the attack on freedom of expression. "The Research Report constitutes a deeply disturbing indictment of the multiple sources responsible for the depth and breadth of a wholesale attack on freedom of speech."




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