Semantics and Apartheid

by Kim Petersen / March 18th, 2010

In Canada, support for Zionism and Israeli oppression of Palestinians is deeply entrenched in the political duopoly. Liberal prime minister Paul Martin even proclaimed, “Israel”s values are Canada”s values,” as if Canada had to look elsewhere to determine its own values. Conservative prime minister Stephen Harper tried to one-up his predecessor by boasting that only his party was a “steadfast friend” of Israel. Consequently, some advocates of social justice for Palestinians have pinned their hopes on Canada”s “third” party, the social-capitalist New Democratic Party (NDP).

In the build up to Israeli Apartheid Week (IAW), many parliamentarians strode forward to denounce IAW. Yesterday, I received a formulaic response from Jack Layton – leader of the NDP.

Layton also has problems with IAW. Of Palestine-Israel, he wrote,

New Democrats have long been vocal and passionate advocates for a peaceful end to the Israel-Palestine conflict. We have consistently said that Canada can play a positive role in bringing Israeli and Palestinian representatives to the negotiating table in order to chart a path towards a negotiated peace, which ensures Israelis and Palestinians can live safely, side by side, in independent states with secure borders. [italics added]

Layton”s positive role is a pre-judged one. He and the NDP have determined that the solution is a two-state one.

Layton”s missive continued,

We [the NDP] know that extraordinary goodwill is required to achieve such peace. We deeply yearn for such a result and that is just one reason why “apartheid” is not a word I use when talking about this complex and difficult issue. …

We invite Canadians of all political and religious stripes to join us in strongly condemning anti-Semitism, Islamophobia, racism, and intolerance in all its ugly forms.

Layton has netted himself in contradictions of his own spinning.

In advocating a two-state solution, Layton”s party is advocating a separation – a separation of Jews and Palestinians. Apartheid, etymologically, means “apart, separate,” and it refers to a “policy of racial separation.” Apartheid is defined as a crime against humanity by the International Criminal Court. Layton does not want to use the word, but the party-he-leads advocates the policy.

Another contradiction stems from Layton and his party”s “invite” to strong condemnation of racism. Yet, using the word “apartheid” is not something Layton would do in talking about a difficult issue. It becomes more difficult to condemn the racism inherent to “apartheid” when the word itself becomes verboten. One wonders: was “apartheid” a verboten word for Layton before Nelson Mandela”s release from prison? Or was that a simple issue?

Regarding the taciturnity of Layton on apartheid, the Nobel acceptance speech of one laureate applies, “I swore never to be silent whenever human beings endure suffering and humiliation. We must always take sides. Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim. Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented.”

As stipulated by the Nobel laureate”s words, Layton”s silence to the apartheid Palestinians endure places him on the side of helping the oppressor and encouraging the tormentor.

The speech was by Elie Wiesel, a man who also stands silent to the suffering and humiliation endured by Palestinians. In this case, Wiesel also sides with the oppressor.

Layton is likeliest calculating the political consequences of taking a moral stand on apartheid practiced by Israeli Jews. The cognitive dissonance created about morals and consequences manifests itself in the form of contradictions. Layton”s political calculation has deemed avoidance on the matter of apartheid to be necessary political calculation.

Sitting by is not new for politicians. It is something many citizens complain about.

However, people should not rely on politicians or dubious Nobel laureates. People must critically contemplate and decide for themselves what is right or wrong. Morality should be derived through one”s own evaluations; it should not be imposed by others. Citizens of conscience who abhor all forms of racism, who abhor injustice against any and all members of humanity have a duty to speak and a duty to act – and they have a duty not to play semantics while other people suffer.

Kim Petersen is co-editor of Dissident Voice. He can be reached at: kim[at] Read other articles by Kim.

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