A new initiative claiming to combat antisemitism in Canada’s federal service is primarily about defending apartheid.
In December Canadian diplomats launched an initiative ostensibly designed to oppose anti-Jewishness within the federal government. The Jewish Public Servants’ Network, reported the Canadian Jewish News, “was formed last year in response to a global spike in antisemitism following the most recent Israel-Gaza confrontation.”
Leading anti-Palestinian activist Irwin Cotler assisted with launching the initiative and participated in the group’s event on May 25. Their webinar, which included ardent Israeli nationalist and former senator Linda Frum, took place on the sidelines of a Canada-Israel conference in Ottawa.
The new group’s spokesperson is Artur Wilczynski, a recently retired assistant deputy minister and senior adviser for people, equity and inclusion at the Communications Security Establishment (Canada’s NSA). The former Canadian ambassador to Norway previously headed Canada’s delegation to the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance and is a vocal proponent of the IHRA’s anti-Palestinian definition of antisemitism.
Wilczynski came to my attention when he commented on a tweet about the CANSEC arms fair in Ottawa hosting Israeli company Elbit, which sells the type of bullet used in the killing of Al Jazeera reporter Shireen Abu Aqleh. Wilczynski wrote, “according to the Committee to Protect Journalists 17 journalists were killed so far this year around the world. While Shireen Abu Aqleh’s death is tragic and demands accountability, others deserve it too. All journalists deserve protection.”
Few would argue that “all journalists deserve protection”. But a Canadian ally engaged in a long-standing occupation murdering the voice of an oppressed nation deserves far greater outrage than say a Mexican cartel murdering a reporter.Wilczynski’s comment was similar to those who responded to Black Lives Matter protests by saying “all lives matter”.
While he initially feigned concern for all journalists, Wilczynski’s extreme Zionist views emerged quickly in his responses. He wrote, “completely comfortable criticizing Israeli policies. I believe calling Israel an ‘apartheid’ state is hyperbolic nonsense. The canard is as much a product of 1960s USSR disinformation and propaganda as ‘the Protocols of the Elders of Zion’ was of Czarist Russia.”
But Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, Al Haq, B’tselem and the UN Special Rapporteur on Palestinians have all concluded Israel is committing the crime of apartheid. Wilczynski is directly linking them to Soviet disinformation and indirectly to the famed anti-Semitic Protocols of the Elders of Zion.
In a subsequent tweet Wilczynski wrote, “I know it’s the hope of Soviet apologists that if they repeat a lie often enough it will become the truth. It doesn’t. I will continue to push back against the dystopian hyperbole pushed by those who want to destroy Israel — the country where HALF of the world’s Jews live.”
Wilczynski is arguing that defending Zionist colonialism and fighting antisemitism are intimately connected. For Wilczynski and the Israel lobby raising the specter of antisemitism in the public service is a way to intimidate government officials uncomfortable with apartheid or concerned about how pro-Israel positions impact Canada’s standing. (Many in Global Affairs were frustrated Canada lost its second consecutive bid for a seat on the United Nations Security Council partly due to anti-Palestinian positions.)
The public servants’ antisemitism initiative is best understood in the context of Israel apologists somewhat paradoxical predicament. The Trudeau government has been strikingly deferential, expanding the Canada-Israel free trade agreement, organizing a pizza party for Canadians fighting in the Israeli military, repeatedly declaring its devotion to an apartheid state, voting against 60 UN resolutions upholding Palestinian rights, suing to block proper labels on wines from settlements, creating a special envoy to deflect criticism of Israeli abuses, etc. But, at the same time, Israel and its supporters influence over informed liberal opinion has never been weaker.
Human rights groups’ conclusion that Israel is guilty of the crime of apartheid is dripping into mainstream politics and if not dammed up it could turn into a river of criticism. Referencing Amnesty International’s report, Liberal MP Chandra Arya recently asked Parliament about “Palestinians under Israeli apartheid” while the Hill Times published “Backbench Liberals shift from government in push for tougher response to Israel”. Liberal MPs are under pressure to speak-up within their ridings and the NDP is increasingly referencing apartheid.
In response to millions of Canadians demanding an end to Israeli apartheid, the Israel lobby is trying to define calls for Palestinian equality as antisemitism. And if that’s not successful, they at least want to change the subject.