On Jan. 21, 2014, Dalhousie president Richard Florizone accompanied Prime Minister Stephen Harper on his first official visit to Israel as part of a 200-strong Canadian delegation. Florizone, along with VP Research Martha Crago, were there to sign an agreement with Ben-Gurion University that would establish a mutual academic program and ultimately lead to building an Ocean Studies facility in the city of Eliat.
As a Palestinian-Canadian I was bitter listening to Prime Minister Harper as he addressed the Israeli Knesset and affirmed Canada’s unconditional allegiance to Israel. Harper went out of his way to state that almost any criticism of the Israeli government, in particular the labelling of its regime as apartheid and calling for its boycott, is considered anti-Semitic. It was puzzling to see him utter all these things just weeks after attending Nelson Mandela’s funeral in South Africa, who was a strong supporter of the Palestinian cause.
Observing the Palestinian side was not part of Harper’s itinerary, as it seemed far more important to spend this visit lavishing Israel with praise. Sadly the reality of the situation on the ground remains hidden from the public in Canada. Apartheid is implemented daily in Israel and the occupied Palestinian West bank. Among the things Harper completely ignored are a segregation wall nearly encompassing the whole West Bank, Jewish-only roads throughout the occupied West Bank, many check points, imprisonment and torturing of minors (the East Jerusalem YMCA has to offer post-traumatic stress therapy for imprisoned children), and continuous home demolitions and building of internationally recognized illegal settlements on stolen land. Apartheid is very much alive inside Israel as well: the harassment of Palestinian citizens of Israel which include the stripping of rights, discriminatory marriage laws, the use of Palestinians for cheap labor and most recently the persecution of African migrants. This does not include Israel’s ongoing siege of Gaza, and routine bombing of innocent civilian men, women, and children. This is what Stephen Harper gave unconditional support to.
Would criticizing the policies of such a state make us anti-Semitic?
The president of my university was a part of this parade, applauding Harper during his pathetic display of affection to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Israel, and further confirming Harper’s promises by signing an agreement with the Israeli university.
What Florizone has done is not a neutral act. Dalhousie chose to take the side of the oppressor in the Palestinian-Israeli case and lend legitimacy to an increasingly right-wing and aggressive Israeli government. This move is especially demeaning to Dalhousie’s large Palestinian and Arab student population who will surely feel ashamed of being a part of such an establishment.
It was a disappointment, to say the least.