Dear Mayor and City Council Members,
As a resident of St John’s for the last 5 years I have enjoyed a peaceful life here, not fearing being Jewish, feeling fully included in the community and reassured that my two young ones -the first Canadians in our family- will not have to experience any ostracism of any kind.
This wasn’t so much the case while I was living in my homeland, France. Although a democratic country, there have been many violent attacks against Jews there, often deadly, for the last two decades. The majority of racist attacks were and still are focused on them, despite Jews representing less than 1% of the population. Frequently, the aggressors' justification is to “avenge the crimes done to Palestinians”.
In the minds of these individuals, a fusion between "old school" anti-Semitism and the demonization of Israel has taken place. Decades of biased and unbalanced reporting on the Middle East conflict, propaganda by authoritarian states seeking to deflect the anger of their peoples, satellite transmissions of fundamentalist sermons (such as those of the Muslim Brotherhood), and the search by revolutionary (and sometimes more moderate) Lefts -deserted by their usual electorate- for a new audience of "exploited masses", are some of the ingredients that have led to this “new” phenomenon, quite rare in human history: the rejection of a State in its very essence. This even has a name: anti-zionism.
The obsessive rejection of Israel, which takes many different forms, is only the latest in a long list of accusations made against the Jewish people throughout time. Accusations which, ironically, are often contradictory to each other: both a bunch of fanatical zealots and the deicidal people, revolutionary and subversive agents and at the same time power-hungry capitalists; an inferior, weak and stateless race one day, turned nationalistic, conquering and genocidal the next, etc.
Dear Mayor and City Council Members, I take the trouble to point out these realities because I find it appalling that in the capital city of Newfoundland and Labrador, a city so peaceful and welcoming, someone had the idea of accepting an advertisement asserting that Israel is an apartheid state. Ignorance can’t always be an excuse. The fact that the advertiser proceeded cautiously by using a quotation doesn’t change anything: the message is out there. Would Metrobus accept any message provided it used quotation marks? This is typically the kind of spark that has set off fires in other latitudes. And judging by the very recent threats the local Jewish community has received, some seem to be very responsive.
The apartheid accusation is not new. But repeat a lie often enough and it becomes the truth. However such an assertion does not stand up to the test of facts. More than a dozen Arab MPs currently sit in the Israeli parliament. How many Blacks were elected to the parliament in Cape Town during the apartheid era? Did you know that it was an Arab Israeli judge that sentenced President Moshe Katsav to jail in 2010? Unlike South-African Blacks, Arabs can freely wander the streets of Tel Aviv, Jerusalem, Haifa and everywhere else in the country, which can’t be said of Jews should they end up by error in many Arab neighborhoods. Universities, cafes, sports teams, shopping malls, cultural institutes, hospitals, public transportation are largely attended, operated and often run by Arabs. Moreover, an increasing number of Arab, Druze, Bedouin, and Circassian citizens are volunteering to serve in that nation’s supposedly unethical army. I could go on and on.
Criticism of Israeli policy, which is strongly practiced by its citizens, is perfectly acceptable if it is sincere, informed and if the standards applied to it are equally applied to the rest of the world. Unfortunately, as is often the case, Jews have the unfortunate privilege of being held to higher standards. Have we ever seen advertisements condemning Russia, China, Iran, Venezuela, North Korea, for example, for their human rights violations? The answer is no. Israel, meanwhile, is constantly singled out, without contextualization, in all instances of public life: calls to boycott products (BDS), incessant resolutions adopted during UN Security Council sessions, exclusion from many international events and organizations, and the target of politicized NGO’s compensating for their lack of results in much bloodier conflicts.
Dear Mayor and City Council members, I ask that you please remove these posters from what is supposed to bring people together, not divide them: public buses. This will not only benefit St John’s Jewish community but will allow the continuation of our peaceful lifestyle, inclusive of all.
Thank you for your time and consideration.