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By Rhonda Spivak

Heather Stefanson, Progressive Conservative M.L.A. introduced a Private Member’s Resolution on behalf of the P.C. Caucus and Hugh McFadyen, P.C. Leader of the Opposition which called on the Legislative Assembly of Manitoba “to urge the provincial government to denounce Israeli Apartheid Week as divisive, promoting intolerance and undermining a balanced debate of the Israeli-Palestinian question.”

According to the rules of the Manitoba Legislature, a Private Member’s Bill does not automatically come to a vote. Accordingly, the P.C Caucus asked the Speaker of the Legislature to grant leave for such a vote, which would have occurred if the NDP government had agreed to such leave.

The NDP government refused to grant leave, and later ran out the clock on the resolution by “speaking it out” until 12 noon.  Despite Stefanson’s request, the government refused to extend the clock on the resolution past noon and allow it to come to a recorded vote. 
“By speaking out the resolution, the NDP killed it,” McFadyen, told the Winnipeg Jewish  Review in an interview following the event.

In the Legislature, Gord Mackintosh, Minister of Family Services and Consumer Affairs,    said that while applying the term “apartheid” to Israel was “profoundly unhelpful” and “unwelcome speech” it was speech “likely protected” by the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

As he said,The resolution asks the government to take a formal role in 'denunciating' the speech of certain Manitobans…[the]  resolution is speaking outside, then, of the existing civil and criminal laws and the Human Rights Code of Manitoba.”

He rejected the notion that it is the “new function for provincial governments of the day in Canada to formally denounce and chill unwelcome speech… I am then at risk of being their next target.”

In the Legislature, Steve Ashton, Minister of  Infrastructure and Transportation, who noted he had been to “Israel” and “Palestine”  said  “… I would say to the students who are debating this very contentious issue: We should never, in any way, shape, or form, do anything other than encourage freedom of speech.”

In an interview with the Winnipeg Jewish Review, McFadyen said regarding the issue of free speech:

“If proponents [of IAW] can make a statement advocating it [IAW], then why can’t we as a House be able to make a statement condemning it… Had the resolution been voted on and passed, it would not have had binding legislative effect on a university.  It would not have prevented anyone’s free speech. But it would have sent a powerful declaratory message about what we as a legislature think about the event.  It would have been our statement.”

In the Legislature, David Chomiak, Minister of Innovation, Energy and Mines, said that he did not agree to granting leave for the resolution to be voted on because he did not want to give the IAW event credibility. After saying that the “A-word” [apartheid]   does “not apply to Israel in no shape or form,” Chomiak said IAW in Manitoba was  “a non-event” and that by “voting on this… we give a platform for those who failed.”

McFadyen, however, told the Winnipeg Jewish Review, that “it’s not as if we are talking about two eccentrics on a street corner” who are putting on IAW. He said that IAW is an organized national event by those with a “clear agenda to undermine the right of Israel to exist as a state.”

In an interview, Stefanson noted that a “similar motion in Ontario was supported by politicians of all political stripes [including the NDP].”

When asked if there was a difference in the wording between this resolution she put forth and the one that was passed in the Ontario Legislature, Stefanson responded:

“ There are different rules about how resolutions are brought forward so it's slightly different, but the main concepts are the same.”

Stefanson said that the words of  the resolution supported by all parties in the Ontario Legislature put forth by P.C. Peter Shurman  were "I Move that in the opinion of this house, the term ‘Israel Apartheid Week’ is condemned as it serves to incite hatred against Israel, a democratic state that respects the rule of law and human rights and the use of the word ‘Apartheid’ in this context diminishes the suffering of those who were victims of a true apartheid regime in South Africa.”

Jon Gerrard, the leader of the Liberal party in Manitoba, and the MLA for River Heights said that he supported Stefanson’s resolution, although he would have worded it somewhat differently:

“… I can appreciate that Israel Apartheid Week is attempting to have a dialogue on difficult issues. I can appreciate that the University of Manitoba–there were indeed Jewish speakers, like Mordecai Briemberg. And I've heard the calls for many for free speech and open dialogue and I, too, believe strongly in free speech.

 “ But in my view, open dialogue does not start with unhelpful labels, like the labelling of Israel as apartheid. We need to start from the view of seeing the positive qualities in each other, whether Christian, Jewish, Islam, Buddhist, Druze or Baha'i, or any other religion. And we need to emphasize the need to build bridges, to have tolerance and understanding among peoples.

“ And for this reason, though I would have worded the resolution somewhat differently, I support the principle of this resolution, and I support this resolution today.”

In an interview following the event, Marty Morantz, the Conservative candidate for River Heights said:

“It is a very sad day for our Province when its government refuses to take a stand against  groups such as IAW who promote the completely false notion that Israel is an Apartheid state. Not only were  the NDP unsupportive of the resolution, but the Government used the parliamentary tactic of "running out the clock" to prevent the resolution from even being brought to a vote. Although the PC opposition asked for an extension of time in order to complete debate and bring the matter to a vote, the NDP refused to allow debate to continue. I also wish Liberal leader Jon Gerrard had stood up for our community by  joining with the PC opposition in demanding that the resolution come to a vote."

Both McFadyen  and Stefanson told the Winnipeg Jewish Review that the Tories and the NDP were in negotiations for a couple of weeks trying to agree on wording for a resolution, but that notwithstanding this process, an agreement was not reached. Both said they were “surprised” that an agreement wasn’t reached.

“What happened today tells me that the NDP here is being driven by the radical left-wing of their party,” McFadyen said
Premier Greg Selinger was absent from the Legislature when the matter of the resolution was debated.  When asked by the Winnipeg Jewish Review about his absence,   spokesperson for the Premier, said at the time “he was out of the building at a scheduled event.”

Brian Letour, IAW spokesperson in Manitoba, told the Winnipeg Jewish Review that “we sent about 150 petitions to the government against Stefanson’s resolution.”

The following is the complete Hansard from the debate in the legislature on Stefanson’s motion:

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Res. 1–Denouncing Israeli Apartheid Week

Mr. Speaker: The hour now being 11 a.m., we will now deal with resolutions, and we'll deal with Resolution No. 1, in the name of the honourable member for Tuxedo, Denouncing Israeli Apartheid Week.

Mrs. Heather Stefanson (Tuxedo): I move, seconded by the member for Springfield (Mr. Schuler) that,
WHEREAS Israeli Apartheid Week takes place annually on Manitoba university campuses; and
WHEREAS all students, staff and visitors to Manitoba campuses should feel safe; and
WHEREAS Israeli Apartheid Week may promote anti-Semitic opinions leading to the harassment and intimidation of Jewish students and staff; and
WHEREAS the use of the word "apartheid" is offensive to victims of apartheid in South Africa and ignores that Israel is a strong democracy that respects the rule of law where citizens of all backgrounds vote and serve in elected office; and
WHEREAS despite differences of opinion, public debate in Manitoba should be reasoned, informed and respectful of all Manitobans.
THEREFORE BE IT RESOLVED that the Legislative Assembly of Manitoba urge the provincial government to denounce Israeli Apartheid Week as divisive, promoting intolerance and undermining a balanced debate of the Israeli-Palestinian question.

Mr. Speaker:
It's been moved by the honourable member for Tuxedo, seconded by the honourable member for Springfield,
WHEREAS Israeli Apartheid–Dispense?

Some Honourable Members:

Mr. Speaker:

Mrs. Stefanson:
It is with mixed emotions and feelings that I stand before you and feel compelled to bring this resolution forward on behalf of my constituents in Tuxedo and, indeed, all Manitobans and people across Canada. I think it's unfortunate that we are in a situation where we have to bring such a resolution forward in today's society that should be promoting tolerance in our society and should not be promoting hatred, and so it is unfortunate that I feel compelled to bring this forward today.

As the MLA for Tuxedo constituency, I've heard from a great many constituents who are strongly opposed to the notion of any event called Israeli Apartheid Week and with good reason, Mr. Speaker. I am here today to give a voice to their concerns in this House.

It is also worth noting that there are representatives of communities and faiths other than the Jewish community who have denounced Israeli Apartheid Week. We are debating this resolution during Shoah Week when we remember the persecution and systemic murder of six million Jewish men, women and children at the hands of the Nazi regime during the Holocaust. Along with them, we remember the five million other lives lost during that time, people persecuted for their race, their religion, their sexuality and their mental faculties. It is incumbent upon us today to confront this tragedy by remembering those who perished and work to eliminate the divisive violence that continues to plague our world, Mr. Speaker.

Mr. Speaker, at the outset in this debate I want to put to rest any notion that this resolution is an attempt to limit free speech in any way. It is not an attempt to silence dissent. My support for the right to free speech is unequivocal. Here in Manitoba, here in this Legislature, we engage in free speech and informed political dialogue on a regular basis, which I wholeheartedly support. However, I believe that Israeli Apartheid Week goes beyond the expression of free speech. The rhetoric surrounding this event serves to marginalize the Jewish community. It is divisive and it creates fear and distrust. Put simply, it engenders anti-Semitism.

It is for that reason I cannot endorse Israeli Apartheid Week and that's why I've introduced this resolution. I think there are more effective ways to debate issues surrounding the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and it's incumbent upon us to have respectful debate around that. This is not–that was–the Israeli Apartheid Week is not respectful debate, Mr. Speaker.

Neither is it my intention to debate the Israeli-Palestinian question in this Chamber. Though I'm sure every member of this Chamber would like to see peace in the Middle East, we cannot do justice to an issue that complex in an hour of debate in this Manitoba Legislature. Rather, I would like to take this opportunity to express my strong opinion that Israeli Apartheid Week has no place in a reasoned, respectful and informed debate on this issue, Mr. Speaker.

Israel is, in fact, a strong, parliamentary democracy where citizens of all backgrounds vote and serve an elected office and on the judiciary. It is a society that is governed by the rule of law, social justice and the protection of human rights. The rhetoric surrounding Israeli Apartheid Week ignores these important facts, Mr. Speaker.

But what is of primary concern to me and to others in this Legislature is the fact that, in Manitoba, Israeli Apartheid Week takes places on our university campuses. My primary concern is for the safety and well-being of students, staff and visitors to our university campuses and in the greater community.

I think all members of this House can agree that safety is a primary goal. All students, regardless of their background or religion or political beliefs, are entitled to attend class and participate in campus life without fear of being marginalized or targeted.

Israeli Apartheid Week jeopardizes those goals. Events held in conjunction with Israeli Apartheid Week do not allow for debate of the issue. There is no room for discussion or dissenting opinion. The language used is more than inflammatory, Mr. Speaker. Whatever the stated goals of Israeli Apartheid Week are, this event will never have the effect of promoting or encouraging peace. The results can create animosity and a culture of fear and divisiveness on campus. I cannot endorse an event that marginalizes any group in our community and that's what Israeli Apartheid Week does. By targeting Israel, Jewish students, staff and visitors become the target of this propaganda campaign.

Our universities should be places for spirited informed debate. No student should have to fear for their safety while trying to get an education. No one should be judged first and foremost on the basis of their religion or ethnic background. No one in Canada should have to consider their relative safety when choosing what school to attend. Jewish students in high school may feel uncomfortable attending a university where events such as Israeli Apartheid Week take place. Our universities should value diversity, including diversity of opinion, but those who promote Israeli Apartheid Week do not value diversity of opinion. Rather than facilitating an informed and balanced discussion of the issues, it attempts to raise the Israeli Apartheid Week campaign uses inflammatory language and incites fear.

Mr. Speaker, I also take strong exception to the use of the word "apartheid" in this context. The word "apartheid" has only been used in reference to racist South Africa regime, before Nelson Mandela, and the systemic oppression of black South Africans. To use the term "apartheid" in reference to Israel diminishes the tremendous suffering of black South Africans under the apartheid regime. There is no comparison between what happened in South Africa and what is happening today in Israel. Israel is not an apartheid state. As a society, we can never forget the suffering and the consequences of apartheid in South Africa, and as legislators, we must strive to prevent systemic racism from taking root ever again. The use of the term apartheid is intended to incite fear and to vilify the state of Israel and its government. The term is used in this context not because it is accurate but because it is such an inflammatory, charged word, that it incites fear and distrust of the Israeli state. For those reasons, I strongly object to the use of the word apartheid in this context.

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Rhonda Spivak, Editor

Publisher: Spivak's Jewish Review Ltd.

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