SFSC Event April 7: Palestine Today and in the Future

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Why Seriously Free Speech?

Over the last decade more and more people have started questioning the policies and actions of the State of Israel. In response, some of Israel’s supporters have increasingly tried to suppress open political debate of Palestine/Israel. This campaign to vilify, intimidate and harass Israel’s critics has intensified since December 2009 when live video showed Israel’s treatment of Palestinians during its military assault on Gaza.

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SFSC Article: Bill C-13 – Criminalizing Criticism of Israel in Canada

A Hate-Propaganda Trojan Horse in Bill C-13 serious JAIL web

SFSC Submission to the Parliamentary Committee on Justice and Human Rights about Bill C-13, the supposed Anti-Cyberbullying Legisation.

Written by Dr. Michael Keefer

The international campaign calling for boycott, divestment, and sanctions (BDS) against Israel, as a peaceful means of persuading that state to abandon its systematic violations of international law and its policies of apartheid dispossession, colonization, and blockade in the occupied Palestinian territories, has recently enjoyed a burgeoning number of successes.1

In early February 2014, The Economist noted that BDS “is turning mainstream,”2 and former Israeli Knesset Speaker Avraham Burg wrote in Haaretz that the “BDS movement is gaining momentum and is approaching the turning point [.... at which] sanctions against Israel will become a fait accompli.”3

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu made a point of indicating that he and his allies would respond vigorously to this trend. Some of the reports about a cabinet meeting where tactics were discussed revealed more about internecine divisions between those ministers invited to take part and those who were excluded than about the substance of the meeting.4 Yet although Israeli media indicated “that ‘the discussion was held in secret’, with an imposed ‘media blackout’,” one source that reported this fact was able to give a fairly precise sense of what went on behind closed doors:

Ideas apparently discussed by senior ministers included lawsuits “in European and North American courts against [pro-BDS] organizations” and “legal action against financial institutions that boycott settlements … [and complicit] Israeli companies”. There is also the possibility of “encouraging anti-boycott legislation in friendly capitals around the world, such as Washington, Ottawa and Canberra”, and “activat[ing] the pro-Israel lobby in the U.S.” for such a purpose.5

This kind of “lawfare,” as it is sometimes called, is nothing new (nor, one can add, is the notion, also discussed at this meeting, of bolstering surveillance of pro-BDS organizations by military intelligence, the Shin Bet Security Service, and the Mossad). It’s also evident that the pro-Israel lobby has been active in mobilizing politicians in the “friendly capitals” of Washington, Ottawa, and Canberra for many years.

Recent fruits of that labour have included, in Canberra, threats made in June 2013 by Julie Bishop, a senior member of Julia Gillard’s incoming Australian government, that “supporters of an academic boycott of Israel” would have their “access to public research funds summarily cut off.”6 In Washington, a bipartisan “Protect Academic Freedom Act” that would deny federal funding “to colleges and universities that participate in a boycott of Israeli academic institutions or scholars”7 has been brought before Congress.

But what of Canada, whose Prime Minister is Mr. Netanyahu’s most faithful friend?8

This essay will argue that revisions to the Canadian Criminal Code proposed by the Harper government contain wording that is designed to enable lawfare prosecutions of human rights activists in precisely the manner desired by Mr. Netanyahu and his associates.

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SFSC Letter: Calls on University of Windsor president to support free speech

To Dr. Alan Wildeman, President, University of Windsor

I am writing on behalf of the Seriously Free Speech Committee to express our grave concern over your responses to the recent referendum in which a majority of students at the University of Windsor supported the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) campaign.
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SFSC letter: To Ontario Premier re SLAPP legislation

The Honourable Kathleen Wynne, Premier of Ontario

Dear Premier Wynne

I am writing on behalf of the Seriously Speech Committee – Vancouver to urge the enactment into law of Bill 83, Protection of Public Participation Act, 2014.

Frivolous lawsuits initiated by corporations and governments are designed to divert the financial and human resources of community organizations, effectively restricting their ability to freely express themselves and to participate in the political process. Legislation against SLAPP suits (Strategic Lawsuits Against Public Participation) is a fundamental reform to encourage broader participation on important public issues. Continue reading

Keefer: Letter to UW President calling on him to support Academic Freedom

To Dr. Alan Wildeman, President & Vice-Chancellor, University of Windsor

I am writing to tell you how dismayed I am by your attempt to have the student union on your campus suppress the results of a student referendum in which a substantial majority voted to support the international campaign of boycott, divestment, and sanctions that seeks, through peaceful means, to induce the state of Israel to comply with international law and end its oppression of the Palestinians.

I believe that the position you have taken violates the principle of academic freedom–which I regard as being not just a privilege to which tenured academics lay claim, but a foundational principle of the university, and something to be protected for all members of the university community. Of course, a commitment to academic freedom implies at the same time a commitment to civil, humane, and rational discourse, whose goal might be described, in the simplest terms, as one of determining truths (to the best of our abilities) and disseminating them. Continue reading

Mondoweiss: University of Windsor President pressures Student Union to not ratify BDS referendum following demand from pro-Israel donor


By Tyler Levitan, Mondoweiss March 13, 2014

In a historic victory for the BDS movement in Canada, the University of Windsor undergraduate students voted in a campus-wide referendum to endorse the BDS movement, and to push for university divestment from companies that are complicit in Israel’s systematic violations of international law. The University of Windsor Palestinian Solidarity Group (PSG) carefully followed the protocols in place for this referendum, having had their question vetted and approved by the University of Windsor Student Alliance (UWSA) lawyer, and having met with the university’s president, Alan Wildeman, in advance of the referendum. Over 10% (which is quorum) of voters cast their vote, with 798 out of 1393 votes in favour of divestment.

Why, then, has there been so much pressure from the university’s administration to prevent a ratification of the results? President Wildeman wrote a letter to students following the BDS victory indicating that several complaints about the process of the referendum required an investigation from the administration into its validity. Wildeman has also attended a recent UWSA meeting with the goal of preventing the UWSA from performing its duties by ratifying the referendum results. The undergraduate referendum does not fall within the purview of the administration. The UWSA has autonomous mechanisms in its by-laws that deal with appeals. There have been other “controversial” UWSA referendums that have not seen any interference from the administration. So why are they interfering with this one? Continue reading

U Windsor PSG: Statement on BDS Referendum

Palestinian Solidarity Group BDS Referendum Statement

The University of Windsor Palestinian Solidarity Group (PSG) would like to clear up the misinformation that’s been spread by the media in regards to the BDS referendum which was recently passed, as well as respond to the recent statements by President Alan Wildeman.

Many have falsely claimed the referendum was on a “boycott of Israel” or of companies which “support or are from Israel.” Various other inaccuracies in the coverage show how easy it is to get away with complete fabrications when it comes to Palestinian human rights activism.

Almost nowhere in the media coverage has the actual referendum question been presented. In actuality, the referendum question asks the UWSA to participate in BDS by simply divesting from “companies that support or profit from Israeli war crimes, occupation and oppression,” which is following the BDS approach of the United Church of Canada, CUPE Ontario, and the many other student unions who have passed BDS. Continue reading

SFSC Event March 9: Israel’s War on African Asylum-Seekers

UPDATE: Listen to an audio recording of David Sheen´s talk on Vancouver Coop Radio’s Redeye this Saturday, March 15th during the third hour, 11:00 AM – Noon (Pacific Daylight Time). Listeners should tune in at about 10:50. The talk will be trimmed down to fit time constraints.

People in Vancouver can tune into 100.5 FM; streaming audio is available at coopradio.org. A raw show archive will be available for a few months at the website. A proper podcast will be prepared a few days later and posted (permanently) at rabble.ca as well.

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SFSC Event Video: Historical Context of the Palestinian Maps – Fact and Fiction with Dr Hani Faris

UPDATED: Watch the video of the Q&A at the event (Video by Jase Tanner)


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Discredited definition of anti-Semitism no longer in use, says BBC

by Ben White, Electronic Intifada, 10/30/2013

The reputation of a discredited definition of anti-Semitism has suffered a further blow with the news that the BBC’s governing body amended a ruling to reflect the abandonment of the text by a European Union body.

A 2005 “discussion paper” definition of anti-Semitism was drafted on the initiative of the European Union’s Monitoring Centre on Racism and Xenophobia (which has subsequently been renamed the Fundamental Rights Agency — FRA). It claimed that describing Israel’s establishment as a “racist endeavor” is an example of “anti-Semitism.”

The definition has been pushed by Israel advocates since its publication, and used in efforts to undermine Palestine solidarity work (see The Electronic Intifada report “Israel lobby uses discredited anti-Semitism definition to muzzle debate”).

In a BBC Trust ruling earlier this year, a complaint relating to the broadcaster’s coverage on comments about Israel by a British member of Parliament, David Ward, was partially upheld. The complaint had cited the EU agency’s “working definition.”

However, in correspondence with blogger Mark Elf of Jews sans frontieres, the BBC Trust first investigated, then changed its ruling (available online) to note that the definition has now “been removed” from the FRA’s website. Continue reading