National Post: Bashing Israel on Vancouver buses isn’t a form of hate speech

Jonathan Kay, August 30, 2013, National Post

“Disappearing Palestine,” a new ad campaign running on Vancouver busses, suggests the history of the Palestinian people can be summarized in four words: going, going, going, gone.

The ads present four maps, corresponding to the Palestinian footprint in the Levant (a) in 1946, (b) under the 1947 UN Partition Plan, (c) from 1949-1967, and (d) in the modern day. The effect is to present Palestinians as a large ink blot gradually shrinking into nothingness. The text at the bottom declares “Five million Palestinians are classified as refugees by the UN.” It also indicates the name of the group that paid $15,000 for the ads’ four-week run, the “Palestinian Awareness Coalition.”

It would be nice if Vancouver transit riders could be educated about the intricacies of the Middle East conflict with a single ad. But alas, this one leaves out some crucial information. The second panel, marked “UN Plan 1947,” for instance, might have informed the reader that the depicted distribution of land was unanimously rejected by Arab nations, which then massed armies on Israel’s border in order to annihilate the nascent Jewish state. Nor does the ad depict the distribution of land contained in the peace deal offered to Yasser Arafat at Camp David in 2000. Oh, and the part about “five million” Palestinian refugees might have mentioned that this number has been artificially inflated by a unique UN provision, applicable only to Palestinians, extending the definition of “refugee” into intergenerational perpetuity.

The effect of the ads, in short, is to present the Israeli-Palestinian conflict as a simple moral fable: Arabs being ethnically cleansed by a hegemonistic Jewish state. No fair-minded observer of the ad can dispute that it presents a one-sided perspective.

Which is to say, the ad is like every single other ad ever conceived. Those McDonalds ads show you glistening images of Big Macs, yet nary a mention of the increased obesity risk that comes with their regular consumption. The ad for Ryerson University or UBC ticks off the school’s rich and famous graduates — yet no names plucked from the legions of unemployed losers who also earned a diploma. Oh, and those government of Canada ads boasting about infrastructure funding in your era: Isn’t it weird how they don’t mention Mike Duffy, even once? As every Canadian over the age of six knows, advertisements are a form of propaganda — whether the underlying subject is Jews and Arabs, fast food, education or local politics.

And yet this fact seems to come as a surprise to the folks at B’nai Brith Canada, the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs (CIJA), and the Friends of Simon Wiesenthal Center in Toronto. All three groups are demanding that Vancouver’s TransLink system reject the Palestinian Awareness Coalition ads. One CIJA official claims that Jewish riders will now avoid Vancouver’s busses, lest passengers be driven into a frenzy of Jew-hatred. And Friends of Simon Wiesenthal president Avi Benlolo declared that the ads “incite hatred and contempt,” as if they were some kind of crude anti-Semitic blood libel.

This is preposterous nonsense, and an abuse of the goodwill that Canadian society has properly extended to those who, in the past, have sought to fight genuine manifestations of bloody-minded anti-Semitic bigotry. Moreover, caveats about self-hating Jews notwithstanding, the fact that at least one prominent member of the Palestinian Awareness Coalition is himself Jewish would seem to undermine the suggestion that the group is a front for Hamas.

It’s ironic to see leaders from this same community seeking to impose another sort of political correctness on Canada’s marketplace of ideas
Yes, extreme and hysterical denunciations of Israel can sometimes bleed into outright anti-Semitism, as when Israeli soldiers are portrayed as vicious Nazis feasting on the blood of Palestinian children. But that is not at all the case here. As noted above, the main complaint that many Zionists would have with these ads is that they are incomplete — and if Jewish groups want to pony up their own $15,000 so they can supply their half of the story, no doubt TransLink would be more than happy to take their money, too. That’s how capitalism — and the free market — work.

One more point to be made: In the years after 9/11, the greatest threat to free speech in this country emerged from the human rights censors who investigated the likes of Mark Steyn and Ezra Levant for the crime of uttering or printing forceful views about militant Islam. Many Jewish groups rightly stood up for free speech, and successfully so. It is therefore ironic to see leaders from this same community seeking to impose another sort of political correctness on Canada’s marketplace of ideas. It is not only misguided, but also hypocritical.

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