National Post: If Vancouver’s Jewish groups don’t like pro-Palestinian bus ads, they should make their own

Robyn Urback, National Post, Full Comment, August 29, 2013

Jewish groups in Vancouver are demanding the city’s transit authority take down a series of controversial ads that show Palestinian borders disappearing into the State of Israel. The ads, sponsored by the Palestine Awareness Coalition, have been appearing on TransLink buses and in Vancouver’s SkyTrain station under the heading “Disappearing Palestine.” The posters use four maps over six decades to show how Palestine has been shrinking into the State of Israel.

And that should not be permitted on public transit, according to various Jewish groups. The ads, says the Jewish Federation of Greater Vancouver, will provoke “disunity” and “disharmony” among those to whom they are exposed. Anita Bromberg, national director of legal affairs for B’nai Brith, argued the campaign might inflame aggression toward supporters of Israel, particularly “in this day and age, where such supporters could be the target of hate, of violence or other acts of mischief.” And as such, according to these groups, the posters should be taken down.

They won’t, however, and nor should they. The suggestion that criticism of Israel necessarily amounts to hatred of its supporters is a ridiculous position. The groups may rightfully claim the posters lack context (they do) and are actively propagating misleading claims (they are), but slight distortion isn’t reason enough to suppress an entire advertising campaign. If it was, I’d demand McDonald’s take down all of its posters until my Big Mac looks like the glorious sandwich depicted in all of its illustrations.

Suffice to say that the question of Israel/Palestine borders can’t be comprehensively represented on the side of a bus. The posters fail to reference British involvement in divvying up the former Mandate of Palestine and the Arab insurgency that followed the implication of the 1948 Partition Plan. The post-1967 borders after the Six-Day War should be understood in the context of the creation of the Palestine Liberation Organization in 1964 and subsequent frequency of raids against Israeli civilians. And suffice to say that if Israel’s neighbours had their way between 1946 and 2012 — the time span depicted on the Vancouver transit posters — Israel would not be on any of the maps at all. It’s a complicated conflict, and it’s no surprise that context took a backseat to rhetoric for a campaign targeted to busy commuters in Vancouver’s SkyTrain station.

Charlotte Kates, a spokeswoman for the Palestine Awareness Coalition defended the slant of the posters as a tool to inform the public about the plight of Palestinians. “The Canadian government has been such a strong voice of support of Israel,” she said. “We think it’s particularly important that people in Vancouver and other Canadian cities learn about what’s happening in Palestine now and what’s happened there historically.”

She has a point. The Harper administration is perhaps the most unabashedly pro-Israel government in Canada’s history — a position that may have emboldened Vancouver’s Jewish groups to demand that any dissenting opinion be publically suppressed. But the idea that this type of criticism of Israel should be quieted — especially for the dubious reason that it might incite hate against Israel’s supporters — is nonsense. We don’t (or we shouldn’t, save for some gallant provincial Human Rights tribunals) censor public opinions based on the possibility that they might inspire animosity.

If Vancouver’s Jewish groups are concerned about these ads spouting misinformation, they should create some of their own. After all, disputing the claims implied by the Palestine Awareness Coalition posters would be much more persuasive to their cause than demanding the ads be removed. If they’re wrong, Israel’s supporters in Vancouver should say so — ideally, in less space than the side of a TransLink bus.

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