Echoes of darker evils

By Beryl Wajsman on February 5, 2009

A little sincerity is a dangerous thing and a lot of it is absolutely fatal.” 

~ Oscar Wilde 

 

The next time labour leaders in Canada want to know why there is such antipathy to their agenda in many quarters, they need look no further than the Canadian Union of Public Employees’ Ontario wing. Over the past ten days its president, Sid Ryan, has been up to his anti-Israel agitation for the second time in 30 months. This time he wants a boycott of t Israeli academic institutions.

"What gave rise to it was a bombing of a university in Gaza, what we thought was a just atrocious act," said  Ryan. He said his call was sparked by the Dec. 29 bombing of Islamic University in the Gaza Strip. Of course he failed to mention that the bombing was of only a part of the campus – a part where Hamas was again using civilians, and civilian infrastructure, as missile launching instillations. Those were the targets. Not the university. Ryan of course never exsplained why his voice was mute when Hamas rockets rained down on Israeli kindergartens and schools. He did not suggest a boycott of Gazan institutions.

Ryan said the boycott is not against individual academics but against institutional activities, like fund raising, partnerships, investment and joint projects. More than just a condemnation of Israel's actions in Gaza, Ryan said the boycott is a response to "what we figure is really the cause of all of this … the 40-year occupation." Once again Ryan  chose to create his own facts. 

Israel pulled out of Gaza in 2005. He has never criticized Hamas for occupying the civilian population through terror. Never criticized the killing and terrorizing of Fatah opponents and the hijacking of the Gaza “election”. And never criticized Egypt for not allowing Palestinian self-determination through its twenty-year occupation of Gaza and its non-recognition of the Arab state of Palestine as mandated by the UN in 1947. A recognition that Israel did afford while the frontline Arab states invaded, bent on Israel’s destruction. Jordan then occupied the West Bank and Egypt took Gaza.

In 2006, during its war with Hezbollah, Ryan called a hurried meeting on a Saturday when many Jewish members of his union could not attend, and got an anti-Israel boycott resolution passed. Ryan certainly seems to have a problem with the Mid-East’s only democracy – a social democrat one at that and the most unionized political jurisdiction in the west – defending itself against terrorist rockets.

In Quebec, CSN and CSQ leaders recently spoke and marched at pro-Hamas rallies. When asked how they could be part of manifestations where Hezbollah and Hamas flags were prominent – organizations listed as terrorist groups in Canada – and where slogans such as “Death to the Jews” and “Jews are our dogs” were chanted, they replied they couldn’t know what was written or said in Arabic. Uh-huh. I guess they didn’t read the front page reports in the Montreal press after the 2006 pro-Hezbollah demos that had the same chants, flags and banners including a defiled Jewish prayer shawl.

To add disingenuity to hypocrisy, the CSQ’s Rejean Parent said that in any case, their fight was not with the Israeli people but with their government, and that they were trying to show solidarity with Palestinians who are “also a people without a country.” Parent, like Ryan suffers from convenient memory lapses. Aside from his ignorance of Mid-East history, he – like many of his separatist friends – choose to revise history and forget that Francophones have a country. It’s called Canada. And that Francophones are descended from one of the two European peoples who settled it in Imperial conquest. There is no moral high ground here. French Quebecers were not victims. They were conquerors. But for Parent, as for others, denial is not just a river in Egypt.

But putting truth aside, what bothers so many about unions today is their pre-meditated annihilation of institutional memory and their spending of union members and public taxpayers dollars on hatemongering, and causes that have nothing to do with their mandates. It’s time to call a spade a spade. Union actions against Israel are at worst, a primordial example of a hypocrisy unmasked revealing the true face of an anti-Zionism perilously approaching anti-Semitism, and, at best, a knee-jerk Canadian antipathy to any American ally. An antipathy that at its heart is fuelled by a self-doubt driven by a jealousy of others self-belief.

The actions of CUPE, the CSN and the CSQ have nothing to do with their members' interests in obtaining higher wages and better working conditions. Theoretically, their actions and resolutions must be adopted by executives and committees at a variety of special meetings. Such meetings are usually attended by a core group of activists, many of whom are appointed by their union locals to attend. So it stands to reason, if they want paid time off to attend further meetings, they had best vote in favour of the resolutions of those appointing them. It is an egregious use of union funds.

Unfortunately, unions also are subsidized by taxpayers through various formulas, including tax exemptions. That means that they are spending our money, too, on political hobby horses. It’s time to end that.

One need not agree with all the policies of Israel. However, to pre-meditatedly distort the truth – as the unions have done - is to be motivated by impulses far removed from any visions of social justice. It is a shame that so many union leaders have forgotten that among the leaders in Canadian labour history, leaders who led the Winnipeg General Strike; who led the marches in the streets of Toronto; leaders who stood shoulder to shoulder carrying two  by fours with Jean Marchand at Lac Meganctic, were many Socialist Zionists. Today’s union bosses choose to ignore that in the very Islamist political jurisdictions they support, unions are outlawed.

 Israel has the same rights in international law as France, Russia and the United States, to hold territory acquired after self-defense in the face of aggressive attack until peace has been achieved. Mr. Ryan, M Parent and their fellow travelers who choose to hold Israel to a different standard do so out of the basest of motives.

Of course not all union voices are as venal as Ryan, Parent and the CSN’s Carbonneau. Several years ago, my Institute for Public Affairs sponsored the first ever conference between leaders of Quebec civil society and Israeli diplomats. FTQ President Henri Massé said that while not fully supporting the settlement policy, he saw nothing to condemn in Israel's policies as a whole and vehemently denounced Palestinian violence and hate. He said that an end to that is understandably a  pre-condition for any further Israeli concessions. For the sake of the credibility of labour’s true progressives, it is time to hear this message candidly proclaimed and clearly defended much more often.

If this is not done, Canadian labour’s dream of universal social justice will be hijacked by  nests of nightcrawlers purveying nothing more than parochial prejudice. And on this there can be no debate. We must always stand ready to marshal our vigilance and resolve against the Ryans and Nastovskis, the Parents and Carbonneaus. For they are the echoes of darker evils from the mists of history. 

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