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« Singing songs with Radovan Karadzic | Main | The Farce is Not Over »

The Fine Line

Walking down Rue Sainte-Catherine in Montréal yesterday, not far from Concordia University, I saw a guy wearing a jean jacket with "Down With Zionism.  Boycott Israel.  Eradicate Zionism."  He had the same slogan emblazoned on his courier bag, too.  Concordia University is pejoratively nicknamed "Gaza U" because in January 2003, there was a riot at the school when Benyamin Netanyahu was scheduled to speak on campus.  The university is home to a sizeable contingent of Jewish and Arab students.  For the most part, relations are good.  Sometimes, they explode.  That day in 2003 was one of those days.  Since then, the tension has largely subsided, but Concordia remains a site of discourse on the plight of Palestinians in the face of both their resistance to Israeli oppression, as well as on Israel's right to defend itself. 

Universities are supposed to be locations of discussion and discourse, where difficult and contentious ideas and topics are explored.  And Concordia, I'm happy to say, is usually that.  But this guy's outfit yesterday, something about it struck me.  What is he demanding?  That Israel be boycotted.  Why?  Because he is equating Zionism with Israel and Israel with apartheid.  And this is where I get uncomfortable.  Not that I particularly side with either group, I abhor human rights abuses and terrorism on both sides, but I'm not sure it's fair to paint a diverse, democratic nation with such a simplistic brush.  And whilst I realise this is just as much an argument about polemics as anything else, I find myself wondering where it gets us.

And this is where I wonder if a line is being crossed.  Certainly, there are Zionists in Israel, indeed, Netanyahu can be classified as such.  And there are those who advocate apartheid, such as Avigdor Lieberman.  But Israel is much more complicated than that.  And this is not to excuse Israeli actions.  But part of me wonders if statements such as that made by this guy yesterday are not counter-productive.  But then again, it provoked a response from me, and he certainly provoked a response from people all around him on the street.  So maybe he is accomplishing something; whether people agree with him or not, he is making them think.

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