Canada’s foreign minister has called on the United Nations Human Rights Council to review the appointment of Canadian law professor Michael Lynk as its special rapporteur on human rights in Palestine.
Last week, Stéphane Dion tweeted (because that is how diplomacy happens these days): “We call on @UN_HRC President to review this appointment & ensure Special Rapporteur has track record that can advance peace in region #HRC.”
The Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs has denounced the appointment of the University of Western Ontario academic, who has been associated with anti-Israel activities in Canada. Lynk has said that Israel should be prosecuted for “war crimes,” he accused Israel of “ethnic cleansing,” has spoken at conferences that reject a two-state solution and serves as a leader in a group that promotes Israel Apartheid Week.
While Dion questioned the wisdom of appointing Lynk, CIJA went further, arguing that the position itself is illegitimate.
“It is ludicrous that this is the UN’s only special rapporteur focused on the human rights of a particular community,” said Shimon Koffler Fogel, CIJA’s chief executive officer. “It is likewise shameful that the special rapporteur refuses to investigate the abuse of Palestinian rights by the Palestinian leadership, particularly Hamas in Gaza. In so doing, the special rapporteur obscures genuine human rights violations in the Middle East and the underlying obstacles to Israeli-Palestinian peace.”
A related conflict blew up in academia last week. Just as the appointment of an avowed anti-Zionist as UN rapporteur surely will not advance peace between Israelis and Palestinians, the complete disavowal of the existence of antisemitism on campuses will not promote intellectual discourse or peace.
In the wake of ongoing efforts by the BDS movement to boycott Israeli academics and force universities to divest from Israeli holdings, while occasionally nastily intimidating Jewish students on campuses across North America, the University of California board of regents recently passed a statement condemning antisemitism, along with 10 principles against intolerance as a whole. It is the result of several months’ research and consultation.
The statement that introduces the principles is an amended version of an earlier expression that would have condemned anti-Zionism. Instead, it condemns “antisemitic forms of anti-Zionism.” If the only state in the world targeted for elimination is the only Jewish one, it should be an uphill battle to continue the charade that anti-Zionism is not equivalent to antisemitism, or at least driven by it to a large degree. Nevertheless, the regents’ statement is a starting point for increased civility on campuses that have seen, they note, “an increase in incidents reflecting antisemitism…. These reported incidents included vandalism targeting property associated with Jewish people or Judaism; challenges to the candidacies of Jewish students seeking to assume representative positions within student government; political, intellectual and social dialogue that is antisemitic; and social exclusion and stereotyping.”
Some critics say the statement is designed to stifle opposition to Israeli policies. Others say it could harm free speech. Yet others say it didn’t go far enough, in that it didn’t condemn bigotry against other specific groups.
None of these objections holds water. While the working group’s report might have been initiated by concerns over antisemitism, the document speaks to many other forms of intolerance: “University policy prohibits discrimination based on race, color, national origin, religion, sex, gender, gender expression, gender identity, pregnancy, physical or mental disability, medical condition (cancer-related or genetic characteristics), genetic information (including family medical history), ancestry, marital status, age, sexual orientation, citizenship, service in the uniformed services, or the intersection of any of these factors.”
As for free speech, including, presumably, that about Israel, the document stresses the importance of freedom of expression and of inquiry: “The university will vigorously defend the principles of the First Amendment and academic freedom against any efforts to subvert or abridge them.” And, it notes: “Each member of the university community is entitled to speak, to be heard and to be engaged based on the merits of their views, and unburdened by historical biases, stereotypes and prejudices.”
But: “Regardless of whether one has a legal right to speak in a manner that reflects bias, stereotypes, prejudice and intolerance, each member of the university community is expected to consider his or her responsibilities as well as his or her rights … mutual respect and civility within debate and dialogue advance the mission of the university, advance each of us as learners and teachers, and advance a democratic society.”
The UN – and many others – could learn a thing or two from UC’s regents.