Independent Jewish Voices Canada recently released the report Unveiling the Chilly Climate: The Suppression of Speech on Palestine. It was compiled by Dr. Sheryl Nestel and Rowan Gaudet for IJV Canada.
Nestel is a retired sociology professor from OISE (Ontario Institute for Studies in Education), University of Toronto, and Gaudet is a master’s student at the University of Bologna in the global cultures program; he has done research for IJV in the past. The text below is from their report’s executive summary.
Focused on the Canadian context, the report seeks to shed light on the wave of suppression of speech regarding Palestine that is sweeping North America and parts of Europe. It documents the impact of reprisals, harassment and intimidation faced by Canadian activists, faculty, students and organizations in relation to scholarship and activism in solidarity with the struggle for Palestinian human rights. There is a connection to be made here between these attacks and efforts by pro-Israel advocacy groups to market the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance Working Definition of Antisemitism (IHRA), a document that has come under vigorous attack by defenders of academic freedom and Palestinian human rights. While its proponents argue that this definition will not threaten freedom of expression or inhibit criticism of Israeli policies, the findings of this report demonstrate that these basic rights are already under threat and could be further imperiled if the IHRA were to be widely adopted.
The contribution of this report is two-fold: 1) the amount and quality of information gathered here is unprecedented and speaks to the worrisome prevalence of harassment and suppression of speech on Palestine on campuses and in Canadian civil society and 2) it surpasses a simple documentation of instances of repression by employing an ethnographic methodology to analyze the so-called “chilling effect” and its impact on governmental, institutional and individual decision-making. This research project situates itself firmly within the realm of critical qualitative inquiry, which seeks to employ qualitative research for social justice purposes, including making such research available for public education, social policy formulation and the transformation of public discourse. The inquiry is also shaped by decolonizing methodologies of social science research, which seek to challenge institutions, academic and otherwise, which prioritize colonial forms of knowledge production and maintain institutional commitments that impede indigenous self-determination. Finally, Nestel and Gaudet follow the directives proposed by queer, feminist and antiracist research methodologies, which entreat people to consider how their positions in social hierarchies of race, class, sexuality and citizenship mediate their experiences.
In all, the researchers collected 77 testimonies from 40 faculty members, 23 students, seven activists and seven representatives of organizations. Testimonies were collected from participants in Ontario, Manitoba, British Columbia, Saskatchewan, Nova Scotia, Quebec and Alberta. Among the academics responding were representatives of 11 disciplines from 21 Canadian universities.
Interviewees recounted that their experiences included political intervention into hiring; attempts to prevent access to event venues; and the attempted cancellation of public events on Palestine, as well as targeting and doxing, including the inclusion of 128 Canadian academics and activists on the website of Canary Mission, an organization that purports to document “individuals and organizations that promote hatred of the U.S., Israel and Jews on North American college campuses.” Threats of violence and genuine acts of violence were experienced by student activists and these often contained racial and sexual slurs including threats of sexual violence. Students were subject to warnings and disciplinary measures by university administrators whom respondents often described as being hostile to Palestine solidarity activism on campus. Faculty respondents reported restrictions on academic freedom, self-censoring of expression on Palestinian human rights, discriminatory treatment by academic publishing platforms, harassment by pro-Israel advocacy groups and media outlets, attacks from colleagues, political interference by university administration, classroom surveillance by pro-Israel student groups, and anti-Palestinian and anti-Arab racism. Indeed, the suppression of speech on Palestine has significant consequences in academia, where it threatens principles of academic freedom and encourages surveillance of critical intellectuals and activists and of the oppositional knowledge that they produce.
As the research by Nestel and Gaudet reveals, the precarious employment conditions of more than half of Canada’s university teachers mean that, because of the “chilly climate” around speech on Palestine, untenured or pre-tenure faculty are reluctant to pursue academic or activist work in this area for fear of endangering contract renewals or future career prospects including access to publishing platforms so central to the academic tenure and promotion process.
Unsubstantiated allegations of antisemitic intent and support for terrorism are commonly leveled against pro-Palestine academics and activists. Significantly, Palestinians, Muslims and non-Arab racialized participants appear to have borne the brunt of direct attacks on their scholarship and activism. The emotional impact of harassment and suppression was felt most acutely by Palestinian students and faculty interviewed. Jewish activists were not immune to attack and were often characterized by opponents as “kapos” or “self-hating Jews.”
The report also documents how both on- and off-campus Israel-advocacy organizations have been at the forefront of efforts to suppress speech and activism on Palestine. As University of Pennsylvania political scientist Ian Lustick has argued, the pro-Israel organizations have constituted a “vigilante” force, which has made it “increasingly difficult to criticize Israel without fear of lawsuits, accusations of antisemitism, demands for political balance in staging of events, blacklisting of participants, or other forms of personal or institutional harassment.”
This report signals that an atmosphere of repression and recrimination related to discourse and activism around Israel/Palestine is ubiquitous and insidious and should be unacceptable in a democratic society.
To download a copy of the full report, visit ijvcanada.org/unveilingthechillyclimate.
– Courtesy Independent Jewish Voices Vancouver