IHRA Definition is an Assault on the Palestinian Community

Tell City Council to oppose the motion, ‘Combatting Antisemitism in Vancouver’.
Update: the Council did not adopt the motion

In a vote of 6-5 (the dissenting 5 were all NPA councillors), the Vancouver City Council did not adopt the motion and referred it to committee for recommendations on how to combat all forms of racism. Councillor Michael Wiebe was quoted as saying that “we need a policy that tackles all forms of racism, including white supremacy. It’s too important to get this wrong.”
For detailed background on the campaign and the vote, check the Mondoweiss article:
In victory for activists, Vancouver city council votes against adopting IHRA antisemitism definition
By Marion Kawas.
The following letter was sent today to Vancouver City Councillors and Mayor, regarding an upcoming and dangerous motion to adopt the IHRA definition of anti-Semitism. We have been moved and encouraged by the grassroots opposition to this motion from a broad cross-section of people in Vancouver, and encourage everyone to send an email to Council or sign up to be a speaker (instructions here). A special thanks to COPE, who have endorsed the campaign against the motion and asked everyone to help in defeating it. Join us to tell Vancouver City Council to not set “…a precedent as being the first municipal council in Canada to be openly complicit in chilling free speech, eviscerating the Palestinian people’s narrative and promoting anti-Palestinian racism.”

Dear Councillor:

I am writing to you as a Canadian Palestinian and the chairperson of Canada Palestine Association-Vancouver. I have lived much of my adult life in Greater Vancouver after first immigrating here in 1974, and like the rest of my community, have struggled to live in dignity while navigating and going beyond the difficulties of immigrant life. My daughter and granddaughter were both raised here, and currently reside in East Vancouver.
I’m asking you to oppose the motion, ‘Combatting Antisemitism in Vancouver’, by councillor Kirby-Yung, coming before council on July 23. This motion if passed will make us feel unwelcome in this city and tell us our voices are not valued.
As Palestinians, most of us are not here by choice; we have been dispossessed from our ancestral homeland and forced to find refuge wherever we could. We have been cast to the four corners of the world; my own extended family has members in multiple countries. I hold the deed to our family’s property in Bethlehem, my birthplace; but due to Israeli policies that are supported by Canada, in flagrant violation of the UN resolution reaffirmed annually, I am not allowed to live there. Why? Because I am a Palestinian Christian and a 1967 war refugee. This motion if passed will tell me that I am not allowed to criticize the very ideology, Zionism, that resulted in the dispossession of my family and my nation; that is both unfair and equally racist in itself.
You may have been led to believe that this motion will aid in the struggle against anti-Semitism. What you may not have heard is that this motion will also end up contributing to another form of racism, anti-Palestinian racism. It is flawed to claim that you are fighting against one form of racism by reinforcing another one; we must unite to fight against all forms of racism.
You may have also been told that this is just a “non-legally” binding motion but it has been made clear that passing this motion is just the beginning of a process. Bnai Brith has already put on record that the Canadian government’s initial adoption was a good first step, but must be followed by enforcement protocols. “We will be looking for concrete actions, however, to give its implementation substance and meaning. B’nai Brith will be writing to (Pablo) Rodriguez and his colleagues to reiterate our specific ideas on how that can be done.”
This is the same B’nai Brith that slandered me, along with my Jewish friend Sid Shniad, in its 2016 yearly report on Antisemitic Incidents (Academic Antisemitism section), and completely misrepresented what was said at a joint workshop we presented in October 2016. The workshop was part of a broader Genocide Conference at SFU Vancouver Campus and was delivered to a full house, despite pressure to have it cancelled. This is just one local example of erroneous judgement on what constitutes anti-Semitism and demonstrates how legitimate political discourse about Israel is targeted.
As the BC Civil Liberties Association noted in their opposition to the IHRA definition: “We fear that if adopted, the IHRA definition will serve to severely chill political expressions of criticism of Israel as well as support for Palestinian rights.”
Most of our community is already terrorized by anti-immigrant, anti-Palestinian or anti-Muslim rhetoric. Some are even hesitant to admit their heritage to others, afraid that it may hinder their job prospects or relationships. Passing this dangerous and unnecessary motion will only further that alienation; what a crime that a child has to see their parent hide from the world who they are and where they came from. Not from shame, but from fear.
If this IHRA definition is passed by Council, and Palestinians in the future are told to limit or dismiss their lived history, then our worst fears have been realized. Vancouver City Council will then go down in history as setting a precedent as being the first municipal council in Canada to be openly complicit in chilling free speech, eviscerating the Palestinian people’s narrative and promoting anti-Palestinian racism.

Hanna Kawas
Chair, Canada Palestine Association

Is Cuba normalizing settler colonialism in Palestine?

CPA letter sent to Cuban officials on January 31, 2018 under the title “Expanding Cuba-Israel Relations”.

New articles in Mondoweiss and Palestine Chronicle
“Cuba Should Not Normalize with Israeli Settler Colonialism”
By Hanna Kawas & Marion Kawas

With sadness and outrage, we recently learnt from the Israeli press about the visit of the Jewish National Fund (KKL-JNF) delegation to Cuba.
At the beginning of 2018, we became aware of some incidents indicating that Cuba might be on the road of normalizing relations with Israeli apartheid. Out of respect for Cuba’s image, and the rift this might cause with the progressive Palestinian struggle for liberation and its supporters, we pursued our concerns privately with a letter addressed to Cuban officials. Although we did not receive even an acknowledgment of our letter, we were not aware of any further normalization actions since that time. Until now.
With this latest news about Cuba normalizing with the most racist Zionist institution, the JNF, that was responsible for the ethnic cleansing of Palestinians, the theft of their land and destruction of their habitat and environment, we feel compelled to release the letter we sent on January 31, 2018 under the title “Expanding Cuba-Israel Relations”.

Dear Friends:

As long-time supporters of Cuban-Palestinian relations and admirers of the example and spirit of the Cuban people and their revolution, it is with a heavy heart that we are forced to write this letter. We are approaching you privately about this issue, rather than publicly, out of concern for the wellbeing of the progressive movement and our common struggles. In October, 2017 Israeli Culture Minister Miri Regev (who is a documented neofascist) was reported as travelling to Cuba, the first Israeli cabinet minister to do so since 1973. This strange news forced us to do more research which revealed a distressing and disturbing trend in the last few months of new expanding Cuban-Israeli cultural and business relations. Along with Regev’s trip, most of these fall into the category of being “the first of its kind” in four decades or longer.

For example on the cultural front:
In early November, Cuba’s famed Lizt Alfonso Dance Company gave four sellout performances at the Tel Aviv Opera House, followed by concerts in Ashdod, Jerusalem, and Haifa. It was the first cultural visit of its kind to Israel in four decades. Cuba’s famous Buena Vista Social Club also made a tour of Israel in late December, 2017.

And on the business front:
On Nov. 9, the Israel-Latin America Chamber of Commerce held a “Doing Business in Cuba” seminar in Tel Aviv. Attended by 40 or so Israeli business executives, the three-hour briefing, presented in Hebrew, was a prelude to the planned visit to Cuba of an Israeli trade delegation this December. And indeed the Israeli trade delegation made their trip to Cuba Dec. 5-7, 2017 where according to CamaraIsrael:
“The Israel-Latin America Chamber of Commerce, for the first time in its history, sent a delegation of businessmen to Cuba. The delegation was received by the Cuban official bureau at a festive ceremony and a business seminar with the government officials at the National Hotel.”
We are also aware that former Israeli general and war criminal Rafael Eitan, who has had private business interests in Cuba for over 20 years, has been credited with helping to facilitate this new state-to-state Cuban-Israeli exchange.

We are sure you know about the Palestinian Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) Movement that calls for both a cultural and business boycott of Israel. We know that the Oslo accords and the behaviour of the current “Palestinian Authority”, that dropped the anti-colonialist struggle from its agenda, has set the bar low, very low, regarding what kind of support is needed. And we realize that the impact of the economic blockade on Cuba, as well as the recent damage from Hurricane Irma, has been devastating. But we also know that Cuba and its people have a long history of principled positions even when such decisions are difficult or carry a pricetag.
The picture at the top of this letter is from the December 2017 trade delegation visit and is a chilling visual for all progressives. We are aware that Cuba’s position on the political front is always supportive of the Palestinian cause, but as the beacon of progressive action in Latin America, we urge you to ensure that Cuba’s deeds on all fronts line up with your political support as it did with the anti colonialist struggles in Southern Africa. We beseech you, in the name of the Palestinian struggle, in the name of the unity of two steadfast peoples, to investigate these recent actions and take steps to ensure that such exchanges are not repeated and go no further. Please do not develop any ties with what the late and beloved Fidel Castro in 2014, when referencing Israel, called a “new, repugnant form of fascism”.

In Solidarity,
Hanna Kawas, Chairperson
Canada Palestine Association