David I. Roytenberg

Encampments and the Corruption of Language

When freedom is harassment and words mean their opposites

When I was a kid, I got up every morning at 6AM and brought in the newspaper. Kids went to bed early in those days. From the time I learned how to read, I would get up before my parents and read the news of the day. My critical thinking skills developed more slowly than my reading skills. I would show off what I knew by repeating what I’d read in the newspaper to my father. When he saw that I wasn’t distinguishing between facts and opinions, he started to challenge me to support the things I was saying. At first I was offended by his response, but thanks to him, I learned to think more carefully about what I was reading

Recently at my Dad’s 90th birthday party in Vancouver, I reminded him that he had taught me to think critically and question what I read, and that thanks to him, I’d spent my life staunchly defending unpopular opinions. When I was 14, I was a vocal critic of the US war in Vietnam, but by the time I was 20, I saw that critics of American action in Vietnam ignored what happened to the Vietnamese when America withdrew. They said they were against war, but they had nothing critical to say about war when it was conducted by America’s enemies. Therefore, I concluded, it wasn’t war they were against, and calling themselves anti-war was deliberate misdirection.

When I moved to Ottawa, after studying in Toronto, in the early 1980s there was a makeshift structure on the front lawn of the Canadian Parliament which called itself the Peace Camp. It was a component of the global campaign under way at the time against the deployment of American medium range nuclear missiles in Europe. Soviet weapons had already been deployed in the Warsaw pact countries to the east and the protesters had nothing to say about those weapons, but in Britain, Germany and other NATO countries, the anti-nuclear protest movement was highly organized and constantly in the news. The Canadian government of the day tolerated the presence of the encampment on Parliament Hill for years. After all, who could be against peace?

I visited the peace camp once, looked at their displays and was amazed to see that the list of local happenings they called the “Peace Agenda”, included events that supported Palestinian terrorist organizations. “How could a place that called itself the “Peace Camp” be promoting violence?” I wondered.

Meanwhile Germans marched, Brits sat in and committed acts of civil disobedience, and European governments wavered over whether to go ahead with the deployment of nuclear tipped missiles in the face of apparent widespread popular outrage. In the Soviet Union, protesters also marched, but not to protest the Soviet missiles that had prompted the NATO deployment in the first place. The Soviets protested only against American missiles. I realized that although the movement called itself anti-nuclear, they didn’t oppose Soviet deployments of nuclear weapons, only American deployments. Therefore, I concluded nuclear weapons weren’t really what they were against and calling themselves anti-nuclear was deliberate misdirection.

In Vietnam the “anti-war” movement ultimately led to American retreat, but brought war to everyone in Vietnam that the Americans had been trying to help. For years afterwards, desperate people fled Vietnam due to the cruelty of its totalitarian government and the insanity of its communist economic policies. While the story of the plight of the Vietnamese boat people was prominently covered in the global media, the folly of abandoning Vietnam to communist hegemony was simply never discussed. Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos all fell under one party communist rule. In Cambodia a third of the population died as a result. This was what “success” looked like for the “anti-war” movement.

A decade later, the campaign to prevent the deployment of American nuclear missiles in Western Europe ultimately failed. The American deployment proceeded and the Soviet threat to western Europe represented by their medium range missiles was countered. No nuclear missile was ever launched, the independence of western European states was protected, and the Soviet troops stayed put on their side of the iron curtain.

In 1987 Mikhail Gorbachev, the last Soviet leader, and US President Ronald Reagan signed a treaty to remove both Russian and American medium range missiles from Europe. I remember noting with wry amusement that the thousands who had marched against the deployment of American missiles were totally silent as their goal of ending American nuclear missile deployments in Europe finally succeeded. This is what “failure” looked like for the “anti-nuclear” movement.

The encampment on Parliament Hill in the early eighties was tolerated for years, although it violated the rules of the place. No government wanted to be depicted as “anti-peace” after all, no matter that the organizations being promoted there were far from peaceful.

At Columbia University last week, the authorities also had to decide what to do about protesters who had established a “camp” on campus. These protesters have been vocal and visible on North American campuses since the beginning of the war. Everywhere we look, there they are, denouncing Israeli “genocide”. Their right to repeat this libel is unimpeded everywhere, on the grounds of free speech. The legal maneuverings of South Africa at the International Criminal Court and the solemn pronouncements of the “Special Rapporteur” on human rights in the Palestinian Territories lend a patina of credibility to the libel of Israeli genocide in Gaza.

Everywhere, we read that these protesters are “pro-Palestinian”. The Palestinians, we are told, are being killed by Israelis who “are using hunger as a weapon of war”. “The International court found Israel guilty of genocide”, I have been told, by enraged newly minted legal experts on line.

If the protesters are angry about genocide, who can blame them? So university administrations accommodate the protesters. Freedom of assembly is a right after all. Faculty join the protests or encourage their students to do so.

For the past six months, we have also been hearing a different story from Jewish students and faculty, both here in Canada and in the United States. At Canadian and American Universities, Jews are being harassed and threatened. Posters of hostages at Carleton University are torn down wherever they appear. Although university officials routinely denounce antisemitism (almost always along with Islamophobia), they don’t appear to have done anything effective to stop the harassment and intimidation of Jews.

As we saw in our last article, some faculty defend the actions of Hamas explicitly. When the protesters do so as well, our political leaders profess to be horrified. University presidents are hauled before the US Congress and grilled over their position on antisemitism. These leaders appear to be far more worried about being accused of complicity with an imaginary Israeli genocide than they are about condoning antisemitism.

So where are we after six months of “pro-Palestinian” protest on North American University campuses? Amid a rising tide of antisemitic incidents, the university administrators who have lost control of the space they are charged with managing, are now calling in the police to arrest protesters who refuse to disperse. Jews are told to stay away from campus. Jews at Colombia were told by “protesters” to expect October 7 every day. People with Israeli flags have been beaten up. One woman was stabbed in the eye. In response larger groups have returned to campus and reestablished the camps. University leaders are “negotiating with them”.

At Queen’s Park in Toronto, the speaker of the Ontario Legislature has instituted a rule banning the keffiyah in the building, because he recognized that it has become a symbol of support for the October 7 atrocities. Even the Conservative Premier of Ontario is too afraid of the political consequences to support this principled decision by an independent officer of the Ontario Parliament.

On Parliament Hill in Ottawa, protesters chanting “Long live October 7” demonstrated last weekend where the peace camp used to be. The press continues to describe these people as “pro-Palestinian” demonstrators. Jews in Toronto and Ottawa are increasingly concerned about the level of security at Jewish institutions in the city. Is it pro-Palestinian to scrawl swastikas on posters of Jewish hostages? Has anything that demonstrators have done to promote the Hamas’ version of events in Gaza been of any help Palestinians living there?

Surely we must conclude that these people aren’t really pro-Palestinian. Calling them pro-Palestinian is deliberate misdirection.

Looking at the “anti-war” and “anti-nuclear” campaigns discussed above, I will venture another observation. “Failure” of the current “pro-Palestinian” campaign will look much better for Palestinians than “success” would.

If the “pro-Palestinian” demonstrators get their way, what will happen? A ceasefire will be established without the removal of Hamas or the liberation of all the hostages that Hamas took on October 7. Israel will withdraw from Gaza. Hamas will remain in power. Hundreds of violent and hateful individuals will be liberated from Israeli prisons and immediately go back to work plotting death and destruction for Israelis and terrorist training for young Palestinians. Hamas will rearm and rebuild its armed units with fresh recruits. In a year or two or three, Hamas will again attack Israel. Death and destruction will again be visited on the Palestinians of Gaza.

What if the “pro-Palestinian” demonstrators don’t get their way? That means no immediate ceasefire. Israel will be allowed to finish their operation against Hamas, including against the units in Rafah. Hamas will be removed from power in Gaza. Their leaders will be killed, arrested or they will flee abroad. Israeli hostages will be freed. The future of Gaza in such a scenario is hard to predict, but it’s hard to imagine an outcome which is worse for the Palestinians living in Gaza than the scenario described in the previous paragraph.

So those who care about Israel and those who care about Palestinians should really not be in disagreement about the better outcome of the current campaign on North American campuses. If those calling themselves “pro-Palestinian” get their way, the future will be bad for Israel, but it will be truly catastrophic for the people of Gaza. Failure of the “pro-Palestinian” cause there is devoutly to be hoped for by anyone who cares about Israelis, and even more so by anyone who cares about Palestinians.

Let us continue to spread the truth, even in the face of the avalanche of lies that seems to have overtaken our world. Let us continue to speak out against the promotion of Jew hatred, with the knowledge that if we succeed this will also be a better outcome for our enemies.

This article was originally published at Canadian Zionist Forum.

About the Author
David Roytenberg is a Canadian living in Ottawa, Canada, with a lifelong interest in Israel and Zionism. He spent 9 months in Israel in 1974-75 on Kibbutz Kfar Glickson and is a frequent visitor to friends and family in Israel. He is married and the father of two sons. David is Secretary of MERCAZ Canada and the chair of Adult Education for Kehillat Beth Israel in Ottawa. He wrote monthly about Israel and Zionism for the Canadian Jewish News from 2017 to 2020.
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