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Drew Halfnight

News Editor

“The swell of a boycott is growing inexorably, as if an important marker has been passed, reminiscent of the boycotts that led to sanctions against apartheid South Africa.” — John Pilger, posted Aug. 28 on the website of Palestinian Return Centre

Could it be that Heather Kere is riding the crest of a swelling tide?

Is public opinion in Canada and abroad souring on Israel?

Will the sanctions, boycott and disinvestment campaign imagined by Kere bring about the end of systemic racism in Israel, the way similar campaigns helped end apartheid in South Africa?

Sadly, it won’t.

I’ll go a step further. It won’t have any effect whatsoever.

Wait. I’ll go even further. It will alienate more people than it embraces or unites.

But I’m getting a bit overexcited. And the last thing I want is to get too excited about this. Nobody likes a rabid polemicist frothing on about Israel and Palestine.

In fact, the most persuasive person I ever heard speak about the conflict was a Palestinian scholar who told a lecture hall full of McGill student-activists to butt out, as they were only serving to amplify the conflict with their protests.

There we sat, exposed as face-painted hooligans, half a world away from a conflict of which we had no personal experience, safe and secure in the bleachers, spectating.

He said we added nothing to the debate, and he was right.

I do not mean to say we can ignore the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

On the contrary: Canada played an instrumental role in drawing the partition that created the Israeli state, we sold fighter jets to Israel, we established free trade with Israel, and we gave millions in aid to the Occupied Territories, among numerous actions that constitute “weighing in.”

But if Canadians want to take action, they should be educated first.

Second, they should direct their energies toward Canadian institutions and Canadian decision-makers or, in a pinch, the American government, which is primarily responsible for stacking the cards militarily and economically in Israel’s favour.

By flinging angry injunctions at the impossibly remote bugaboos of “Israeli apartheid” or “Palestinian terrorism,” perhaps some activists are only skirting the problems they seek to address.

Furthermore, any “swell” of positive change always depends most heavily, not on punishing sanctions, but on public awareness, civil debate and a solid consensus about how we can contribute, if at all, to improving the lives of others.

Which, for me, is where the tide turns back on Heather Kere’s boycott.

Where is the awareness-raising?

Have the movers of this motion — who are student representatives after all — really done the work of listening to their constitutents to see how they stand on this issue?

The relative quiet that has accompanied this motion mean one of two things, neither good. Nobody knows about it, or nobody cares. I suspect it’s a bit of both.

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