Toronto journalist and activist Desmond Cole is currently under fire for saying that we must not just fight anti-Black racism, but also fight anti-Palestinian racism, at an anti-racism seminar held by the Toronto District School Board (TDSB). Cole also faced significant heat for uttering the words, “Free Palestine”. The Friends of Simon Wiesenthal Center (FSWC) called it a “disturbing anti-Israel tirade” that “traumatized” attendees and “feed[s] into the normalization of antisemitism”. They claim that “Free Palestine” is often a “dog whistle for the destruction of Israel”. The TDSB’s director, Colleen Russell-Rawlins, apologized for the “harm” caused by Cole’s statements. The story was picked up by the Toronto Sun, TheJ, True North, and the Canadian Jewish News, all of which tried to fit Cole’s statements into a narrative about pro-Palestine antisemitism.
Such a harsh rebuke for such a basic statement of solidarity with Palestine highlights how the Canadian government, capitalist media, and lobby groups like the FSWC are unserious about fighting antisemitism. Their willingness to weaponize “antisemitism” to silence pro-Palestine speech hurts not just the Palestinian struggle, but the struggle against antisemitism too, in that it muddies the definition of antisemitism and can make it seem like a meaningless buzzword used for political attacks. On the contrary, antisemitism is very real and alive in Canada. Marxists vehemently oppose antisemitism and believe it should be combated wherever it arises. However, Zionist organizations like the FSWC have shown themselves to be counterproductive in this struggle, more interested in attacking pro-Palestine activists than fighting real antisemitism. Like the boy who cried wolf, so many false accusations hurt their credibility, leaving no one to listen when real antisemitism rears its head
Unfortunately, this campaign against Cole is only the latest in a pattern of smear campaigns against anyone who criticizes Israel. Last year, the Doug Ford government passed Bill 168, making certain criticisms of Israel a hate crime. In May, Canadian politicians and media outless smeared a Palestine rally as antisemitic while defending fascist Jewish Defense League (JDL) provocateurs. In March, NDP MP Niki Ashton came under fire for hosting an event with Jeremy Corbyn, the former leader of the UK Labour Party. Indeed, Corbyn was the target of perhaps the most vicious “antisemitism” smear campaign in history, with spurious accusations dogging every moment of his leadership from 2015 to 2019. One MP even called anti-capitalism inherently antisemitic, highlighting their complete cynicism in using “antisemitism” to attack their enemies.
The experience of the Corbyn leadership is a good hint as to what we can expect as Palestine solidarity becomes more prevalent in Canada. We’ve already seen the NDP push Paul Manly and Rana Zaman out of the party for their Palestine sympathies. We’ve seen the Canadian Union of Postal Workers (CUPW) come under fire for their solidarity with the Palestinian Postal Service Workers Union (PPSWU). We’ve seen the Green Party leadership smear its own members as antisemitic. Cole’s case shows that a lifetime of antiracist activism and being careful to avoid any antisemitic tropes don’t innocculate you from accusations of antisemitism.
We cannot try to appease Zionist organizations like the FSWC, whose rich donors have a vested interest in maintaining Israel as an imperialist wedge in the Middle East. Rather, we should be steadfast in defending ourselves and our allies from these smears while doing everything in our power to clamp down on real instances of antisemitism. Any reasonable person understands that the statement “Free Palestine” is not antisemitic. It is merely a recognition of the very real oppression of the Palestinians, and that our sympathies must always be on the side of the oppressed. Real antisemitism has historically been fomented by the ruling class to scapegoat Jews, drawing class anger away from themselves. Only through united class struggle can we truly fight for an end to antisemitism and for a free Palestine. We must oppose the weaponization of false allegations of antisemitism, and call for the Toronto District School Board to stop its vilification of Desmond Cole under pressure from organizations that wish to continue the oppression of Palestinians.