Of course, the first and most tragic victims of the drastic escalation in the longstanding conflict are the innocent civilians in Israel killed or taken captive on October 7 and the many thousands more in Gaza being massacred by air and ground assault as this is written. And we shouldn’t forget the hundreds of victims of armed Zionist settlers and occupation forces in the West Bank over the past years and continuing today.

But the second victim, as so often happens in times of war, is truth and the supposed sanctity of “freedom of speech”. Last year we published two articles: https://unmasktheright.org/articles?p=sticks-and-stones-anti-fascism-free-speech-part-1 and https://unmasktheright.org/articles?p=will-break-my-bones-anti-fascism-free-speech-part-2 that addressed these issues. In Part 1 we concluded:

 “The point of all the above is not to rehash history. Rather, it is to point out that the suppression of free speech has everywhere and always been a weapon of elites and their governments against progressive movements. One would search in vain for any example of right-wing forces being subject to anything equivalent, in the past or currently. Just as importantly, the fight for fundamental human rights, including free speech, has always been inseparable from the fight for economic and social justice.

With some prescience, Part 2 included this observation with regard to whether defense of free speech should be universal and undiscriminating:

Civil libertarians would argue in the affirmative. Certainly, it is a legitimate concern borne out by hard experience that any restrictions governments enact against the right will rebound many-fold against the left. One example is the weaponization of anti-hate laws to target supporters of Palestinian rights in the face of the brutal and illegal Zionist occupation; a bizarre inversion of reality that nevertheless has greatly influenced policy makers.

In the wake of the October 7 raid by Hamas and the subsequent retributive war on Gaza by the IDF this is exactly what we are seeing. Here are just a few Canadian examples although a pattern of attacks on freedom of conscience and expression is evident across the United States and its European allies. 

The only Palestinian journalist employed by Global News was fired for social media posts decrying the killing of innocent people in Gasa. See the statement from the National Council of Canadian Muslims HERE.

York University has threated the recognition of three student unions after they issued a statement on the Israel-Hamas war. CBC news report HERE.

An organization of university faculty members has highlighted and condemned the narrowing of permissible speech and academic freedom across the country.  This includes disciplinary actions being issued against students, faculty, student organizations and unions that have spoken out or issued statements critical of Israeli policies or expressing solidarity with the Palestinian struggle. Read the full statement HERE.

This repression has even extended to elected representatives. The Ontario NDP MPP for Hamilton Centre, Sarah Jamma,  has been threatened, censured, and sacked from the caucus of the provincial party after calling for a cease-fire in Palestine. Her actual statements on the conflict and tragedy were distorted beyond recognition by Premier Ford. But she has long been a target of attacks by B’nai Brith and other Zionist lobby groups for her critical views of Israel and the illegal occupation and building of settlements in Palestinian territories as affirmed by the United Nations in numerous resolutions including 242, 338 and 2334.

While exacerbated by the current situation, this suppression of views that oppose the establishment consensus in support of Israel’s policies of expansion and ethnic cleansing are not new. In April 2018 a Canadian press-freedom group came under fire after the sacking of one of its employees who published a statement condemning the “extrajudicial killings” of Palestinian demonstrators by Israeli forces in Gaza. Kevin Metcalf, communications coordinator for the Canadian Journalists for Free Expression (CJFE), had written a statement on behalf of the group urging the government of Canada to condemn the “IDF’s [Israeli Defence Forces] brutality”.

Contrast this ongoing and accelerating repression with the position taken by educational institutions, the mainstream media and government figures when it comes to neo-NAZIS, instigators and other explicit holocaust deniers – or associated groups and influencers promoting anti-Trans and anti-Queer hate!

The same institutions that defended their decisions to host hate mongers at public events organized by  far-right so-called “Free Speech Clubs” under the rubric of freedom of expression are now ruthlessly suppressing pro-Palestinian sentiments. 

Apparently for small “l” liberals in positions of power and their commentariat of pundits and editorial writers the protection of “freedom of speech” extends to genocide deniers but not those who condemn the ethnic cleansing of Palestine which some – including the Progressive International – describe as genocide.

It is precisely in times like these that it is incumbent for progressives, indeed anyone with even an ounce of moral integrity, to stand up to this kind of pressure and raise their voices for justice and peace.