Petition urges governments to consider antisemitic chants ‘hate speech’

Petition targets common anti-Israel, anti-Jewish chants, including ‘from the river to the sea,’ ‘globalize the intifada’ and ‘Long live Oct. 7’

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Skyrocketing instances of antisemitism growing from anti-Israel protests across Canada have prompted a petition aiming to outlaw popular — and problematic — slogans heard at these rallies as hate speech. 

The petition, which closes for signatures at the end of this week, urges the federal government to provide clarity to law enforcement and provincial attorneys general on whether rallying cries such as “From the River to the Sea, Palestine Will Be Free,” “Globalize the Intifada” and “Long Live Oct. 7” contravene portions of Sec. 319 of the Criminal Code of Canada concerning the wilful promotion of hatred. 

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There’s an unprecedented rise in antisemitism in Canada,” said Talia Klein Leighton, the petition’s organizer.

“We need to do anything we possibly can to stem this tide, and we need to appeal to all levels of government, including the federal government, to take the lead.”

As of Monday, the petition had a little over 9,400 signatures.

Other countries have attempted to outlaw or otherwise officially condemn the chantfrom the river to the sea, with varying degrees of success. 

While the Dutch parliament denounced the phrase as a call to violence, its supreme court upheld a lower court decision protecting it as  free speech.

A post earlier this year on the website of Czechia’s supreme state prosecutor says that, when used in context with Israel’s current war against Hamas, the public use of the slogan “implicitly raises reasonable suspicions of supporting the events of Oct. 7 and inciting hatred towards the Jewish people.”

The phrase was also outlawed in certain jurisdictions of Germany and Austria.

Last month, the U.S. House of Representatives adopted a resolution declaring the phrase antisemitic — after Michigan Democratic Party Rep. Rashida Tlaib uttered it in a video posted to social media. 

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The House censured Tlaib in November for saying the phrase, which she described as an “an aspirational call for freedom.” 

While many are eager to offer their own interpretations of “from the river to the sea,” most Jewish groups agree the chant calls for the eradication of the State of Israel and its citizens, and replace it with a pure Palestinian state from the Jordan River to the Mediterranean Sea.

Another common phrase used by anti-Israeli activists is “Globalize the Intifada” — a call for worldwide violence against Jews, Israelis and the people and institutions they see as supporters.

Kevin Vuong, the Independent MP for Toronto who sponsored Leighton’s petition, told the National Post that Canada’s leaders have failed Jewish Canadians. 

“They hide behind ambiguity, ignorance and definitions to avoid taking action,” he said.

“This petition forces the issue and demands that those we trust to keep us safe stop hiding and do their jobs. It also calls for the Trudeau government, who have shown their cowardice, to follow our democratic allies in the U.S., Germany, and Austria in recognizing the chant “from the river to the sea” for what it is in Hamas terms — a call for genocide and the elimination of the state of Israel.” 

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Shimon Koffler Fogel, chief executive officer of the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs (CIJA), said from the river to the seais unequivocally hateful and antisemitic.

“It only has one interpretation — what it effectively calls for is the destruction of the Jewish state,” he said.

“And then when you take it into the context of the companion cry for a global intifada, then it extends not just to the Jewish state, but to the Jewish people, and is consistent with what Hamas, Palestinian Islamic Jihad, Hezbollah and Iran have been threatening that they intend to do.”

He said the slogans serve little purpose but to terrorize and marginalize.

“When they say Oct. 7 over and over and over again, and they say that it extends to all Jews, and that all Jews, no matter where they live, are a target, I don’t know how that can be construed as anything other than hate speech.”

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Joanna Baron, executive director of the Canadian Constitution Foundation, said that while the phrases are indeed objectionable, she isn’t convinced that outlawing them is the answer. 

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“While I hate these statements and while I happen to be of the view that ‘from the river to the sea‘ is an antisemitic and probably genocidal chant, I don’t think it’s a clear-cut case enough for Sec. 319.” she said.

“If you look at the text of Sec. 319, it says ‘communicates a statement that is likely to lead to a breach of the peace‘ — and somebody in Canada chanting ‘from the river to the sea,‘ don’t think reaches that very specific high threshold.”

Other statements mentioned in the petition, such as “Long Live Oct. 7,” are different cases, Baron said.

It’s very difficult to say that in a peaceful way,” she said.

The foundation, she said, generally opposes criminalizing hate speech, describing such laws as counterproductive.

“We take a strong free speech position because we think that if the mechanism for dealing with disagreements in society through speech breaks down, all we have left is violence,” she said.

“What we want is the most open-possible climate, even for reprehensible speech, which can lead to other consequences other than going to jail or otherwise criminal penalties. It’s useful to see how many people in our society are supporting Hamas or in favour of Oct. 7.”

National Post

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