Unions Are Not Discriminating Against Jews By Showing Support for Palestine

On February 9, the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs (CIJA) announced that 14 federal public servants who are members of the Public Service Alliance of Canada (PSAC) had filed human rights complaints against their union. The complaints claim that the union’s ongoing opposition to Israel’s genocide in Gaza and its advocacy for human rights in Palestine created a discriminatory environment against them as Jewish members. 

This complaint is yet another example of the wilful and dangerous conflation of legitimate criticism of Israel with antisemitism. Those who seek to deny or legitimize Israel’s crimes use this conflation in order to claim that any criticism of Israel or Zionism is antisemitic. 

These human rights complaints do not represent the experiences of all Jewish federal public servants, some of whom are IJV members and applaud the unions, community organizations and people of conscience in Canada who are taking action against Israeli genocide, occupation and apartheid. As we work to support a properly negotiated peace in Palestine-Israel, let us be clear that complaints like this, which falsely equate support for Palestinian human rights with antisemitism, deflect from that goal.

Let us call this complaint what it is: a clear attempt to intimidate and strike fear into those who speak out against Israel’s crimes and Canada’s complicity in these crimes. In particular, the complaints demand that PSAC “cease funding of UNRWA,” the UN agency dedicated to supporting Palestinian refugees, revealing their politically-motivated nature. Israel and its defenders seek to defund UNRWA in order to undermine the right of return of Palestinian refugees, the immediate result of which is the starvation and denial of humanitarian aid to 1.7 million Palestinian refugees in Gaza.

Spurious complaints such as these undermine the struggle against antisemitism by obscuring what actual antisemitism looks like. In Canada, antisemitism can be seen in the swastika flags displayed during the 2022 convoy occupation of Ottawa, where anti-vaxxers also co-opted star-of-David badges to claim systemic oppression. It can be seen in uncontested memorials to Nazi divisions and war criminals and in the 2023 standing ovation given to a Nazi veteran in the House of Commons in the name of solidarity with Ukraine.

On Turtle Island (North America), Jewish trade unionists have a long and proud history of fighting for justice in the workplace and beyond, including participating in the global movement for boycott, divestment and sanctions against South African apartheid. Many IJV members continue this tradition by supporting Palestine and Palestinian workers through our union activism. We stand firmly in support of unions such as PSAC that demonstrate their clear-eyed solidarity with Palestine and Palestinians. This is the true meaning of the labour movement’s foundational slogan: “an injury to one is an injury to all.”