Western governments respond to Gaza siege by repressing dissent at home

The coming crackdown? It’s here!  

By Clark Joplin  

Big capital’s representatives in government across Canada want to make something clear: freedom of speech ends where their imperial project begins. This will come as no surprise to those on the anti-imperialist left who were there during the protests against the criminal invasion of Iraq, a period which saw the massive expansion of Canada’s security state, all in the name of national security. Never mind the fact that the new powers were extensively used to strangle peace, environmental, labour and democratic movements over the course of the last 20 years in Canada.

Still, it has been in the interest of Western imperialist governments to at least maintain a veneer of democratic norms, including free speech and free association, inside their countries to quietly maintain the status quo. However, as their hegemony begins to weaken on the world stage, it’s clear the Western powers have less and less interest in maintaining that facade much longer. This trend is quickly being exposed in the context of Israel’s current genocidal siege of Gaza.

In Israel itself, the standard bearer of Western imperialism in the Middle East, a new law outlaws the advocacy, amplification or consumption of “terrorist” content, leading to dozens of arrests within hours of the bill passing in the Knesset. These arrests included a Palestinian woman with Israeli citizenship who was apprehended along with her husband, for following Al-Jazeera online and making a post praying for the safe return of Israelis in Gaza. Another Palestinian Israeli citizen was arrested for posting “Good Morning” on his Facebook page on the morning on October 7.

In Europe, Germany and France have outright banned pro-Palestinian protests. Simply wearing a kaffiyeh or displaying a Palestinian flag has seen arrests made in both countries for alleged antisemitism. In France, a woman was arrested for simply greeting a friend in Arabic after her neighbours reported her to the police. Responding to questions after her arrest, police told the media that “with the current climate, we cannot take any risks.”

Arrests of pro-Palestinian protesters are also occurring in other EU countries as well as in the UK and the US. Further, this speaks nothing to the censorship happening on communications platforms internationally – Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and Google – which have done all they can to silence Palestinian protest and coverage of the onslaught in Gaza.

In Canada, aggression against those struggling for an end to the genocide has been no different. In a bone-chilling case of repression, Calgary activist Wesam Khaled was arrested for chanting “From the river to the sea, Palestine will be free” at a rally in early November. For decades, the chant has been a frequently used call for liberation and an end to the apartheid regime in Israel, but imperialist governments are increasingly labelling it as antisemitic. In addition to Khaled’s charge of causing a disturbance, Calgary police added an aggravating charge of “hate motivation” which would increase the severity of sentencing.

Legal experts predicted that Khaled’s case would be a precedent-setting if taken to trial, although the charges were eventually stayed. Nonetheless, while hate speech and acts of hate must be confronted – incidents of both antisemitism and Islamophobia have sharply increased since October 7 – the use of charges of hate to smear and attack the Palestinian solidarity movement represents a new wave of crackdown.

Indeed, working people have been subjected to repression and punishment for speaking out against the genocide. Incidents of employees being fired, suspended or otherwise disciplined for taking a pro-Palestinian stance in several sectors have been reported across the country. These include journalists, university and college employees, government workers, professionals, service workers and others.

Politicians are not immune to this pressure campaign, as shown by the Ontario legislature’s censure of Sarah Jama MPP who was subsequently tossed from the NDP caucus.

Unions are being attacked for their stance against apartheid as well, with dozens of labour organizations who have called for a ceasefire and an end to the occupation being subjected to a torrent of coordinated attacks. In particular, CUPE Ontario President Fred Hahn has been subject to relentless attack from right-wing and Zionist voices, for his stance against the Israeli occupation and genocide. These have included flurry of hit pieces in the mainstream press, a public condemnation from federal Labour Minister Seamus O’Reagan and from Ontario Labour Minister David Piccini, as well as a well-funded “human rights” lawsuit started by CUPE members alleging years of “systemic discrimination… [and] engaging in antisemitism.”

Labour market discipline of this type is not new – it is used to intimidate working people into remaining silent, lest they lose their job and by extension their home and their ability to feed their families. It is a “friendlier and democratic” form of repression employed in capitalist countries world over. In fact, some corporate leaders and right-wing politicians have cynically used the anti-Israeli apartheid stance by Hahn, CUPE Ontario and other unions as a platform to call for an end to the Rand formula and to open the door to right-to-work laws in Canada.

The anti-democratic crackdown is also happening at the municipal level. In addition to Wesam Khaled’s arrest in Calgary, Toronto Mayor Olivia Chow has also attacked the protests against the genocide of the Palestinian people. In the first few days after October 7, Chow denounced all protesters speaking out in support of Palestine as being “pro-Hamas” activists – a racist smear which has seen her progressive support shaken in the city. Chow took this a step further by advocating for and moving a motion to, among other things, “protect critical infrastructure” in the city. This is an anti-union dog whistle often employed by the right wing to justify harsh crackdowns on strikes and political protests. The motion passed unanimously.

Jewish peace activists, whose protest against the genocide in Palestine disturbs the carefully crafted narrative preferred by Western states, have been singled out in the intensified crackdown against dissent. Hamilton rabbi David Mivasair was arrested and detained for his participation in a disruption lead by Jewish Voices for Peace in the United States. Calls for peace by Jewish activists across Canada have received organized vitriol – a protest organized by Independent Jewish Voices and the Palestinian Youth Movement, which disrupted Toronto’s Union Station, was subsequently attacked by a series of online trolls, including one who called for a mass shooting of the peaceful protestors under a video of the demonstration. In advance of the protest, Union Station was briefly put into lockdown, with dozens of security officers and even more police – some donning riot gear – set up around the station.

It is unsurprising that the forces executing this crackdown are the same ones that gave a standing ovation to a Nazi veteran in Parliament just weeks ago.

Yet despite the increasingly harsh conditions of repression, working people, democratic organizations and labour unions continue to speak out against Canada’s complicity in the genocide and to call for a ceasefire. The crucial next steps are to maintain unity, broaden the anti-war and solidarity movement, and bring the masses into the struggle to support the Palestinian people, implement an immediate and permanent ceasefire, and end the Israeli occupation.

[Photo: German police breaking up Palestine solidarity rally]

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