The fundraiser, a “Celebration of Excellence” at the Toronto Center for the Arts, honoring Freeman, appears to be another effort by an Israeli institution to use high-profile celebrities to attract audiences while deflecting criticism of Israel’s human rights record.
Freeman is a symbolic catch given that he played Nelson Mandela in the movie Invictus.
In November, legendary musician Stevie Wonder made headlines by pulling out of a Los Angeles fundraiser for “Friends of the IDF,” a group that raises money for the Israeli army.
PACBI, the Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel, issued an appeal to Freeman explaining why supporting an event for Hebrew University is no better than one raising funds for the Israeli army of occupation. The statement calls on Freeman to refuse an award “tarnished with apartheid and colonialism.” Here’s an excerpt:
The intention of the award is to honor your work in ‘combating racism and promoting knowledge and education worldwide.’ Given that Israel practices forms of racism through its system of colonialism, occupation and apartheid, and violates the rights of Palestinians to education and life, it is cynical, and nothing short of a dishonor to your lifelong achievements to be accepting an award from a group that is in deep support of an Israeli University complicit in Israel’s systematic violations of human rights and international law.
The Hebrew University is specifically implicated in serious violations in a number of ways. The University illegally acquired a significant portion of the land on which its Mount Scopus campus and dormitories are built. On 1 September 1968, about one year after Israel’s military occupation of Gaza and the West Bank, the Israeli authorities confiscated 3345 dunums of Palestinian land. Part of this land was then used to build the Mount Scopus campus of Hebrew University.
It’s also disappointing to see Jian Ghomeshi, who hosts the excellent CBC arts and culture program Q, hosting the event and appearing in this video promoting it. Ghomeshi is smart enough to know better. He’s also smart enough to understand that he can’t just ignore the Palestinian appeal and claim he’s being apolitical. By participating in this event he’s already taken a political stance, and a really bad one at that. Ignoring the appeal from Palestinians living under an Israeli occupation in which Hebrew University is complicit will only confirm Ghomeshi’s stance.
Update, 29 April: Jian Ghomeshi listen to your own words on Idle No More!
It would be particularly unfortunate should Ghomeshi be unwilling to heed the call of Palestinians given his high-profile support for the Canadian First Nations’ Idle No More movement. In a radio essay last year, Ghomeshi urged Canadians to listen to the demands of Canada’s indigenous people who for so many years have seen their land rights, often enshrined in treaties, trampled and violated.
Idle No More is a way of reframing the debate, especially of young people taking initiative and taking action and making their voices heard, to affect change in our country, to get the notice of those in power, to send them a message… It is the way we should want our democracy.
This is exactly what the Palestinian-led boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement is too – a way of reframing the debate and taking back the struggle for human rights from the stultifying language of a failed and deceptive “peace process” that has only seen more Palestinian land and rights taken away while Israel enjoys total support and impunity from governments like Canada’s.
“We deride the apathy that can exist in this country. Well this is a movement of young people and First Nations saying clearly that they will be Idle No More,” Ghomeshi added. “We might want to give them the attention they deserve…”
Ghomeshi also highlighted the six-week hunger strike last year of Chief Theresa Spence of the Attawapiskat First Nation, which she ended in January when Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper agreed to meet her.
In his essay, Ghomeshi had publicly told Harper, “Dear Prime Minister, this is a meeting you should really attend.”
Now Palestinians are saying to Ghomeshi – and Morgan Freeman – that the 6 May fundraiser for Israel is one meeting you should really not attend.
Update, 28 April: Jian Ghomeshi responds
Shortly after I first tweeted this post, Jian Ghomeshi responded on Twitter:This prompted several thoughtful replies to him: