‘Palestinians as cockroaches’ cartoon should prompt boycott of antisemitism conference: CJPME

Montreal, October 16, 2023 — Following the discovery last week of a ‘Palestinians as cockroaches’  Twitter post published by pro-Israel figure Arsen Ostrovsky, a featured speaker at this week’s ‘Antisemitism: Face It, Fight It’ conference in Ottawa, Canadians for Justice and Peace in the Middle East (CJPME) is demanding that Canadian members of Parliament boycott the conference. According to the conference schedule, Pierre Poilièvre (Conservative leader), Jagmeet Singh (NDP leader), Yves-François Blanchet (BQ leader), and Arif Virani (Liberal Justice Minister) are all listed as speakers at the conference, organized by the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs (CIJA). CJPME also demands that CIJA immediately disinvite Ostrovsky from the conference and publicly condemn him for his post.

The cartoon depicts a blue boot with ‘IDF’ (Israeli Defence Forces) written on it crushing a Palestinian cockroach caricature, identified by the red, white, green and black colours of the Palestinian flag. Ostrovky prefaces the tweet with a single word, ‘This!’ The post has since been restricted for possibly violating Twitter’s rules on violent speech, and a community note has been attached to the post noting that the use of insect imagery is “textbook Nazi propaganda.”

“This disgusting ‘people as vermin’ rhetoric played a huge role in the propagation of antisemitism historically in Europe, and also in the lead-up to genocides elsewhere,” said Thomas Woodley, president of CJPME  “CJPME points out the obvious and scandalous contradiction in Ostrovsky being invited as a speaker to an ‘antisemitism’ conference, when he is an overtly racist figure himself, engaging in just the type of dehumanization that Jews have faced historically. “The hypocrisy of CIJA in inviting this individual as a speaker at an anti-racism conference is mind-boggling, and is actually dangerous in the context of Israel’s use of mass violence and collective punishment directly targeting the civilian population of Gaza,” asserted Woodley. 

Earlier this month, Independent Jewish Voices Canada (IJV) expressed deep concern about the CIJA antisemitism conference, arguing that the conference was platforming several racists.  Ostrovsky is one of the speakers called out by IJV, which notes that he writes frequently for an Islamophobic think tank which endorses anti-Muslim political figures. Ostrovsky is the CEO of the International Legal Forum, an organization which works to shut down criticism of Israel on university campuses, and which is funded by the Israeli Ministry of Strategic Affairs.

CJPME agrees that politicians should attend anti-racist conferences to show philosophical support, but such conferences should not promote or provide cover for other types of discrimination or racism. In its critique, IJV expressed concern that the conference sought to conflate criticism of Israel with antisemitism. IJV also asserted that CIJA had invited individuals who were not recognized scholars of antisemitism, but who “peddle in Islamophobia, anti-Palestinian racism and even antisemitism.”  It concluded, “These speakers represent some of the most chauvinistic figures in international Jewish politics.”

“This cartoon is the straw that breaks the camel’s back,” said Woodley.  CJPME asserts that Canadian politicians should not be lending legitimacy or credibility to a discredited conference, and racist speakers.  “This is a travesty of an antisemitism conference,” concluded Woodley.  “Poilièvre, Singh, Blanchet and Virani will have no excuse if they share a platform with an overt anti-Palestinian racist,” concluded Woodley.

Genocide experts identify ten stages in the path to genocide: ‘dehumanization’ is the fourth step. Members of the dehumanized group are equated with animals, vermin, insects or diseases. This step enables the dominant group to regard the other group as less than human, and even alien to their society, making mass extermination seem acceptable. Amnesty International and several other human rights groups have published reports detailing how, in their judgement, Israel practices apartheid against Palestinians. Indeed, as documented by Amnesty, several of the other steps in 10-step path to genocide are already evident in Israeli society. Especially alarming, Israel’s ongoing bombardment of Gaza civilians and the supporting commentary by Israeli political and military leaders suggest that literal genocide is not out of the realm of possibility. A prominent Palestinian human rights group has warned that Israel’s current attack may amount to a “campaign of genocide against the Palestinian people,” while several others have appealed to the UN to “protect the Palestinian people against genocide.” Similar, a UN expert warns that Palestinians are in “grave danger” of mass “ethnic cleansing.”

When challenged on Twitter for his tweet, Ostrovsky stood by his tweet.  Responding to his tweet, Dr. Sara Yael Hirschhorn tweeted, “NOT THIS, NOT THIS AT All.  We don’t treat people like vermin, as we were treated in the Holocaust.  Take this down immediately.”  Ostrovsky wrote back, “If it offends your sensitivities, then don’t follow or look away.”     

About CJPME – Canadians for Justice and Peace in the Middle East (CJPME) is a non-profit and secular organization bringing together men and women of all backgrounds who labour to see justice and peace take root again in the Middle East. Its mission is to empower decision-makers to view all sides with fairness and to promote the equitable and sustainable development of the region.

For more information, please contact: Michael Bueckert, VP CJPME: 613-315-7947 or [email protected].

Canadians for Justice and Peace in the Middle East www.cjpme.org