Sorry Selina, but what goes round, comes round

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Sorry Selina, but what goes round, comes round

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John Capay – Western Standard

Trigger warning: this column will be offensive to different groups of people for different reasons. Snowflakes should stop reading right here, right now.

Offence is more often taken than given. Especially in current times, when outrage and cancel culture seem to have entirely replaced thoughtful analysis and debate.

In early February, media have fixated on one sentence uttered by former British Columbia NDP cabinet minister Selina Robinson. On January 30, 2024, she described the territory of what is today Israel, prior to 1948, as “a crappy piece of land with nothing on it.”

Most media ignore the context in which this politician spoke those words and do not print her remarks in full, even though they could easily do so. Instead, media focus on quoting those who claim to be offended, hurt, harmed, deeply wounded or otherwise outraged by the comment.

I listened to Ms. Robinson’s entire five-minute presentation and took notes. She complained that most young adults in the 18-34 age range know nothing about the Holocaust, or history generally, and “only know Israel as a very powerful country.”

In the aftermath of the Second World War, with National Socialist Germany having murdered millions of Jews, “Israel was offered to the Jews, displaced, it was a crappy piece of land with nothing on it,” according to Ms. Robinson.

She goes on to say: “There were several hundred thousand people on it but other than that it didn’t produce an economy, it couldn’t grow things, it didn’t have anything on it, and it was folks who were displaced that came and the people who had been living there for generations, and together they worked hard.” She added that “people need to understand the complex nature of the people who live in the Middle East” and also stated that “it can’t just be Holocaust education … but it has to be bigger than that.”

The people who lived in Palestine did have agriculture in 1948, when Israel was founded. They had been growing grapes, olives, figs and other crops for thousands of years. So, Ms. Robinson’s words were not accurate. However, her words also contain a kernel of truth about the spectacular agricultural development in Israel in the past 76 years, as compared to growth in agriculture in prior centuries.

Outrage aside, the media were not able to find anyone who would argue publicly that Palestine in 1948 was a first-class piece of densely populated real estate with flourishing agriculture and booming industry.

The foregoing is what prior generations would have called a “counterargument.” But, media are simply not interested in exploring the extent to which Ms. Robinson’s assertions might be true or false. Interviewing the outraged is far more fun, especially when coupled with the exciting spectacle of multiple public demonstrations by aboriginals, Muslims and various pro-Palestinian groups demanding that Ms. Robinson be fired from cabinet.

BC Premier David Eby obliged the mob and fired Ms. Robinson from her position as Minister of Post-Secondary Education. She issued a self-abasing apology for having “caused pain and distress within the Palestinian community, the Muslim community and beyond” and for having contributed to “Islamophobia and anti-Palestinian racism.”

She committed to taking part in “anti-Islamophobia training” in order “to more deeply understand the concerns that have been expressed to [her.]”

Ms. Robinson also put forward an analogy to support what appears to be her opinion that Canadians should not take sides in the current Israel-Hamas conflict. If two different aboriginal groups in BC had a conflict over land, she asserted, then “we” (presumably referring to non-aboriginals) should not “weigh in” on that.

For this as well, Ms. Robinson issued an abject apology: “I know that my comments have additionally caused pain, including among Indigenous communities, for perpetuating harmful narratives of colonialism. The experiences of First Nations people are not mine to manipulate. That was wrong and I am deeply sorry.”

How an abstract analogy about a hypothetical land dispute between two different aboriginal ethnic groups “perpetuates harmful narratives of colonialism” or “manipulates the experiences of First Nations people” Ms. Robinson did not explain.

Yet, by being fired from cabinet, Ms. Robinson got a taste of her own medicine.

For prior to being fired from cabinet, Ms. Robinson had actively — and successfully, it seems — pushed for Langara College to fire its employee Dr. Natalie Knight, who at a pro-Palestinian rally in Vancouver described the October 7, 2023, Hamas massacre of over 1,200 Israeli civilians as an “amazing, brilliant, offensive.”

Dr. Knight was fired. It remains unclear as to whether she will get her job back, or not.

Ms. Robinson’s efforts to remove Dr. Knight from her job led to the Federation of Post-Secondary Educators of BC calling on the premier to fire Ms. Robinson from cabinet, not over her “crappy piece of land” comment, but for having “inappropriately intervened in the termination of a Langara College employee for controversial remarks on the war in Gaza. … The notion that a Minister would intervene directly with a college and call for the termination of a tenured faculty member is highly inappropriate and unprecedented.”

Having defended freedom of expression for students at Canadian universities since 2005, including pro-life students, I know first-hand that academic support for freedom of expression is extremely selective.

For example, the Association of Universities and Colleges of Canada went so far as to intervene in a court action to support the University of Calgary censoring the speech — on threat of serious penalties — of Keith and Steven Pridgen. The brothers won their case, thankfully.

Double standards aside, I have to agree with the Federation of Post-Secondary Educators when it stated that “freedom of expression applies to speech we may well find offensive. Free speech is meaningless if it is reserved only for speech we agree with.”

For the record and for purposes of full disclosure, I see Dr. Knight’s comment as far more outrageous than any of Ms. Robinson’s comments.

That said, Ms. Robinson should not have been removed from cabinet, nor should she have pushed for the firing of Dr. Knight. Firing people for possessing the “wrong” opinions, or for expressing opinions in an inflammatory and offensive manner, is extremely harmful to open debate and the quest for truth.

Cancel culture is a toxic cancer on the free society that requires ongoing, aggressive treatment.

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