A CBC TV news report on the recent Israeli election vividly captured the "agony" Israelis were going through as they pondered the key election issue: Israel’s plans to unilaterally withdraw from the West Bank.Entirely absent from the report was any notion that their decision also had an impact — in fact, a much bigger impact — on millions of Palestinians who live under Israeli occupation in the West Bank. Under its "unilateral withdrawal," Israel plans to permanently annex key chunks of Palestinian land. The tendency of North American media to render the Palestinians invisible — except as terrorists — helps explain why the Ontario wing of CUPE decided last week to champion the Palestinian cause by joining some churches and unions in an international boycott of Israel. The CUPE boycott, unanimously endorsed by 900 delegates, is mostly an attempt to draw attention to our lopsided view of the Mideast conflict. The most contentious aspect is CUPE’s support for the "right of return" of Palestinian refugees, who have been living in camps since being driven out of their homes, some as long ago as Israel’s war of independence in 1948. The Canadian Jewish Congress argued last week that this "right of return" would spell the end of Israel as a Jewish state. This may be true. If it remained democratic, Israel might become a multi-religious and multi-ethnic state — like Canada — rather than being an exclusively Jewish state. CUPE therefore has raised an important, routinely ignored question: Do we as Canadians support Israel’s policy of giving preferential rights to members of one religion? Clearly, we wouldn’t pass laws like that in Canada. But preferential rights for one religious group are central to the notion of Israel. Israel was created as a Jewish homeland. Jews born anywhere in the world have the automatic right to become Israeli citizens — a right denied to hundreds of thousands of Palestinians refugees who were born on land that is now part of Israel. International law gives them the right to return home, but Israel refuses to let them back in. CUPE’s resolution — like one passed by the 70,000-member union of British university teachers — maintains that this amounts to discrimination similar to South African apartheid. Nelson Mandela has also made such a comparison. Under apartheid, blacks were confined largely to "Bantustans," nominally independent areas that were, in fact, under military control. Blacks were severely restricted through myriad government rules from moving around these disconnected areas — much as Palestinians are restricted in the West Bank. Movement will become even more difficult once Israel annexes key parts of the West Bank, leaving Palestinians in isolated Bantustan-like enclaves. Israel, which was born out of the horrors of the Holocaust, arouses our sympathy in a way that white supremacist South Africa never did. But Palestinians weren’t responsible for the Holocaust. And for the victims of discrimination — whether blacks or Palestinians — the suffering is the same. ——————————————————————————– Linda McQuaig is a Toronto-based author and commentator. lmcquaig@sympatico.ca.