Canadian teacher Nadia Shoufani has won a significant free-speech victory after a year-long battle and a prolonged campaign by pro-apartheid Zionist organizations attacking her and attempting to have her fired from her job for speaking about Palestinian prisoners at a public rally in 2016.
“A victory for myself, for the Palestine solidarity movement, for freedom of expression! A victory for the Palestinian cause and the struggle of Palestinians!” said Shoufani in a Facebook post on 8 September offering thanks to friends, colleagues and supporters for their consistent support throughout a year of struggle. Shoufani kept her job and defeated the allegations that targeted her as well as ongoing racist campaigns of harassment carried out by far-right groups and individuals. Organizations including B’nai Brith Canada, the Center for Israel and Jewish Affairs (CIJA) and the Friends of Simon Wiesenthal Center Canada were actively involvedi in the campaign to silence Shoufani.
“Their goal was to destroy my reputation and livelihood and ultimately make me lose my job, but they were defeated! It’s true they targeted me but their ultimate goal was to send a silencing message to intimidate and scare anyone who speaks in support of Palestinians and to put a chill on people,” Shoufani wrote, but the attack in fact led to “more support and created more awareness of the Palestinian cause.”
“The attack that I was put through was not just an attack against me, it was ultimately against every voice that speaks and calls for the freedom and justice of Palestinians who are living under and suffering daily from a brutal occupation and apartheid, with the ultimate aim to silence them and silence any criticism of ‘Israel’, the occupying power,” Shoufani wrote in her social media post.
Shoufani was attacked for her remarks at the 2 July 2006 Al-Quds Day protest, particularly her comments about Ghassan Kanafani and her support for imprisoned Palestinians and strugglers for Palestine, specifically Bilal Kayed – then on hunger strike – and Georges Ibrahim Abdallah.
Shoufani quoted Ghassan Kanafani, the Palestinian writer, political leader in the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine and intellectual assassinated by Israel on 8 July 1972: “The Palestinian cause is not a cause for Palestinians only, but a cause for every revolutionary…a cause of the exploited and oppressed masses in our era.”
“On this day…we need to salute and acknowledge, stand in solidarity and demand the release of prisoners, Palestinian prisoners in Israeli prisons,” said Shoufani in her speech. “We salute and demand the freedom of Bilal Kayed…who was scheduled to be released on June 13th after 14 and one-half years of imprisonment. Instead of being released, he was ordered to six extra months of adminsitratioe detention without charge or trial…Bilal Kayed has launched an open hunger strike demanding his freedom. This illegal Israeli order of administrative detention is seen as an attempt to set a precedent of the future indefinite detention of Palestinian prisoners after the completion of their sentence.”
She linked the attack on Kayed and fellow Palestinian prisoners to the imprisonment of Georges Ibrahim Abdallah, Lebanese Arab struggler for Palestine, imprisoned in French jails for 33 years, demanding his immediate release.
“I urge you to speak up, to resist this occupation, and support the steadfastness of Palestinians, support their resistance, in any form that is possible. I urge you to support BDS – boycott, divestment, and sanctions against Israel. This is the least we can do here in Canada,” said Shoufani, closing with a rousing chant, “From the river to the sea, Palestine will be free!”
Shoufani was defended after being suspended with pay by her Toronto-area Catholic school board by her trade union, the Ontario English Catholic Teachers’ Association. Union activists, Palestine solidarity organizers, professors and organizers collectively spoke out in support of Shoufani and against the attacks from right-wing organizations attempting to silence her and force her from her teaching position.
The attack on Shoufani has come in the context of ongoing attacks on freedom of speech about Palestine in Canada, including attempts to legislate against BDS and parliamentary resolutions denouncing boycott campaigns. This comes amid an ongoing, relentlessly pro-Zionist policy pursued by the Liberal government under Justin Trudeau, continuing the notoriously anti-Palestinian policy of Conservative Stephen Harper. Canadian support for Israeli occupation didn’t begin with Harper, but dates back to the Balfour Declaration and Lester Pearson’s recommendation to the United Nations to create the Israeli state. This role has always been distinctly related to the Canadian state’s own settler colonial nature, based on the continuing dispossession and genocide of Indigenous peoples.
Recently, Niki Ashton, a leading candidate for the leadership of the New Democratic Party (NDP) in Canada, was attacked by B’nai Brith and other pro-apartheid organizations for participating in a rally commemorating the Nakba and in support of Palestinian political prisoners.
In particular, right-wing Zionist organizations attacked Ashton for speaking in front of a sign urging freedom for imprisoned Palestinian leader Ahmad Sa’adat, the General Secretaty of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine. Following the attacks, rather than backing down, Ashton reiterated her support for Palestinian rights and noted that it was “powerful to join many at a rally in solidarity with those on hunger strike in Palestine.” Ashton is one of the front-runners in the NDP leadership campaign and has won support from many youth and progressive voices.
Samidoun Palestinian Prisoner Solidarity Network salutes Nadia Shoufani and all of those involved in the campaign to defend her right to speak and right to teach. Her clear and principled voice in defense of Palestinian rights and freedom – and the struggle of Palestinian prisoners in particular – is one that cannot be silenced. As she noted, “Our fight for justice and a free Palestine will not be over and the path ahead will always have obstacles and difficulties, but as long as we believe in a cause so embedded in us, we will persevere! No such attacks will stop us, nor will they intimidate or silence us. On the contrary this will make us stronger believers in our fight for justice and freedom. We will never be silent until we win and justice prevails!”