An open letter published online Monday, signed by just over 440 members – so far – of Canada’s legal community is calling any retaliation against lawyers and law students expressing support for Palestinian liberation a “new McCarthyism.”
“This chilling effect on freedom of expression and academic freedom has the hallmarks of a new McCarthyism,” says the letter titled Open Letter to the Legal Community on Pro-Palestine Speech.
“A failure of those of us in the legal profession to voice our opposition to this conduct will only accelerate the erosion of the very protections that make dissent – and therefore democracy – possible. “
Monday’s letter says: “We reject the notion that it is antisemitic, hateful, or illegitimate to contextualize the October 7th, 2023 attack. Similarly, we reject the notion that it is antisemitic, hateful, or illegitimate to express support for Palestinians in the face of ongoing Israeli apartheid and genocide. This is legitimate Charter-protected political expression.”
The letter says it’s been published as a response to “pervasive repression of speech and scholarship on Palestinian liberation. Law students and lawyers are being threatened with academic sanctions and job loss for advocating against Israel’s atrocities in Palestine.”
After students from TMU’s Lincoln Alexander School of Law signed an open letter (now private) on Oct. 20 declaring “unequivocal support” for Palestinians and “all forms of Palestinian resistance,” the law school issued a statement condemning “the sentiments of antisemitism and intolerance expressed in this message.”
Monday’s letter says it’s “deeply concerned by the growing chorus of statements from lawyers, law firms and law schools that are conflating expressions of solidarity with Palestinians and criticism of the State of Israel as antisemitic and conduct unworthy of learning or practicing law.”
Among the many actions the letter cites are lawyers using social media to blacklist law students and lawyers who have voiced support for Palestine; and lawyers bullying others who have voiced support for Palestine or attended demonstrations in support of Palestine, “calling them terrorists and antisemites.”
The letter also says “a disproportionate number” of lawyers being bullied, “are junior members of the bar, racialized, and/or Muslim,” and ends with the promise to “not to discriminate against anyone for speaking out for justice and freedom for Palestinians. We will mentor you. We will support you. We are proud to call you colleagues.”
On X, formerly Twitter, the open letter received lots of reaction.
Posted @71BlueRoman, who identifies as physician Nicholas Marchi MD: “WOW! Unbelievable! This is the canary in the coal mine that a BIG FIGHT is on our doorstep.”
Added @TrevorJain, who says he’s an emergency doctor on the East coast: “Horrific. Freedom (of) expresson is not freedom to express hate.’