Richard Robertson
Academic, Writer, Advocate.

Am Israel Chai, Eh?

It is time for Canadian Jews to universally support the state of Israel. No longer can political views be used as justification for apathetic inaction or worse for Jewish contributions to the defamation of the State of Israel. Hebraic nationalists may have shaped modern Israeli ideology, but they did not construct the notion of Zionism. It is easy to forget that Zionism emerged as a reaction to the failures of diasporic nationalism. They reality was that Jewish populations were persecuted and rejected as citizens by countries throughout the globe and simply resigned themselves to the fact that the only way to become accepted as  Jewish citizens was to create their own Jewish nation state.

The modern Canadian Jewry has been vested with a sense of security in this county. It has lead to assimilation and to a disconnect between Canadians and the Jewish state. One that has even led Canadian Jews to feel forthright in their ability to criticize Israel as members of another nation. It is easy, with all the privileges and esteem that comes with being Canadian, to forget that despite the Charter of Rights and Freedoms and underneath the veil of the cultural mosaic is a nation that itself is historically not immune to anti-Semitism. It is painful to recognize that in such a progressive nation, there have been instances of profound opposition towards adherents of the Jewish faith. Worse, at a time when Canada appears to be further enhancing its conception as a nation of how substantial equality and proactive human rights should be manifested, it appears as if these progressive measures have once again failed to recognize the Canadian Jewry as the vulnerable minority that they are. We may not be Israeli by passport, but we will always be welcome in Ha Eretz in a way that we never will be any where else in the world.

In a year in which ethnic, racial, and religious hatred were vigorously confronted both domestically and globally, anti-Semitic incidents rose in Canada. Canadian human rights organizations may have had a banner year, but so to did those who vilify the nation’s Jews solely for their religious creed. And yet, Canadian Jews, many of whom are active amongst the progressive and left wing organizations that were critical to the paradigm shifts in social resistance experienced globally this year, failed to use their voices to defend their people and to encourage a uniform confronting of anti-Semitism in the same fashion in which those of racial minorities and refugee populations have recently been championed. Whether it is a result of shame or due to mistaking financial and social privilege as inoculations against systemic abuse, this is simply unacceptable.

All the progress accomplished by grass roots activists and by government actors this year has been nothing but commendable, but what is undeniable is the lack of a universal championing for the Jewish minority by the united left and by Jewish participants in such movements. The Canadian left has had a long history of vilifying the State of Israel, laughably accusing the Israeli government of participating in a form of apartheid against the Palestinian peoples. Which comes off as ironic and comical when one recalls that Canadian history, including a plethora of instances in the 20th and even 21st century, is mired with narratives of genocide, racial othering, head taxes, and unconstitutional imprisonments and deportations.

Even more troubling than the anti-Semitic pot shots shrouded in a guise of humanitarian activism is the the lack of reaction from the general Jewish population. Outside of those who fill critical roles as advocates for the Jewish population and the State of Israel in Canada, the typical Canadian Jew is either unconcerned with or naively in agreement with such sentiments. This is a luxury that we as Canada’s Jewish population have demonstrably not been afforded.

We have attained the stability and security of being residents of an incredibly accomplished and modern nation state, but as Jews it has been made clear that we will never truly be accepted into the national fabric. Not without assimilating or at the very least denouncing any form of linkage to Israel, to the Jewish state. That in and of itself, in a country with constitutionally protected rights to religious freedoms and subsidized Catholic education, is a tragic failing.

Recently, as the Israeli state works tirelessly to improve and normalize its relations with the its Arab and Muslim neighbors, Canadian politicians; elected members of the federal parliament, are once again launching unnecessary attacks against the Jewish state for its treatment of its minority populations. Two members of the New Democratic Party’s caucus, Charlie Angus (Timmins-James Bay) and Leah Gazan (Winnipeg Center), chose to give credence the an article in The Guardian that accused Israel of denying the COVID -19 vaccine to the Palestinian peoples.

This was an incredibly thoughtless move on the parts of Angus and Gazan. The Guardian has been known to publish anti-Semitic contributions, decreeing that they are merely critical of Israel and not of the greater world Jewry. However, the routine actions of the global populace, throughout modern history, have made Israel synonymous with Judaism and vice versa. The state of Israel has even double downed on and accepted such a responsibility. In recent years, Isreali politicians have gone as far as adopting legislation in the Knesset that formally endorses the notion of Israel as the Jewish state. It is actually pathetic that in a world full of Christian and Islamic republics and the damn Vatican that the idea is so divisive. None the less, hiding behind the shield of being anti-Zionist and not admitting to symbiotically being anti-Semitic is cowardly. There’s a blue star of David on Israel’s flag for goodness sake.  It’s like looking at the Pakistani flag and questioning if the majority of the country’s population isn’t acutely invested in their Islamic faith, secular governance or not.

As a result, when Israel, the land of the Jewish people formally and informally, is unfairly attacked, all Jews must come to its aid. Let me be clear, Israel, like Canada, is far  from perfect. It is a entity run by human beings, perfection is therefore a mythical aspiration. It too has much to continue to accomplish as it works to mature and cure issues that have plagued its democratic advancement since its inception. However, when Israel is unfairly villainized as a “#apparthiedstate” by its detractors, even if they are misguided Canadian bureaucrats, they must be held accountable.

You can be a proud Canadian, but that does not remove you from your obligations as a Jew. Those obligations start with the concept of Never Again, essential to which is the perpetual assurance of the vitality of the Jewish state. Apathy towards Israel endangers the security of the entirety of the Jewish peoples. It may be uncomfortable to think in such an extreme manner, but the severe treatment of the Jews throughout modern history requires such perverse thoughts in reaction. When Israel, the Jewish nation, is challenged, all Jewish peoples are.

We can build both a stronger Canada and a more secure global Jewish community when we assure that Canadian leaders treat Israel in a manner that is fair and justified. Israel has made blunders in its dealings with the Palestinian territories, but its handling of the pandemic does not appear to have warranted the condemnations of Angus and Gazan. Further, their condemnations of Israel came at a time when Canada’s own vaccine roll out has been far from without issue and when the Canadian nation is having its own handling of minority rights during the Pandemic called into question. Rather than question why dosages were not being more rapidly administered domestically or use their exposure to highlight the abuses of privilege committed by their vacationing parliamentary colleagues, they chose to condemn Israel. They did not choose to condemn the draconian handling of the pandemic in the neighboring United States where record numbers of fatalities continue to mount daily or the building of detainment camps for Rohingyan refugees stranded in what appears to be a rapidly deteriorating humanitarian crisis in Bangladesh. They chose to use their esteemed platforms, during a time of unprecedented crisis, not to take logical and proportionate measures to protect their constituents, they chose to use their time and energy at this critical hour to remind their audiences that The Guardian, a British publication, thinks that Israel is involved in human rights abuses against Palestinian peoples. Unless there is a new strain of COVID-19 in the Gaza Strip that is more lethal than the rest and immune to the available vaccines, it is unfathomable to myself as a Canadian tax payer, why our politicians care what on earth is transpiring in Israel’s war against COVID-19, when Canada’s battle with the virus appears to once again be getting out of hand.

We as Canadian Jews can do better. We can be the ally to Israel abroad that we always assume and expect Israel to be for us. Israel cannot simply be a utopian ideal, the place of Bar Mitzvahs and sponsored tours for Jewish adolescents, it must be treated as what it is; the heart, soul, and strong hand of the Jewish world. When Israel is attacked, it is a stab at the most vital of our Jewish organs. Like those in our body, despite their proven durability, it is unwise to allow our most critical organs to become even threatened. Perhaps the most dangerous threat to Israel is undue criticism of the nation, itself an ambiguous and passive form of anti-Semitism. And no matter the complacency with which we are able to hang our hats throughout the globe, we as Jews must rise up and defend against such vitriol for history has made it so that whether we like it or not, we have always been and will always be the children of Israel.

About the Author
Richard Robertson was born in Toronto, Ontario, Canada and is a proud Thornhillian. He holds a Juris Doctor (Dalhousie University, 2017) and is presently a graduate student in York University's Department of History where his research focuses on the field of the Holocaust and Genocide Studies. He is a member of the Association for Canadian Jewish Studies and is presently a Research Associate at the Israel and Golda Koschitzky Center for Jewish Studies at York University.
Related Topics
Related Posts