Joe Roberts

Canadian Jews won’t stay silent over Israeli extremism

Canadian Jewry won’t be silenced. (Canva)

What do we do as Jews when we mourn? We say the words of the Mourners Kaddish, praying for peace for all peoples. Today, as Israel ushers in the most extreme government in its history, that peace could not be further away, and many in the Canadian Jewish community are in a state of grief.

For many of Canada’s nearly 400,000 Jews, this moment feels like one of mourning. We look at the new Israeli government and the danger feels personal. In an 2018 Environics study, 79% of Canadian Jews expressed emotional attachment to Israel. Israel is an essential part of the tapestry of Jewish life.

We tear our sleeves, in horror over a government that stands opposed to Canadian values. In recent years, Canadians have mobilized to ban conversion therapy, demand oversight of police, and commit to reconciliation with Indigenous peoples. In contrast, Netanyahu’s new government cobbles together a Who’s Who of Israel’s most prominent homophobes, settlers, and racists.

We say Vidui — we have done wrong — as we stand at the bedside of Israel’s fragile democracy, overwhelmed by Netanyahu’s dystopian choice of coalition partners. Avi Moaz, an outspoken opponent of LGBTQ rights, has been granted special authority over Israel’s educational curriculum. Bezalel Smotrich, tapped to take the helm at the Ministry of Finance, has committed to fighting human rights organizations saying they are “an existential threat”.

Perhaps most worrying is Itamar Ben Gvir, an acolyte of the infamous Meir Kahane. Kahane was barred from Israeli politics under Israel’s Basic Law which disallows political “incitement of racism.” Kahane was well known for calling Arabs “dogs” and labeling Palestinians “a cancer spreading in our midst.”

Now Kahane’s disciple, Ben Gvir, has been selected by Netanyahu to oversee border security — the very same borders that Palestinian Arabs rely on to access Israel for work and the necessities of daily life. For years, Ben Gvir proudly hung a portrait of Baruch Goldstein in his living room — a terrorist who gunned down 29 innocent Palestinians in cold blood.

At this time of deep anguish, where are our community leaders? In both the United States and the United Kingdom, major Jewish organizations have criticized the inclusion of anti-Arab racists in the new Israeli government. Here in Canada, our legacy institutions have largely stayed silent. Shimon Fogel, President of the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs, has told our community “it would be a mistake to pre-judge” and that “we are not Israelis and we don’t get to vote.”

This kind of gaslighting makes many Canadian Jews feel invisible. It is true that Jewish Canadians do not get to vote in Israeli elections, but neither are we condemned to be silent bystanders. Fogel’s own institution purports to be the voice of Jewish Canadians. Yet, at this moment of incredible anxiety for our community, as we are faced with the most existentially dangerous government in the nation’s history, they are selectively mute. What goes unsaid speaks volumes.

It is understandable when members of the Canadian Jewish community worry about publicly criticizing Israel’s government. In today’s social media environment, it’s easy for a well-intentioned criticism to get taken out of context by antisemities. Yet leadership calls for courage, and Canadian Jews deserve leadership that will give voice to our deeply held values. As we say upon a person’s passing, “Blessed is the judge of truth,” so let’s be truthful — this government is dangerous.

As leaders of JSpace Canada, we will speak out against this far-right Israeli government. We will urge Canadian government officials and community leaders not to meet with Bezalel Smotrich, Itamar Ben Gvir, or Avi Moaz. As Canadians, we must reiterate our support for the two-state solution and ensure that this policy is reflected in our maps, our investments, and our public statements. Most of all, we must support the Israelis and Palestinians on the ground who will face the brunt of persecution from this government, including: LGBTQ communities, human rights activists, and Palestinian youth.

We will speak out over these attacks on Israeli democracy, because we hold dear the dream of an Israel that embodies Jewish values. We share our grief as an expression of our love for the Jewish people. We are committed to realizing an Israel that is aligned with the values of Canadian Jewry — until then we will continue to speak out.

Joe Roberts & Michael Morgenthau
Board of Directors, JSpaceCanada

About JSpaceCanada
JSpaceCanada is the home for Canadian Jews who are deeply committed to self-determination for Jews and Palestinians. Our organization formed because voices like ours need to be louder. As stakeholders in Israel, we believe that Canadian Jews have a role to play in ensuring Israel’s future as a democratic state. For this to happen, we must be able to engage critically in conversations about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

JSpaceCanada’s vision is self-determination for the Jewish and Palestinian peoples, championed by the Canadian Jewish community.

Learn more about JSpaceCanada

Michael Morgenthau serves as Vice Chair of JSpaceCanada and is passionate about mobilizing Canada’s progressive Jewish community. Michael has been involved with the Canadian Jewish community in a variety of roles including as a former CJPAC fellowship alumni co-chair and as a board member of Aleph Canada. Michael is a non-practicing lawyer, with both public and private sector litigation experience on cases involving complex institutional abuse. He is the founder of a start-up LSAT tutoring company and provides pro-bono tutoring to prospective Indigenous law students.

Joe Roberts is veteran political strategist in both the US and Canada and member of the Board of Directors of JSpaceCanada, the leading voice of progressive Canadian Jewry. He also serves as Executive Director of the Centre for Canadian Progress, Canada’s only democratic socialist public policy think tank. He has spent the last 10 years in executive positions in the Jewish Federation system and calls Cobourg, Ontario home.

About the Author
Joe Roberts is a foreign policy analyst with a focus on MENA, a veteran political strategist in both the US and Canada, Board Chair of JSpaceCanada—the pro-Israel, pro-peace, pro-democracy voice of Canadian Jewry, and Chair of Meretz Canada. Roberts spent 10 years in executive positions in the Jewish Federation system across North America. He has completed studies at the University of Alaska-Fairbanks, London School of Economics and Political Science, and the Harvard Kennedy School.
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