On May 14, over 35,000 Gazans protested along the border as they had done for the past six weeks leading up to Naqba Day (the day that Palestinians commemorate the 700,000+ Arabs that either left or were expelled from Israel in 1948). What set this protest apart from previous protests was the sheer level of carnage that resulted, with 58 Palestinians killed (including two teenage boys aged 14 and 16) and roughly 2,700 injured.
So much has already been written about the nature of the protests and what actually took place on the ground that we don’t need another article talking about it. So for the purposes of brevity (and in order to move on to the main point of this article), I will oversimplify my position on an immensely nuanced and complex issue as follows: Hamas militants are abhorrent genocidal terrorists who don’t deserve our sympathies but journalists, medics, children and other unarmed civilians that were killed or injured during the Gaza protests do. The rest is just commentary.
Unfortunately, there is a Canadian connection to the tragedy in Gaza. Dr. Tarek Loubani, a Canadian physician from London, Ontario, was shot by an Israeli sniper in both of his legs. He was one of 18 paramedics that were injured in Gaza. Sadly, the misfortune doesn’t end there. The paramedic that came to Dr. Loubani’s aid, Musa Abuhassanin, was shot in the chest by an Israeli sniper and died. It’s important to note that Dr. Loubani was clearly marked as a medic, with the doctor claiming that he was wearing “full hospital greens.” Photos that were posted by the CBC back up his statements. Moreover, in the photos all of the Palestinian paramedics are clearly marked in fluorescent orange vests and associated medical garb. In an interview with the CBC, Dr. Loubani claims that, just before being shot, he wasn’t near any violent protestors and there was no smoke or tear gas near him so as to obscure the vision of the sniper that fired the shot. According to Dr. Loubani, at the time there was actually a lull at the scene of the protest.
Dr. Loubani further stated that “It’s unfortunate because we, as a medical team, always hope for and expect some protection. We’re not there politically. We just want to make sure that if people get into trouble, we’re there to help them.”
This brings me to the purpose of my article. Following the news of Dr. Loubani’s injury, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau released the following statement:
“Canada deplores and is gravely concerned by the violence in the Gaza Strip that has led to a tragic loss of life and injured countless people. We are appalled that Dr. Tarek Loubani, a Canadian citizen, is among the wounded – along with so many unarmed people, including civilians, members of the media, first responders, and children. We are doing everything we can to assist Dr. Loubani and his family, and to determine how a Canadian citizen came to be injured. We are engaging with Israeli officials to get to the bottom of these events. Reported use of excessive force and live ammunition is inexcusable. It is imperative we establish the facts of what is happening in Gaza. Canada calls for an immediate independent investigation to thoroughly examine the facts on the ground – including any incitement, violence, and the excessive use of force. Canada stands ready to assist in such an endeavour. We will work closely with our international partners and through international institutions to address this serious situation.”
Could this statement have been more balanced through mentioning the word “Hamas”? Sure. But ultimately, Prime Minister Trudeau isn’t saying anything controversial. Everyone should deplore violence whenever it occurs and he has every right to be appalled that a citizen of the country he leads was wounded while providing medical care in a civilian capacity. Furthermore, calling for an independent inquiry is not a one-sided condemnation of Israel, it’s a request for more information and accountability, where those who have committed grave wrongs can be held responsible – something that everyone should support.
Despite the innocuous nature of his statement, on May 16, the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs (CIJA) – Canada’s only Israel lobby – released a statement that lambasted Trudeau and encouraged Canadian Jews en masse to email the prime minister’s office expressing their deep disappointment. They also stated that they had requested a meeting with the prime minister to convey the Jewish community’s concerns about this issue, signifying that they represent the unified voice of the Canadian Jewish Community. Interestingly enough, there was no mention of Dr. Loubani in their statement but they did include the cliché that “Hamas has left Israel no choice but to use [lethal] force to protect the tens of thousands of Israelis who live close to Gaza” as if to insinuate that Hamas forced Israel to shoot an unarmed doctor that was nowhere near the violence.
In any case, CIJA succeeded in causing quite the stir because for the last week of Question Period (including as recently as May 23), the Leader of the Opposition, Andrew Scheer, rose in Parliament to question why Prime Minister Trudeau isn’t supporting our great friend and ally, the State of Israel. At first Trudeau stated that of course Canada condemns Hamas, Canada is a friend of Israel and support for Israel shouldn’t be a partisan domestic issue but as the questions kept coming, you could see Trudeau becoming both confused and agitated. Finally, Trudeau got up and shouted that “any time a foreign military’s sniper shoots a Canadian civilian, we will have questions about that and ask to know what happened!”
The brazen support that Andrew Scheer’s line of questioning has received from CIJA and the organized Canadian Jewish Community only fuels the anti-Semitic notion that Jews living in Canada suffer from dual loyalty and are “Israel-firsters.” What’s an “Israel-firster,” you ask?
When the State of Israel was first being established, there were murmurs among the anti-Semitic underground that you simply couldn’t trust the Jews living in your country because they would always be more loyal to Israel than to the country whose passport they carry. After all, Jews are a tribal people, why would they not feel a greater connection to a nation dedicated to their well-being than the one they currently reside in? So obviously, any Jew residing outside of Israel must be an “Israel-firster.”
This sickening notion of dual loyalty was rapidly condemned by most people of good conscience who were quick to do away with the image of conniving Jews who were actively rooting for a foreign power over their home country. But in recent years the slur has emerged once again.
On May 14, Canadian Jews had an unprecedented opportunity to show that the notion of dual loyalty is an anti-Semitic myth but we dropped the ball. The organizations that claim to speak for us failed us and by doing so, told the Canadian public that when it comes to choosing between Canada and Israel, Canadian Jews will choose Israel even when Israel is so clearly in the wrong. This was a clear cut incident that couldn’t have been easier to condemn because while the protests in Gaza as a whole weren’t black and white, this specific incident was; medics should never be shot. It’s never justified to shoot journalists, medics and unarmed civilians (especially with live rounds) and rather than clearly condemn this, we’ve taken a mixed approach of ignoring the issue altogether or doubling down on the classic talking point of “it’s all Hamas’ fault.” But playing the “Hamas card” is such an oversimplification.
It doesn’t matter if the shootings of the aforementioned individuals were accidental or on purpose, ultimately, the group that fired the shots must be held accountable, especially when it has happened at such a frequent rate. And if we’re not going to hold them to account, we should at least not give them a free pass by defending their actions.
For whatever reason, it seems that we’ve been presented with a false dichotomy. There’s no reason why we can’t support Israel’s right to defend its border from legitimate threats from Hamas while also deploring the use of live ammunition on non-violent protestors and civilians of a protected status like journalists and medics.
The events of the past two weeks have left me perplexed, frustrated and embarrassed, not because of Israel’s actions but because of Canadian Jewish organizations defending Israel’s actions at the expense of human decency and their own country.
When did being “pro-Israel” mean defending everything Israel does? When did being “pro-Israel” mean becoming interns in the IDF’s PR department? When did being “pro-Israel” mean defaming journalists, medics and children to justify Israel’s use of lethal force?
The sheer number of comments made by Canadian Jews that I’ve seen attacking Dr. Loubani is absolutely mind numbing.
“What was a Canadian doctor doing in Gaza in the first place?”
“It’s unfortunate that a doctor was injured but Hamas must have been using him as a human shield.”
“He was obviously engaged in violence or was trying to breach the border if he was shot.”
“He’s probably a member of Hamas.”
“He wasn’t shot! This is just another typical stint from Pallywood!”
Perhaps the most depressing part of all of this is that the same people who parrot the above talking points would never even consider uttering such nonsense if a Canadian medic was shot by literally any other country’s military. They would be rightly angered that a Canadian civilian, who was engaged in the pursuit of saving lives, was shot by a foreign country’s military forces and yet, somehow when that foreign country is Israel, our walls go up.
It’s especially silly because such blind support does nothing to strengthen Israel, it only threatens its democratic core and weakens our barometer of what’s right and wrong.
Canadian Jews acknowledge that no country is perfect and are more than happy to criticize Canada when it makes mistakes, so why do we treat the IDF as infallible and the Israeli government as perfect? Why are we willing to defend Israel’s military at the expense of our own prime minister?
I feel lightheaded trying to understand how our Jewish community organizations (who are supposed to represent the pinnacle of Jewish values) are bending over backwards to the point that they’re bordering on treasonous territory to defend actions that are indefensible in the name of being “pro-Israel.”
If defending the IDF’s shooting of medics and journalists is “pro-Israel,” then please, call me “anti-Israel.”