Avi Benlolo
Avi Abraham Benlolo, Founder & Chairman, The Abraham Global Peace Initiative (AGPI)

Hope for a better tomorrow

It was a difficult week. On the global stage, horrific images of the disaster in Nepal were heart wrenching as nearly 6,200 people were killed and tens of thousands displaced. International relief could not come soon enough and how wonderful it was to see Canada and the Canadian Forces spring into action to provide assistance to the most afflicted half a world away.  Israel also jumped into action immediately, dispatching cargo planes with a field hospital and 144 medical personal and relief workers.  Democracies like Canada and Israel embody the best of humanity – when we work together to make the world a better place.

Conversely, the hypocrisy of anti-west activists, which often empowers violent groups like Hamas, is disconcerting.  While they ignore the emergency needs of people all over the world, they plan on sending another three “flotillas” to Gaza this summer.  Where are the flotillas to Syria, where millions of people have been displaced? In my testimony to Parliament recently regarding the Antiterrorism Bill (C51), I encouraged our government and the intelligence community to prevent Canadians from once again funding and supporting such flotillas, lest they be enabling terror organizations.  Indeed, the United Nations itself ruled that Israel is within its legal right to defend itself through a naval blockade.

The actions we undertake here at home can have real and serious consequence overseas. The values for which we stand – freedom, democracy and human rights – must be defended with our allies.  We have seen elsewhere that, at times, our own political leaders might not have taken into consideration the implication of the groups with whom they are associating.

This, I would like to believe, is what seems to have happened (according to reports) with Mississauga Mayor Bonnie Crombie, who attended a program at Palestine House called “Land Day” – an annual event that aims to delegitimize Israel and reinforce many of the defamatory accusations leveled against the nation. More significantly, the event is one of many that aims to drive a wedge between the Arab and Jewish citizens of Israel.  According to reports, one speaker at the event Crombie attended referred to Israel as a “cancerous tumour” and praised terrorists and suicide bombers.

Political leaders at all levels can play a responsible role in furthering peace in the Middle East.  While they must safeguard our fundamental principles (rights and democracy) and invoke them at every opportunity, they can reiterate Canada’s commitment to a peaceful resolution.  We have now contacted Mayor Crombie’s office on several occasions to verify this information and seek clarification. However, our calls have not been returned at the time of this writing.

As the academic year comes to a close, the struggle against hate persists as FSWC addresses issues of antisemitic and anti-Zionist hate on university campuses. Our efforts are focused in particular on a mural promoting anti-Israel violence hung in the Student Centre at York University, and on confronting extreme anti-Israel bias in the McGill Daily student newspaper.  With this in mind, we have been working to empower and strengthen students on campus to counter the toxic environment.  Our newly established legal department, with the pro-bono assistance of lawyers in our community, has begun building tools to expose the lies, hate and deceit at some universities.

In our effort to support university students, we plan on providing them more tools and more resources to exercise not only social action on campus, but their own learning and capacity to express our values. As a community we should be doing more to strengthen the activism of the next generation.  They will inevitably be our leaders and our guardians in the future.  Friends of Simon Wiesesnthal Center’s (FSWC) Student Ambassador Jordana Lebowitz’s reports on our behalf – from the trial of Nazi war criminal Oskar Groening in Germany – have not only been heart wrenching for showing us both the pain and relief the trial have offered Holocaust survivors, but they has also given us a window of hope about the strength and pride of our young leaders as they take their place in the community. Jordana’s concluding words in her last dispatch (see story below) unpack the core of Judaism’s quest for Tikkun Olam:

… We must transform suffering into meaning so that we may take these tools and build a better tomorrow. For those whose lives were taken and those whose lives were burdened. For those whose voices were lost and those who are desperate to be heard. For those who came before us and those that are yet to follow. We are the voice that will echo through the hallways of history and shape the patterns of reality itself.”

It is this ongoing struggle that defines our challenges today.  As we prepare to mark Victory Day this week, on the 70th anniversary of the capitulation of Nazi Germany, we are overcome with emotion and memory of the lives lost and the freedoms gained.  Memories are short, however, and freedom is not absolute.  Our resolve against the forces of hatred and our strength to counter untruths, hypocrisy and ignorance must be unwavering.  As Chris Hadfield said at FSWC’s Freedom Day event in 2013, from space, the world is beautiful and peaceful.  There are no conflicts.  Indeed, that should be our dream for humanity.

About the Author
Avi Abraham Benlolo is the Founder and Chairman of The Abraham Global Peace Initiative (AGPI) He has been described as the nation's most prominent and noted expert in Holocaust studies, in countering Antisemitism and promoting human rights.