President Rivlin’s reveries

Israeli President Reuven Rivlin is visiting Canada. He came to be part of a crowd singing Matishyahu’s popular song “One Day” at an event  this Tuesday hosted by the United Jewish Appeal Federation of Toronto and Israel Bonds Canada featuring the social-music initiative Koolulam.

As protocol requires, on his way to Toronto, on Monday he stopped in Ottawa for a courtesy visit with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.

I have to admit that ever since he strongly objected to the nation-state law duly enacted by the Knesset, I don’t think much of him.

But his congratulary comments to the Prime Minister were something else, save and except  for the Canadian Parliament’s decision to freeze its relations with Iran and to declare Islam Revolutionary Guard a terrorist organisation.

Rivlin thanked Trudeau for fighting anti-Semitism and other forms of hatred, when In fact, he has done practically nothing worth mentioning about anti-Semitism, except, to periodically condemn it, when absolutely necessary. As to his fighting other kinds of hatred, that’s altogether another  sad story.

As to his fighting the anti-Israel BDS movement in Canada, here are the facts:

During the 2015 general federal election that brought Trudeau to power, he ran an ad in the Canadian Jewish News which, in part, read:The Liberal Part of Canada believes that…..we must oppose Boycott, Divest and Sanction campaigns in our communities and continue to speak out forcefully against them….I am opposed to the BDS movement. I think it’s an example of the new form of anti-Semitism in the world…an example of the three “D’s”: demonization of Israel, deligitimisation of Israel, and a double -standard applied toward Israel.

On other occasions he said: The BDS movement has no place on Canadian campuses. And he repeatedly said enough is enough.

After he won the election , he was nowhere to be seen, heard or to be read on the subject.

On February 18, 2016, two members of the Conservative Party in Parliament decided that it was time to do something about the BDS movement in Canada and tabled their anti-BDS motion fully expecting that the leaders of both of the  other two major parties would put their money where their mouths are and vote swiftly for the motion. They were in for a big surprise. The motion read:That, given Canada and Israel share a long history of friendship as well as economic and diplomatic relations, the House [1] reject the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement, which promotes the demonization and delegitimization of the State of Israel, and [2] call upon the government to condemn any and all attempts by Canadian organizations, groups or individuals to promote the BDS movement here at home and abroad.

During the ensuing debate on the motion, a leading  member of the Conservative Party  told the House of Commons:….The boycott, divest, sanction campaigners claim it to be a human rights movement. In fact it is nothing more than a thinly disguised, multi-dimensional hate campaign. On the one hand …it seeks to delegitimize and demonize Israel with hateful, hypocritical anti-Semitic attacks .On the other hand, on Canadian university and college campuses, the BDS movement focuses the new anti-Semitism on pro-Israel and Jewish students, disrupting with hate what should be a happy, uplifting student experience.

Trudeau failed to show up on the day when the motion was to be argued . Instead, Mr. Dion, the Minister of External Affairs led the debate from the government benches.

In light of the strong statements of the Prime Minister during the election campaign, one would have thought that Mr.Dion would follow suit.

After  informing the House, that the Liberals would vote in favour of the motion, he then proceeded, for all intents and purposes, to speak against the motion by giving a perfect demonstration of the art of speaking on both sides of the mouth or, as my Indigenous brethren would sayhe spoke with a forked tongue.

He first paid homage to the Canadian Jewish community beginning with an appropriate mea culpa about the ill- treatment of Jews in Canada before, during and for a time, after World War II and the government’s refusal to give sanctuary to Jewish refugees.

He praised the contributions of the community to Canada and. then proceeded to describe Canada as a close ally and a strong friend of Israel since 1948 and the relationship between the two countries as broad and deep. He specifically referred to the mutually beneficial exchanges of scientific research and related joint endeavours and put some emphasis on the importance of trade between the two countries and mentioned the free- trade agreement  describing it in highly favourable terms the importance and the benefits of these endeavours for Canada .

Likewise, Mr. Dion paid his diplomatic dues to the Palestinian Authority (PA) and claimed that Canada is an important partner of the P.A. He said: Our development and humanitarian assistance to the Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza address the immediate needs of the Palestinian people. Contrary to all reliable evidence, he claimed that This helps to lay the groundwork for the viable, democratic and secure Palestinian state.

But when Mr. Dion turned to the intent, substance, effect and merits of the motion, his tongue spliced . The Minister

(a) accused the Conservatives of bad faith and divisive tactics by intoruducing the motion;                                                                                                                                                  (b) asserted that  the motion was divisive;                                                                                   (c) expressed  some disagreement with the way the  motion was framed;

(d) ) save for a  single reference to “some hate-filled extremists, racists and anti-Semites … [about whom he said] “We must strongly condemn those individuals”;

he  ignored the well- documented evidence of the serious harm caused by the BDS movement not only in Canada  but also  to the economy  of the Palestinians;                             (e) paid barely  lip service to the adverse impact of the BDS movement on the Jewish college and university students with a one liner and  then ;

(f) despite the fact that  during the debate members of  his party and of the two other major parties  kept speaking about  the serious  problems  experienced  by Jewish and pro-Israeli students on Canadian campuses from coast to coast  caused by the BDS movement and its supporters ; he reduced  the BDS movement  to a mere aggregate of individual supporters, and

(g) in effect, rejected the second part of the motion  by re-framing it by reference to the individual supporters of the movement with sparse reference to organizations.

Mr. Dion stated, time and again, that his opposition to the BDS movement is based on the facts that                                                                                                                       (a) it is not the right solution to the problem ;                                                                     (b) it will not lead to a peace agreement, and                                                                                    (c) its supporters are simply misguided in thinking that the BDS will bring about the realisation of the two-state solution even though the movement’s directing minds and the supporters who think along the same lines are clearly not interested at all in that solution.

In a disingenuous  display of wilful ignorance of the well-established facts about the nature of the  BDS mouvement and the despicable  and at times criminal behaviour  of its supporters on campuses and elsewhere and its ultimate goal to destroy Israel, the Minister  insisted  again and again that save for some individuals,  most of the people  in  the movement  including many organizations are acting in good faith, believe that the BDS is the way to go in order to get Israel to reach a peace agreement with the PA based on the two-state formula.(Italics mine).

In an attempt to convince the House of the wisdom of his argument, Mr. Dion could not resist the temptation of pointing out that even some Jewish people were among those who in good faith shared this belief. (Italics mine) Obviously, Mr. Dion did not know much about  the Jewish Diaspora’s so-called  “progressives”, “lefties” or “liberals”, who are more accurately  known in the  Canadian Jewish community as meshuggeneh (English word of Yiddish originCrazy; senseless. One who is crazy).

So, what then did the government propose in response to the motion? How did the Minister of Foreign Affairs plan to actively combat the pernicious new forms of anti-Semitism [BDS] that are attacking the very existence and legitimacy of the State of Israel? How will he prevent people from being misled by entities that have bad intentions?

The response was: The direction we must take is to launch a number of programs that are effective in combatting racism and developing tolerance, openness and acceptance in Canada”. However, it is important to avoid painting everyone with the same brush, to avoid driving wedges all over the place with indiscriminate condemnations. One thing we can do is identify anti-Semitism and separate this anti-Semitism from legitimate discourse in which we are looking to find solutions and we can have good-natured disagreements…We will be there to fight any attempt to divide Canadians and to put Canadians in good faith in the same bag with people who are animated by hatred and racism….The first way to fight racism is to avoid amalgamation [of these two groups of people].

So at the end of the day, Mr. Dion on behalf of his government reinvented the BDS movement as comprising “some” hate filled- extremists among most of its supporters who in good faith advocate ultimately the mass capital unishment of Israel, i.e. its demonisation, delegitimisation  and ultimately its destruction.(Italics mine)

This is certainly not how the Prime Minister characterised the BDS movement and linked it to anti-Semitism on the nation’s campuses.

Needless to say, at the end of the day, the government did absolutely nothing about the BDS movement in Canada  and on university campuses where the overall situation is now  worse than it was in early February 2016 or  in anywhere else for that matter.

If anything the Foreign Minister’s utterances during the debate contributed to the legitimisation of the BDS  mouvement and in the process  provided an impetus, if one was needed, to the spread of  anti-Semitism in Canada under the guise of BDS advocacy.

In January  of this year, Trudeau blamed the BDS movement this way : ‘It is not right to discriminate or to make someone feel unsafe on campus because of  their religion, and unfortunately, the BDS movement is often linked to those kinds of frames’.

And what if BDS was not linked to such  activities on campus ?

More recently, at a public meeting, a member of the audience asked him to repudiate his stance on BDS presumably based on the Liberal’s vote on the Conservative motion.In response the Prime Minister went on a lengthy monologue  to justify his opposition to the BDS movement. That is the least he could have done considering the facts that his government had introduced and was in the process of piloting through Parliament, the legislation to formalise the new and improved Free Trade Agreement Canada  signed with Israel.

Ah well, I verily hope that the next time President Rivlin meets our Prime Minister, he will do better than thanking him for no reason on  two out of three subjects he broached; that is, if there anything,  worth thanking him for.

About the Author
Doğan Akman was born and schooled in Istanbul, Turkey. Upon his graduation from Lycee St. Michel, he immigrated to Canada with his family. In Canada, he taught university in sociology-criminology and social welfare policy and published some articles in criminology journals After a stint as a Judge of the Provincial Court (criminal and family divisions) of the Province of Newfoundland and Labrador, he joined the Federal Department of Justice working first as a Crown prosecutor, and then switching to civil litigation and specialising in aboriginal law. Since his retirement he has published articles in Sephardic Horizons and e-Sefarad and in an anthology edited by Rifat Bali titled This is My New Homeland and published in Istanbul.