Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Have Canadians Become Armchair Warriors?

There was a recent Opinion piece in the Toronto Star, by Dow Marmur, rabbi emeritus at Toronto's Holy Blossom Temple, discussing the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Marmur supports a two-state solution, as do I, and his discussion centers on one man's attempt to reach out to both sides.

But his references to 'bystanders', and suggestion that "Canadians seem determined to fight it out to the last Israeli or the last Palestinian – of course, from the comfort and security of their own homes." I find very troubling.

It's like we no longer care and as a result have given our government free rein to make all major decisions for us, without our input. WE'VE GOT TO START PAYING ATTENTION or we're going to be in serious trouble.

Fuelling or dousing the flames?
Toronto Opinion
August 10, 2009 04:30 AM
Dow Marmur

Bystanders in conflicts, in the international arena no less than in schoolyards, can either fuel flames or help douse them. Though fuelling seems to come easier to most people, occasionally someone with imagination will lower the temperature and promote peace.

Leonard Cohen, the celebrated Canadian poet and singer, is one of them. As part of his current world tour he wanted to perform for both Jews and Palestinians in the land they share.

However, the concert in Ramallah, the present capital of the Palestinian Authority, had to be cancelled, but the 47,000 tickets for the event on Sept. 24 in Ramat Gan in Israel have already been sold.

Cohen wished to appear before both Israelis and Palestinians as a contribution to dousing flames. He's said to be disappointed that he cannot do so in Ramallah. To make up for it, he and his team intend to donate the income from the Ramat Gan concert to organizations working for Israeli-Palestinian reconciliation. In this way he hopes to lower the temperature a little in the ongoing conflict.

One of the recipients will be a fund that provides financial support for organizations and individuals working in Israel and the Palestinian Authority with families that have lost members in the many wars.
Determined to give some meaning to their pain, bereaved Israeli and Palestinian parents have dedicated themselves to the quest for peace in the hope of sparing others their agony.

The moving spirit is Yitzhak Frankenthal, an Orthodox Israeli Jew whose 19-year-old son Arik was killed by three members of Hamas. Instead of clamouring for revenge, he turned to then prime minister Yitzhak Rabin – later himself the victim of a terrorist assassination by one of his own people – urging him to make peace with the Palestinians. Rabin, a former army chief of staff, is said to have been very moved by the plea. He invited Frankenthal to the signing ceremony of the Oslo peace accords in 1993.

Frankenthal and Cohen may be separated by their religious practices, but they're together in their commitment to Jewish teachings. Speaking at a rally in Tel Aviv, Frankenthal declared that "ethics has to be free of vengefulness and rashness," that it's "blatantly unethical to wreak vengeance upon innocent bystanders" and that it's "supremely ethical to prevent the death of any human being." By throwing his support behind Frankenthal and the many Palestinians and Israelis who work with him, Cohen is showing us what should be done by bystanders.

As has become fashionable among some ostensibly well-meaning visitors to the region, Cohen could have accused one side and clamour for its humiliation, if not eradication. Instead, he has chosen to affirm that, though few may be guilty, all are responsible, including those who live as far away from the action as Canada.

Cohen's commitment to Israel – he performed for the Israel Defense Forces in the 1973 Yom Kippur War – hasn't made him indifferent to the plight of Palestinians. His support of and loyalty to both sides has prompted him to make a gesture that, whatever the monetary benefits, reminds us of the imperative to transcend boundaries in an effort to turn enemies into allies.

Cohen has many allies on both sides of the Israeli-Palestinian divide. It is, however, not quite clear whether he'd have the same response in this country where, judging by media reports, many Canadians seem determined to fight it out to the last Israeli or the last Palestinian – of course, from the comfort and security of their own homes.

This is why I get so angry when it is suggested to me that any criticism of Israel is anti-Semite. That's so ridiculous that I don't even know how to address it. Where do you start from a statement like that. You can hate Brazil nuts without hating Brazil, and you can certainly hate the killing of innocent children without hating Israel or Palestine.

Jason Kenney and his crew may want to take away our right to oppose this war, but we are the only ones who can really give those rights away.

Wake up Canada and start paying attention to what this government is doing in our name.

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