Good Sunday Morning – May 16

Good Sunday morning!

On this lovely sunny Sunday, my thoughts and emotions are wrapped up in the dangerously escalating events in Israel and Palestine. Twice this week Paul Manly tried to get an emergency debate on the crisis, only to be stymied by some procedural hijinx – not related to trying to shut Paul down – just with that result. I used my one question in Question Period this month to ask for Canada to speak more clearly against the illegal actions of the Netanyahu government—illegal annexations, illegal settlements and illegal forced evictions.

There may be no issue in our current chaos of crises – whether suppression of human rights in the People’s Republic of China, Myanmar, or Colombia, the climate emergency, COVID, or the chronic injustice of Canada to indigenous peoples –as difficult to navigate as the Israel-Palestine conflict.

It is all too easy for criticism of the State of Israel to be heard by some as race- based hatred – anti-Semitism. And sometimes those levelling the criticism are anti-Semitic. But it is quite wrong to conflate criticism of the current political leadership of Israel with anti-Semitism.

I am so grateful for the compassion and guidance of spiritual leaders like Rabbi Joshua Corber of Beit Rayim Synagogue and School in Richmond Hill, Ont. He is filled with anxiety for family members living in Israel – but that does not eliminate his understanding of shared grief.  In a story on CBC News, he said, “What I’ve told my community is that I’m holding space in my heart for suffering and the grief that’s being experienced in Israel… And I’ve been asserting to my congregation that while critique of Israel is necessary … critique of Israel in and of itself is not tantamount to antisemitism…. One can feel empathy and compassion for the grief and the suffering for Palestinians, and that does not diminish our love and support for our friends in Israel.”

Greens must always insist on the fundamental point that Israel must be allowed peace. We must always state clearly that Israel has a right to exist and Israel has a right to defend itself.

I navigate the problem of ensuring criticism of what the Israeli government is doing from any animus toward Israel by focusing on the current government. Just as when Trump was in the White House, I held fast to the fact that I love the United States, its peoples and its lands – but not Trump.

In 1995, when Israel’s prime minister Yitzhak Rabin, the prime minister who negotiated the Oslo Accord, was assassinated by an extremist Israeli settler, it seemed that peace was assassinated with him. I love the Israel that Yitzhak Rabin exemplified. But Netanyahu is dangerous.

It seems likely to me that the recent provocations (throwing Palestinians from their homes, illegally, constantly stealing more and more Palestinian lands, so that is becomes increasingly hard to imagine what tiny bits of territory could ever constitute a safe and secure state of Palestine, even staging an attack in one of Islam’s most holy sites, the al-Asqa mosque) was deliberately provocative. To what end? Hanging on to power in a domestic political context. Netanyahu lost the last election. He cannot form government. He is facing corruption charges.  A war gives him a diversion. It strengthens his hand as the many and varied parties in Israel try to decide who will form government.

I work with the Israeli Greens and know how they oppose Netanyahu and his expansionist policies.  Green leader Stav Shaffir has championed affordable housing, pointing out how subsidizing this massive illegal settlement project of colonial expansion deprives many Israelis of access to education and affordable housing within the legal boundaries of the State of Israel (1967 borders.) It is a very expensive programme of ethnic cleansing by infrastructure.

Back in 2018, having been part of a small group of MPs that re-established the Canada-Palestinian Parliamentary Friendship Group, I helped organize the largest delegation of Canadian MPs to visit the occupied territories. Eighteen of us, from all five parties in the House, toured Bethlehem, Ramallah, Hebron, and the contested areas of Jerusalem so much in the news this last week.

What I saw confirmed my worst fear that the greatest threat to Israel is the policies of their own government. And now it is much worse. The current conflict is the very most dangerous one since 1967. And even the domestic Israeli police seem to have lost control.

I remember going to the Dome of the Rock mosque in the same area as al-Asqa – the Temple Mount in Jerusalem. We were careful to respect the place, covering our heads, taking off our shoes, speaking only in whispers. The sight of Israeli soldiers and police, with boots on, firing grenades inside the al-Asqa mosque, was physically traumatizing to watch. How those images must have rocked people in every Islamic community at the holiest of times, ending Ramadan and on the eve of Eid.

Rabbi Michael Melchior, a prominent Israeli rabbi, a former deputy foreign minister and champion of inter-religious dialogue, said, “When Israeli police trample into al-Aqsa with boots and stop one of the holiest prayers, it is one of the gravest transgressions of Islam. This you don’t do.”

The actions of the settler/radical/groups-  attached to the same movement that assassinated Yitsahk Rabin – must be viewed as a threat to stability in the region, as are the actions and words of Netanyahu who, like Trump, encouraged their worst excesses. Marching through the streets calling out “Death to Arabs” is horrific.

Now as violence spreads, I am also terrified for my friends and relatives in Israel. The hatred is getting personal in many areas, but especially Lod, where clashes are occurring between Jewish and Arab citizens. The Mayor of Lod has warned he fears civil war.

What can we do as a nation?

Canada needs to do much more. We need to denounce the illegal actions under Netanyahu and insist that Israel abide by the Geneva Convention:

“The forced transfer of the population under occupation is a grave breach of the Fourth Geneva Convention, which contribute to the coercive environment now prevailing in East Jerusalem. As well, these evictions breach the right to adequate housing – a core human right in international law.”

“The proper step for Israel to take is to remove the threat of eviction, have the property rights of these Palestinian families respected and legal regularized, and annul all discriminatory legislation from its laws.” From a statement issued by international UN human rights experts,

We must stop selling arms to Israel (this has been Green Party policy since 2016).

But more – we must clearly denounce what Netanyahu and his settler thugs are doing. We must protect and preserve the long held principle that Jerusalem  – the Holiest of cities – shared by the three major Theistic religions of the world – Jewish, Christian and Islam – be protected. Adherents to all three religions must be assured access to sacred shrines.

And we must constantly stress the shared humanity of all. We are in COVID. The Palestinian population trapped in Gaza has already been going through hell.  But the children in Israeli families, rushed to shelters as Hamas fires rockets have every right to be safe and asleep in their own beds- just like their Palestinian neighbours.

Pray for Israel. Pray for Palestine. Pray for peace.

We will keep pressing the issue in Parliament.



PS Thanks to everyone who came to the wonderful 10th anniversary celebration.  I will share the video link next week!

And click here for details of Cate and Sylvia’s book launch, May 18th!

Saanich-Gulf Islands Greens