Natan Sharansky and Irwin Cotler: ‘Mr. No’ and ‘Getting to Yes’

By GIL TROY

My wife jokes that the two reasons she failed to learn constitutional law at McGill University’s law school are named Irwin Cotler and Natan Sharansky.

In the mid-1980s, Cotler, her constitutional law professor, was busy flying to Moscow and missing lectures in an effort to free Sharansky from the Gulag. Today, I joke that two of the reasons I don’t get a lot of sleep are named Cotler and Sharansky.

At the age of 80, the indefatigable Cotler sets such a high standard of productivity and impact, you want to keep up. Just yesterday, he was named by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau as Canada’s first Special Envoy on Preserving Holocaust Remembrance and Combatting Antisemitism. Meanwhile, his younger 72-year-old friend, Sharansky, and I just finished a three-year-marathon writing and rewriting and more rewriting project, which resulted in our new book, Never Alone.

These days, I hope, young people will joke that two of the reasons they balance their deep pride in being Jewish and Zionist with a broad commitment to human rights and fixing the world are named Cotler and Sharansky, too.

Sadly, in our either-or world, these human rights activists and traditional liberals risk being unfashionable. Beyond supporting Israel, they dare to be complex thinkers. When people demand they choose liberalism or nationalism, identity or freedom, Jewish particularism or universalism, they answer, “yes, both.” They understand that to row effectively, you need two oars; that for a bird to fly, let alone soar, it needs two wings.

In the late 1970s, Cotler, already a renowned McGill law professor and human rights lawyer, started representing Sharansky, essentially deputized by Natan’s wife, Avital. Back then, even some Israeli operatives read Zionism too narrowly. As we describe in Never Alone, these Zionists-with-blinders feared that Sharansky’s work with the Soviet human rights icon Andrei Sakharov and the broader dissident movement endangered the Refusenik movement’s fight for free emigration for Soviet Jews to Israel. The Israelis didn’t understand that to the KGB, seeking to leave was as threatening as speaking out. Still, they pressured Avital, suggesting she divorce her husband because the KGB was going to jail him, and Israel wouldn’t be able to protect him because he crossed some line They also pressured Cotler, among others, to stay away from Sharansky. None of them broke.

While appealing to international tribunals and Soviet courts, snaring the Communist dictators in their own hypocrisies, Cotler helped score a huge victory. Two months after Sharansky’s arrest in 1977 on trumped-up charges of espionage, rumours were flying about him in the West. Cotler and other lawyers, especially his Harvard law school colleague Alan Dershowitz, turned to Dershowitz’s former student, Stuart Eizenstat, then U.S. President Jimmy Carter’s chief domestic policy adviser. Eizenstat convinced Carter to break from standard American policy and declare that Sharansky wasn’t an America spy. Denying one accusation risked implying that others might be guilty. Carter’s bold statement helped tremendously.

For all their similarities in vision and ideology, for all their contributions to Zionism and human rights, there’s a profound difference. Our book is divided into three parts – 9-9-9 – for Sharansky’s nine years in Gulag, nine years in the Israeli government (he served in four cabinets, including as interior minister and deputy prime minister), and nine years as head of the Jewish Agency for Israel. He often jokes that he doesn’t know where he suffered most, but usually replies, “in politics.”

Not that he wasn’t effective. His many accomplishments range from helping Russian immigrants settle, to furthering Israel’s privatization, to building bridges between Israeli Arabs and Jews, the ultra-Orthodox and others, and between Israel and the Diaspora.

Still, Sharansky hated being a politician: the compromising, the posturing, the nattering. He jokes it was easy in prison. “All you had to say was ‘no.’” He describes his political “failure” by saying: “I was in four prisons and never resigned; I was in four governments and resigned twice.”

By contrast, Cotler served for 16 years as a Member of Parliament, as a Minister of Justice and Attorney General for three of those, and thrived. He retired, somewhat reluctantly, in 2015 at age 75, having been selected by his peers as Canadian Parliamentarian of the Year. Recalling that when he was 11, his father told him the Parliament represented vox populi, Cotler said: “This is the voice of the people. This is the seat of governance. This is where the laws of the country are made. This is where the national debates take place. This is where coalitions can form across party lines on certain cases and causes and move them forward.”

Note the power of programming. Sharansky survived in the Gulag as “Mr. No.” Cotler thrived as a lawyer, professor, activist, and parliamentarian by getting to Yes. Democracy in general and human rights work in particular requires both skill-sets – from different practitioners. You need Sharansky-dissidents taking those stands as outsiders, and you need Cotler-lawyer-legislators as insiders building the platforms on which those stands are made – as well as the safety nets to save the dissidents when necessary.

I have benefited immensely by learning from both. Their lives prove that when you belong to the Jewish people you are Never Alone – and that no matter how brave or visionary you are, you cannot accomplish much alone. You need teamwork, people with different skills, changing the world step by step, insiders and outsiders, “Mr. No” and “Getting to Yes,” working together.


Gil Troy
Gil Troy

Recently designated one of Algemeiner’s J-100 – one of the top 100 people “positively influencing Jewish life” – Gil Troy is a Distinguished Scholar of North American History at McGill University, and the author of nine books on American history and three books on Zionism. His book, Never Alone: Prison, Politics and My People, co-authored with Natan Sharansky, was recently published by PublicAffairs of Hachette.

Canada Votes at the UN: A Response to the CIJA, B’nai Brith Canada and Friends of Simon Wiesenthal Center

Nov. 25, 2020

By JON ALLEN

I am writing in response to the recent joint statement issued by the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs (CIJA), B’nai Brith Canada, and Friends of the Simon Wiesenthal Center regarding the Nov. 19 vote by Canada on a United Nations resolution affirming the right of Palestinians to self-determination.

I was surprised to receive the statement and I fundamentally disagree with it. I was surprised because it leaves the reader with the impression that this is a new resolution, a different vote from the one last year, and that the government has rethought its policies and has now betrayed the “Jewish community,” which these organizations purport to represent.

Just to be clear: This is the same resolution that the government, along with 163 other states, including all Europeans, the Nordics and New Zealand, supported last year. There were good reasons then for Canada to support the resolution and it is arguable, given recent events in the region, that there are even better reasons to support it this year. Moreover, it would be highly unusual for a government to change its vote one year as it did in 2019, and then, barring changed circumstances, reverse the change the next. Thus my surprise at both the tone and aggressive nature of the statement in question.

First, the reaffirmation of the right of Palestinians to self-determination and to an independent state is wholly consistent with Canadian government policy, and has been for decades through the Chrétien, Martin, Harper, and now, the Trudeau governments.

Second, some have suggested that the resolution is flawed because it does not specifically mention Israel, its right to exist or the two-state solution. This is a clear misreading of its intent and substance. The resolution is not about Israel or its right to exist. Israel exists and has since 1948, no matter who or how many times its existence is challenged. As the name of the resolution suggests, it is about the right of the Palestinian people to a state. The second to last preambular paragraph (preambular paragraphs set the context for the operative paragraphs that follow) specifically refers to a “lasting and comprehensive peace settlement between the Palestinians and the Israeli sides” and then cites: the Madrid Conference, the Arab Peace Initiative, and the Quartet road map, all of which assume, support and encourage a two-state solution.

Third, as mentioned, if Canada was correct in supporting the resolution in 2019 – and I believe it was – then given recent events in Israel and the territories, the vote this year is even more justified. The last year has seen significant expansion of illegal settlements, including into areas deep into the West Bank and around East Jerusalem. Such activities threaten the very viability of the two-state solution and the self determination of Palestinians referred to in the resolution. We also should recall that 2020 was a year in which the Israeli government threatened to annex approximately 30 percent of the West Bank, including much of the Jordan Valley.

Finally, I take exception with any statement of this nature that suggests that it represents the views of “the Jewish community.” It does not represent my views or those of the tens of thousands of progressive Jews for whom the two-state solution is seen as the saviour of Israel as a Jewish and democratic state. It would be more accurate, if in future communications, the organizations in question would make clear that they speak on behalf of themselves and not the Jewish community at large.


Jon Allen is a Senior Fellow at the Munk School of Global Affairs and Public Policy at the University of Toronto, and served as Canada’s ambassador to Israel from 2006 to 2010.

Not Yet Hanukkah: A Story of Miracles

By BERNIE FARBER

November is Holocaust Education Month, a time we tell stories of survival. My father, the sole Jewish survivor of his small Polish village, used to say that it took 1,000 miracles to survive the Shoah because 999 were simply not enough.

The following is not only the story of 1,000 miracles, but at its conclusion we will understand what the circle of life is really all about.

In 1939, when Samuel Pisar was 10 years old, both the Nazi and Soviet armies invaded his native Poland. Interestingly, Samuel came from Bialystok, 50 kilometers from my father’s village of Bothki. When Adolf Hitler broke the Nazi/Soviet pact in 1941, Samuel was captured along with thousands of other Jews. He was young and strong and survived incarcerations at Majdanek, Auschwitz and other camps whose only purpose was to murder Jews.

His final camp, Dachau, became the concluding volume in this first chapter of his life. It was the spring of 1945. Young Samuel was out on a Nazi slave labour detail as Allied forces approached. Nazi SS guards gathered the work detail and marched them away from the advancing Americans. They marched for three days with little water or food. Many succumbed. Still young, Samuel stayed alive.

It was on the third day when a number of Allied fighter planes spotted both the Nazis and their slave labour detail. Thinking it was a column of Nazi soldiers, the planes’ pilots descended sharply and strafed the area. Taking advantage of the ensuing confusion, a number of prisoners made a break for the forest. The bombing and Nazi bullets mowed most of them down but young Samuel used up one of his thousand miracles and made it to the safety of the embracing forest.

Starving, emaciated, Samuel hid in an abandoned hayloft. A few mornings later, he was awakened by the sound of a rumbling motor. Cautiously looking out from his hiding place, sure that he would see the dreaded swastika, he saw instead an American insignia.

Washed over with relief, he stumbled from the hayloft in tears of joy. The hatch of the tank popped open and emerging was Corporal Bill Ellington, the son of a former slave and member of the storied 761st Tank Battalion, known for being comprised primarily of African-Americans. They were the original “Black Panthers.”

The son of a former slave and the young survivor of the Nazi death camps held each other while Samuel cried the only words he knew in English, “God Bless America.”

He was just 16, the sole Jewish survivor of his family in Poland when he emerged into what would become the second volume of his life.

Miracles followed Samuel. He was raised by the remnants of his French and Australian family, graduated from the University of Melbourne, and later earned doctorates of law from Harvard and the Sorbonne.

His rise was rapid. He worked for the United Nations and UNESCO and was appointed a special advisor to President John F. Kennedy. He counseled the State Department and worked as legal adviser to both the House of Representatives and Senate. He was one of the youngest, most respected government advisers – so much so that in 1961, through a special act of Congress, Pisar was awarded U.S. citizenship.

His legacy continued. He counselled governments and world- renowned personalities from pianist Arthur Rubenstein to tech whiz Steve Jobs. His passion became human rights and he took up the causes of the novelist Alexandr Solzhenitsyn and Soviet dissident Andrei Sakharov.

He became a trustee of the Brookings Institute, was nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize and has addressed international conferences and world leaders at Davos, the International Monetary Fund and the European Parliament.

Samuel was twice married upon his death in July 2015 and left two daughters, one from his first marriage, Leah and Norma, from his second wife, Judith.

Here’s the promised kicker: Samuel also left a step-son from his marriage to Judith: Antony Blinken who, on Nov. 23, was nominated to become U.S. Secretary of State in the administration of President-in-Waiting Joe Biden.

Samuel Pisar was a man of many miracles, maybe even 1,000. May his memory continue to be a blessing.


Bernie Farber
Bernie Farber

Bernie Farber is publisher and co-founder of the Canadian Jewish Record, Chair of the Canadian Anti-Hate Network, a writer and human rights advocate. 

A Modern Stone-Age Look at Social Connections

Nov. 24, 2020

By DOROTHY LIPOVENKO

Hello, bonjour, Wilma Flintstine here. 

Name sound familiar? Distant cousins have a long-running TV show. The one with the dinosaur that vacuums. 

Our side of the family has been Flintstine for millennia, narrowly escaping a name change when the family tool business went public in the Iron Age. The underwriter, Morgan Stonely, argued that Flint would be an easier sell on the IPO road show, upsetting the older directors. Legend has it the founder’s granddaughter, Rockel, cast the deciding ballot for keeping tradition, and was named Flintstine’s first female CEO in 1000 BCE.

The media promptly crowned her “The New Millennium’s New Power Tool.” Sales exploded, and short sellers in the company’s stock lost their togas. One sore loser publicly groused women should stick to their looms running a shmatta business. 

But traders who bet on her liked to say Rockel had a man’s head on a woman’s shoulders.

Soon enough, her success attracted the wrong attention. But not for long; outraged women shareholders sent corporate raiders fleeing in an uprising famously known as Balabustas at the Gate.  

Fast forward 3,000 years: Flintstine Industries cycled through numerous incarnations and eventually was gobbled up by some entity. The family yichus is nice as pedigrees go, but makes no difference when the 21st century is moving on without me.

True, my house, built in 1895, has running water and a flush toilet, but such modern conveniences I can get behind. I don’t have a cell phone (and I’m in good company on this one with Rolling Stones guitarist Keith Richards); my refusal to open a Facebook account is a bigger headache for Mark Zuckerberg than his company’s data breaches. Birds tweet, not me; Instagram I initially mistook for an itty-bitty unit of measurement.

So how much longer can one hold out against the forces of technology? Is resistance futile? Or is resistance masking an attitude problem?

Answers: Don’t know. Probably. Maybe.

But does my living off the digital grid interest sociologists? No. Seems every week there’s new research on the impact social media is having, or wreaking havoc, on human behaviour.

Aside from spawning depression, loneliness and the latest bugaboo – cancel culture – the laundry list reads like Yom Kippur’s confessional rap sheet: Envy, mockery, indulgence, boastfulness, shaming, resentment, anger.

My favourite is FOMO (Fear of Missing Out) but of what, exactly? Even toddlers, once thrilled to flush toys down a toilet and watch the bathroom flood, are now hunched over digital screens like middle-aged accountants. Kinderlach, where’s the mischief?

Is it too late to curb the appetite for social media? Yes, because so many are hooked on popping virtually into kitchens and closets around the corner and around the world, obsessing that everyone else seems to be living a better life. 

But look no further than social distancing for the real shakeup in personal behaviour. And it’s not limited to six feet of empty space between you and the next customer in the checkout aisle.

Social distancing was not invented during this pandemic. 

On a personal level, we decide with whom we want to socialize, who our children can play with, who merits our time and attention, who gets to join our book clubs and social cliques. We may distance ourselves from people who don’t share our values, and we gravitate to the influential. Political differences, once the stuff of lively debate over coffee, have grown elbows sharp enough to bruise friendships, or turn newcomers away.

At some point, COVID will be over and we can happily return to standing next to someone at the supermarket without worrying whether we’ll catch something. Perhaps we’ll also learn to narrow other types of self-imposed distances.


Dorothy Lipovenko montreal
Dorothy Lipovenko

Dorothy Lipovenko is a former newspaper reporter who lives in Montreal, where she can be reached on a landline phone. She can be found in the kitchen, not on Facebook.

Anti-Social Media: When Mud is Thrown in All Directions

Nov. 23, 2020

By DAVE GORDON

If there was social media 3,000 years ago, Jews would have been bitterly divided over King David. The big scandal would be that he sent Uriah, husband of Batsheva, to purposefully die on the battlefield in order to take her as his own.

There would be a camp defending him: He’s a holy leader, the Messiah will come from him, he built Jerusalem! And a camp boiling with rage: He’s a misogynist, narcissist, evil, a murderer!

And it would fire from both ends; anyone who says otherwise is a traitor to our people. 

Surely we’re nodding, as though we’re reading a biting Onion satire serving as painful metaphor.

Something similar occurred lately to one of our community members, Rafi Yablonsky, who wrote about the blowback from his Facebook post congratulating Kamala Harris on her election as U.S. Vice-President. The epithets hurled at him were disgraceful – a shameful lack of civility and respectful discourse.

He should be – we all should be – rightfully outraged. 

With due respect to Rafi, whom I admire for his invaluable Jewish community service, I have an addendum. I believe he ought to have also chided his own side, even if in passing, so as not to give the impression such behaviours are limited to the right.

He complains there are Jews who are labeled “heretics” for not supporting Donald Trump, while I contend, at the same time, that it’s important to know there are Jews who are labeled heretics (and much worse) for supporting Trump.

He inadvertently provides evidence for this, in his “two kinds of Jews” theory:

“There are Jews who, ignore, or worse, laud and emulate his [Trump’s] hatred towards women, minorities, immigrants, members of the LGBTQ+ community, and anyone who opposes him. These sentiments stem mainly from his decision to move the American Embassy in Israel to Jerusalem, and several other pro-Israel policy shifts. And then there are the rest of us.” 

So, one is either a Trump-supporting Jew who encourages hate in all its forms, or a morally upstanding anti-Trump Jew. This us/them black/white characterization is overly-simplistic, lacks crucial nuance, and implicitly paints “other” Jews as terrible people.

I have met scores of kind, good-hearted Jews who support Trump.

There are swaths of LGBTQ+, Latinos, Blacks and women who voted for him, too. Are they all hate-enablers?

No one can judge another’s character based simply on where their X is on their ballot. What I know about any given Trump voter is virtually nothing, because I do not have a looking glass into the heads of 73 million people. And neither does anyone else.

Here’s what some might find unbelievable. For every tweet, policy or malapropism that is perceived to be anti-woman, anti-minorities, or anti-LGBTQ+, there are Trump supporters who can explain a completely opposite perspective that they believe invalidates the accusation. And as we’ve undoubtedly heard, there are supporters who vote for policy over personality.

That doesn’t make them bad people. Misguided, perhaps. Uninformed, perhaps. Or, to their minds, wise. Whichever the case, they, like anyone, deserve to be treated with dignity.

So while Rafi is correct to reproach Trump-supporters who were disrespectful, it’s an error of omission to avoid mentioning the same issues that exist on the opposing end. 

I cannot count the number of times I have seen Trump and those who support him called Nazis, haters, and racists. This is especially true from the six “A’s:” activists, academia, athletes, artists, authors and anchors. The most recent example is CNN’s Christiane Amanpour, who equated Trump with Nazis. Comparisons like these are being normalized; trivializing the Shoah by the day.

And to paraphrase Rafi, “there are Jews who ignore, or worse, laud and emulate this hatred.” I’ve seen Jews on social media compare Trump to Hitler, and compare his Jewish supporters to kapos, and not a peep – not even a “thumbs down” – from their friends. 

Just after the election, a prominent and respected member of our community stated on his Facebook wall that he believes Trump is “evil.” (What does that make Heinrich Himmler? “Super-evil?”) This individual also said Trump’s supporters are evil, and asked to be unfriended from anyone who supports the president.

By his reckoning, a person cannot simultaneously be a decent human being, and still think Trump may have accomplished some good (or at least, believe him better than the alternative). 

One must pass a “political purity test” even to be virtual friends with him.

How does unity, so vigorously preached, spring from such intolerance? 

So it’s clear: My political positions are complicated. I might be seen defending conservative positions online, but I also hold many classic liberal beliefs, and surprisingly, a couple of leftist ones.

I would sooner enjoy a dinner with a mensch with whom I differ than have so much as a l’chaim with a shmuck who votes like I do. 

This isn’t achieved through “othering,” which actually goes beyond just Trump, or Obama, or any politician. On social media, going as far back as the day I first signed in to Facebook in 2007, I saw disdain and derision in place of disagreement, on both sides. Particularly during election years. It got personal.

Obsessed as we are when Israel is demonized, and when Jews as a whole are dehumanized, somehow there’s no overlap in lesson when we do this to our fellow. 

In the early 20th century, author Evelyn Beatrice Hall, writing about the French philosophe Voltaire, to whom the quote is often misattributed, famously wrote, “I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.” 

The 21st century needs an updated version: “I disapprove of what you say, and I will admonish those who demean you for saying it.”


Dave Gordon
Dave Gordon

Dave Gordon’s writing has appeared in more than 100 media outlets around the world, including the National Post, Toronto Star, Washington Times, BBC, Montreal Gazette, and Baltimore Sun. His website is www.DaveGordonWrites.com 

Ontario Does Not Need the IHRA Definition to Fight Antisemitism

November 19, 2020

By DOGAN D. AKMAN

On Oct. 26, the Ontario government short-circuited the legislative process around Bill 168, the Combating Antisemitism Act, and passed an Order-in-Council (“OIC”) through which the province adopted the International Holocaust Remembrance Association (IHRA) definition of antisemitism, including the list of illustrative examples – the “complete definition.” The OIC was rushed through by Premier Doug Ford in response to the recent vandalism at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in Ottawa, where someone had carved an antisemitic symbol.

Once enacted, the Bill and the OIC require the government to be guided by the complete definition when it interprets its legislation, regulations and policies designed to protect Ontarians from discrimination and hate amounting to antisemitism.

As to be expected upon the OIC’s publication, the next day, three leading national Jewish organizations and a progressive one, JSpaceCanada, immediately praised, applauded and celebrated the decision.

And again, as to be expected, a variety of pro-Palestinian organizations, joined by the Ontario Confederation of University Faculty Associations (OCUFA), protested the government’s move on the three perennial grounds, namely, the definition is faulty because it –

may be used successfully to label as antisemitic the critics of Israel’s policies towards Palestinians and the  Palestinian Authority; those governing the treatment of her Israeli Arabs citizens; or the governance of parts of Judea and Samaria pursuant to and in accord with the Oslo accords, and

may infringe upon freedom of speech, and academic freedom.

I submit that the best way to begin the assessment of the OIC and predict the nature and scope of the alleged threats to freedoms is to examine Ontario’s record of fighting antisemitism during the years 2014 to 2020, a period when the province adopted an “anti-racism strategic plan” and enacted the Anti-Racism Act in 2017 along with the accompanying Three-Year Anti-Racism Strategic Plan. Ontario’s legislature also passed a motion denouncing the international boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) campaign Israel that led nowhere.

Based on Ontario’s track record during these six years, the applause, praise and celebration over the IHRA decision are quite premature. In this period, Ontario became the antisemitism capital of the country. And the alleged twin threats to freedom of speech and academic freedom are unlikely to materialize.

Nevertheless, on Nov. 5, JSpaceCanada published an article in these pages titled “Why We Support the IHRA definition of Antisemitism…Cautiously,” in which it promises “to call for the cautious application of the IHRA definition in keeping with the drafters’ intent, to ensure it does not suppress freedom of speech or academic freedom…We are committed to monitoring and speaking out against any attempt to misuse the IHRA definition to attack Palestinian activism or to promote Islamophobia. And we will defend those whom we feel have been wrongfully accused of antisemitism.”

This, in turn, raises the question of when JSpaceCanada will fight antisemitism instead of allocating its resources to fight and defend Palestinian activism and Islamophobia (the latter has yet to be defined in a sensible manner.)

The plain truth is that Ontario did not and does not need the IHRA definition, whatever its merits, in order to fight antisemitism or to enact a proper BDS motion. It already had and still has the tools long before it adopted the IHRA wording.

But if that was the case, one may wonder why, for example, the province never took universities to task for:

• permitting the establishment of antisemitic campus clubs and demanding that they get rid of them;

• failing to prevent and deter the antisemitic verbal and physical harassment and violence perpetrated against Jewish students, and 

• allowing some of their faculty to engage in written and/or verbal antisemitic behaviour under the cover of academic freedom, and failing that, pleading freedom of speech.

The province also failed to set timelines within which the universities must resolve antisemitic problems on campus, such as the foregoing, and to warn them that failure to do so will result in cutbacks in provincial funding.

Academic freedom is not absolute. This freedom can be legitimately invoked only by those who abide by and discharge the corresponding moral and intellectual obligations. And in this connection, when did, for example, the JSC target those who write, teach and preach in dereliction of their obligations? When did it speak up against studies which deliberately use corrupt methodologies and resort to intellectually obscene analysis of data generated by such methodologies?

Those on the Jewish Left – “progressives” such as JSpaceCanada – risk aiding and abetting antisemitism by remaining silent instead of fighting the foregoing antisemitic activities and a multitude of others of the same ilk.

And given political and electoral realities, it remains to be seen whether this time around, Ontario will do what it would not for years.


Dogan Akman
Dogan Akman

Doğan D. Akman is an independent researcher and commentator. He holds a B.Sc. in sociology, an M.A. in sociology/criminology, and an LL.B in law. He held academic appointments in sociology, criminology and social policy; served as a judge of the Provincial Court of Newfoundland and Labrador, and was a Crown Counsel in criminal prosecutions and in civil litigation at the federal Department of Justice. His academic work is published in peer-reviewed professional journals, while his opinion pieces and other writings have appeared in various publications and blogs.

It’s Not About Antisemitism. it’s About Free Speech

Nov. 18, 2020

By AMOS GOLDBERG

On Oct. 26th, Ontario adopted the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s (IHRA) definition of antisemitism through an Order in Council. 

On the face of it, what could be more appropriate than adopting a clear definition of antisemitism that helps fight this scourge? It would seem obvious that all decent people should unite in this just and essential fight.

Unfortunately, this definition – and especially the 11 examples appended to its original text – help very little, if at all, to fight antisemitism. Rather than helping to stamp out antisemitism, several of these examples actually serve to curb free speech on Israel and its policies against the Palestinians, shaping the debate over Israel-Palestine in a way that practically silences the Palestinian voice.

Let’s take a look at one example: “Denying the Jewish people their right to self-determination, e.g., by claiming that the existence of a State of Israel is a racist endeavor” is considered antisemitic. The first question that comes to mind is: if denying Jews the right of self-determination is antisemitic because it’s a universal right, how should we define denying the Palestinian right for self-determination? Why is denying Palestinian self-determination a legitimated political opinion and, in fact, Israel’s practical policy, while denying Jewish self-determination is considered antisemitic? The second question that comes to mind is that almost all countries on the globe are accused of being racist. Why should Israel be shielded from such legitimate allegations?

But there is more to it. The reasons almost all Palestinians, including the most devoted supporters of the two-states solution, reject Zionism is not because they are antisemites, but because they experience Zionism as oppressive and colonial. None other than the great Zionist leader Ze’ev Jabotinsky, the forefather of the ruling Likud party, acknowledged this already in his 1923 article “The Iron Wall.” There, he asserted that like all colonized peoples, the Palestinians reject Zionism because they oppose what they perceive – and from their perspective rightly so – as foreign invaders. Following Jabotinsky, we can say that denying Jews’ right to self-determination in Palestine as such is not antisemitic even for ardent Zionists like Jabotinsky. One can certainly reject this view but there is nothing antisemitic in it.

Insisting on the opposite practically delegitimizes, silences and criminalizes all Palestinians (and very many non-Zionist Jews) who, as Jabotinsky observed, reject Zionism for understandable (even if rejectable) reasons. Opposing Zionism is hence a legitimate view secured by the right of free speech and, in fact, a legitimate Jewish opinion.

This is only one of many examples of how the definition actually prevents free speech and an honest discussion on Israel-Palestine while disguising itself as a fight against antisemitism. In fact, the definition actually distorts the very essence of this fight. Most scholarly accounts of modern antisemitism connect it to the rise of nationalism and the emergence of the nation-state. Fighting antisemitism is about protecting a vulnerable minority against the violent homogenizing tendency of the majority society. The IHRA definition does precisely the opposite. It protects a powerful state, Israel, from criticism of its well-documented violations of the human rights of its vulnerable minority and occupants. In short, the IHRA definition has become a powerful silencing mechanism that serves only to increase the massive power imbalance between Israel and the Palestinians.

Kenneth Stern, who, 15 years ago, was the lead author of the IHRA definition (for research, not legislative purposes) and is now one of its chief critics, has written: “I’m a Zionist,” but “anti-Zionists have a right to free expression.” The IHRA definition has been deployed to undermine that right, he asserts. We should be very attentive to his words and call on the Ontario legislature to take great care in how it interprets this harmful definition. 


Amos Goldberg
Amos Goldberg

Amos Goldberg is a Holocaust historian at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. Among his recent publications are Trauma in First Person: Diary Writing During the Holocaust; and his co-edited volume with Bashir Bashir: The Holocaust and the Nakba: A New Grammar of Trauma and History.

Wishing Biden and Harris Well Online? Buckle Up…

Nov. 17, 2020

By RAFI YABLONSKY

My parents were born in Israel. I was born in Israel. All four of my grandparents were Holocaust survivors who immigrated to Israel. All four of my wife’s grandparents are Holocaust survivors who immigrated to Canada. My wife’s grandfather, Bill Glied, with whom I sat at the verdict of Reinhold Hanning, one of the last Nazis to be tried for war crimes, had spent the last two decades of his life pursuing Holocaust education and telling his story to thousands of students. I have spent my adult life working in the Jewish community, raising millions of dollars for Israel and Jewish communal organizations.

And somehow, here was a comment on my Facebook post telling me that I was no longer Jewish, no longer Israeli.

What was my crime? My unforgivable sin, according to too many commenters?

After four years of the bigotry and venom that Donald Trump and his followers unleashed on the world, and after nearly four days of vote counting, Joe Biden had been declared President-elect in the United States. His running mate, Kamala Harris, had made history by becoming the first woman and first person of colour to hold the title of Vice President-elect.

Her election is an inspiration to millions of young girls across the United States. I was elated to see an end to the sexism, misogyny, homophobia, and racism coming from the White House. I didn’t think too much of it. Maybe that would be the end of the happy story. 

I put up a brief post on my Facebook wall – a picture of the VP-elect, and a message of congratulations.

I didn’t expect what was to come. 

I didn’t expect to be bombarded with over 100 comments attacking me. I didn’t expect to be sworn at, to be told that I was anti-Israel, antisemitic, and a Nazi party supporter to boot.

A sampler:

– For a Jew like you to support Biden is like supporting Nazi Germany.

– Congratulations on cheating.

– F**k you Rafi, you’re pathetic.

Paraphrasing, one commenter said I’m not Jewish. I’m not Israeli. I’m a Canadian communist for supporting Biden/Harris.

I founded the Hasbara at York group, a student organization at the university which focuses on Israel education. I’ve been called a fascist and a racist for supporting Israel in the past. I’ve been called an occupier and Nazi for supporting Israel. I’ve never had my Jewishness negated by a fellow Jew.

I didn’t expect to have my Judaism diminished. And I certainly didn’t expect that an old friend I’ve known for almost two decades would like that comment. 

I received a number of messages of support. From friends, from family, from current and former members of Parliament and heads of major Toronto Jewish institutions. But I barely slept that night. This was the first time I’ve blocked people on Facebook. I had to “unfriend” someone in real life. 

The truth is, I cannot remember a time when the Jewish community has been this starkly divided, and never this viscerally. Our community is drenched in sinat chinam, baseless hatred. Donald Trump has divided the Jewish community into two kinds of Jews. There are Jews who, ignore, or worse, laud and emulate his hatred towards women, minorities, immigrants, members of the LGBTQ+ community, and anyone who opposes him. These sentiments stem mainly from his decision to move the American Embassy in Israel to Jerusalem, and several other pro-Israel policy shifts. And then there are the rest of us. 

My grandparents who, thank G-d, survived Auschwitz, used to tell me how in the cattle cars, there were Jews of every denomination, from every corner of the political spectrum. Their destination didn’t care if they were secular or Hasidic, right or left wing. They were just Jews destined for the same fate. 

Jews argue. We disagree with each other. It’s a trait that is deep and celebrated in our history and our texts. But the Talmud tells us kol Yisrael arevim zeh bazeh – all of Israel is responsible for one another. We are not the enemy. But there is a part of our community – one that has been growing over the past four years – that treats any Jews who dislike Donald Trump as heretics. 

In the days since Biden and Harris were elected, there’s been a lot of calls for unity. I think that’s great. We are in desperate need of reconciliation, in the Jewish community as much as the rest of society. But reconciliation and unity doesn’t mean we meet in the middle. 

We meet in a place that respects women, Indigenous peoples and people of colour – and we in the Jewish community must dig particularly deep for Jewish women, and Jewish women of colour. We meet in a place that accepts and celebrates the LGBTQ+ community and the Jews who I’ve marched with in the Toronto Pride Parade when Queers Against Israeli Apartheid (QAIA) tried to have us barred from participating.

I replied to that Facebook commenter, saying that while I pitied him, I didn’t think his support for Trump had cost him his Judaism. I still think about all the negative comments I received over the past few days and I hope daughters never see what their fathers wrote. I hope they instead see Harris shatter the glass ceiling and be encouraged to follow their dreams. 

And more than anything else, I hope that those Jews who have taken to dismissing our Jewishness remember that kol Yisrael arevim ze bazeh and that we are all Jews and will always be family.


Rafi Yablonksy
Rafi Yablonksy

Rafi Yablonsky holds a BComm from York University and worked in the hi-tech industry before working at United Jewish Appeal as Manager of Strategic Initiatives. Rafi has worked as the Toronto Director of Chai Lifeline, as campaign director at JNF Toronto, and most recently, at the Baycrest Foundation as Manager of Major Gifts.

Parshat Lech Lecha: The Incredible Journey…Into Ourselves

Nov. 6, 2020

By ILANA KRYGIER LAPIDES

Today you are you, that is truer than true. There is no one alive who is you-er than you.
– Dr. Seuss

In passages following the story of Noah and the collapse of the Tower of Babel, we meet Abram, but G-d is AWOL. The Torah mentions Abram’s ancestors and his family, but on the topic of a budding relationship between him and G-d – one that resulted in monotheism and the creation of three of the world’s religions – the Torah is not forthcoming on Abram becoming the world’s first Jew. The first indication that G-d has made contact with him is in the first line of Lech Lecha:

“Adoshem said to Abram, ‘Go forth from your native land and from your father’s house to the land that I will show you’” (Gen 12:1). 

This is a little disorienting: It feels like we stumbled into the middle of an intense and affectionate conversation with no context or understanding. The reappearance of G-d raises many more questions than it answers; How did G-d reach out to Abram? How did their relationship develop? Why did G-d choose Abram in the first place?

Our sages fill in the answers with Midrashim, but much goes unanswered, and the mystery is never really solved.

Another unexpected occurrence is after G-d tells Abram to Lech Lecha, usually translated as “Go Forth.” It speaks of making Abram a great nation, how he will be blessed, his name shall be great…and then the conversation abruptly stops. Abram doesn’t thank G-d or ask any questions or even acknowledge G-d’s extraordinary message. All we learn is that at 75 years old, Abram went forth. His silence is puzzling. Perhaps he is overwhelmed and doesn’t know what to say, or maybe he feels there is nothing to say. Or maybe Abram realizes that Lech Lecha here is not just information but a spiritual destiny, and that there are no words to express that new awareness. As the expression goes: “A meaningful silence is always better than meaningless words.”

Abram’s subsequent journey away from his father’s home is one with which many of us can identify. Most of us remember having to make a physical and emotional break from our parents’ homes to become self-actualized. 

Hillel houses on university campuses highlight Lech Lecha as a touch-point for new students arriving every year. These young adults leaving their parents’ homes for the first time feel a connection with Abram when G-d tells him to Lech.

But it’s not only students who can identify with Lech Lecha. The phrase has another deeper connotation: It doesn’t just mean “Go Forth,” but also “Get To Yourself” or “Go Inward”. When a student breaks away and leaves home, another journey is occurring, that of the parent. Yes, Abram and Sarai embody young adults leaving their parents’ homes, but they also represent their middle-aged and menopausal parents examining and restructuring their lives from within.

Rabbi Stephen Pearce says, “Abraham’s going forth to Canaan, his going away from his homeland, coincides with his going into himself, instructing the reader to understand that a journey should lead inward and outward, to the known and the unknown, heavenward and earthbound.”

Like Abram and Sarai, young people have to decide where to go, how to conduct themselves with strangers, how to manage their households, and a thousand other decisions, making mistakes along the way. It all comprises how they want to live.

But Abraham and Sarah are also commencing a different journey – a journey inward. They have to decide who they are, what do they believe, and how much faith they have in this next stage of life. When G-d adds an extra hei to their names to reflect their covenant, they need to reassess: Do their internal identities match their new external ones?

Lech Lecha is a journey that we all take and we take it more than once in our lives. For good and for bad, in sickness and in health, in the versions of ourselves that are young and a little older, the command to go forth must include the time and the silence to learn who we are. 


Ilana Krygier Lapides
Ilana Krygier Lapides

Ilana Krygier Lapides is a Jewish educator and storyteller in Calgary. She is currently attending the online Rabbinic School, the Jewish Spiritual Leaders Institute (JSLI) in New York, and will be ordained in December 2020.

Why We Support the IHRA Definition of Antisemitism… Cautiously

Nov. 5, 2020 

By JORDAN DEVON AND KAREN MOCK

On Oct. 27, Ontario became the first province in Canada to adopt the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) working definition of antisemitism. JSpaceCanada, the organization we represent, joined the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs (CIJA), B’nai Brith Canada and Friends of Simon Wiesenthal Center in applauding this decision

As most in our community are aware, we do not always see eye to eye with these organizations. As a progressive Zionist Jewish voice, we are unapologetic in our opposition to the Israeli occupation and emphatic in our support for a two-state solution – positions that aren’t always shared by more dominant community institutions.

But on this occasion, we felt the need to rise above these differences. While our community has diverse voices and opinions, there is clear consensus about the need to combat the alarming rise of antisemitism. We cannot protect our society from the scourge of antisemitism if we are unable to name it, to identify it properly, and to address it consistently. 

The IHRA definition states: “Antisemitism is a certain perception of Jews, which may be expressed as hatred toward Jews. Rhetorical and physical manifestations of antisemitism are directed toward Jewish or non-Jewish individuals and/or their property, toward Jewish community institutions and religious facilities.”

The definition has been given broad acceptance by Jewish communities around the world. By adopting it, Ontario is following the anti-racist/anti-oppression norm that victimized groups can best define the terms that describe discrimination against them.

However, it must be noted that the IHRA definition does not come without its critics.

Shortly after we released our statement in support of the provincial government’s decision to bypass public committee hearings and proceed to endorsement, we received concerned, disappointed, and even angry messages from allies and colleagues in the Arab community, who noted that the IHRA definition has been used to suppress criticism of Israel in jurisdictions around the world. 

Indeed, the IHRA definition comes with a list of illustrative examples of antisemitism, some of which have been interpreted as appearing to conflate criticism of Zionism and Israel with antisemitism.

The definition, as drafted by Kenneth Stern and an international team of scholars, was meant to be used as a tool or resource to assist in identification and documentation, and not to be legally binding. However, there is great concern that the IHRA definition has been weaponized by right-wing groups to suppress even tepid criticism of Israel – a reality that has been acknowledged by Stern himself.

But we can understand why reference to the IHRA language is alarming for communities who experience Israel and Zionism differently than Jews do. And we acknowledge the distinctions and relationships between antisemitism and criticism of Israel.

Criticizing Israeli policy is not inherently antisemitic. Indeed, the IHRA definition itself specifies that “criticism of Israel similar to that against any other state cannot be considered to be antisemitic.”

As a progressive Zionist organization, JSpaceCanada has actively criticized discriminatory Israeli government policies, and we will continue to do so, challenging Israel to fulfill the promise of its Declaration of Independence. Nevertheless, it is important to distinguish between well-meaning critics of Israel and those who are influenced by antisemitism, or may cross the line into antisemitic rhetoric.

We will continue to call for the cautious application of the IHRA definition in keeping with the drafters’ intent, to ensure it does not supress freedom of speech or academic freedom. In the same vein, we would expect that definitions of racism or any form of discrimination should not be used to silence speech that does not meet one of the criteria of hate speech.

We are committed to monitoring and speaking out against any attempt to misuse the IHRA definition to attack Palestinian activism or to promote Islamophobia. And we will defend those whom we feel have been wrongfully accused of antisemitism.


Dr. Karen Mock is the President of JSpaceCanada
Jordan Devon is the Vice-President of JSpaceCanada. 
JSpaceCanada is an all-volunteer, non-partisan, progressive Jewish organization.

An Undelivered Submission on Bill 168

Nov. 2, 2020

On Oct. 26, Ontario’s cabinet surprised many when it decided to bypass committee hearings and adopt the International Holocaust Remembrance (IHRA) working definition of antisemitism, contained in Bill 168, the “Combating Antisemitism Act.” Ontario thus became Canada’s first province to adopt the definition.

Bill 168 passed second reading earlier this year and according to one source, more than 100 Ontarians had requested a chance to appear before the Standing Committee on Justice Policy to have their say – both for and against adopting the IHRA definition, or to suggest amendments.

Among the undelivered deputations was the following from Randi Skurka, appearing as an individual.


Good morning/afternoon, 

Firstly, I’d like to thank the committee for the opportunity to participate in today’s hearing.

As the most widely accepted definition of antisemitism in the world today, endorsed by a growing number of countries, academic bodies, even making inroads in the Middle East, it is crucial that Ontario adopt the IHRA definition.

I am forever grateful to my grandparents, who bravely left Poland a century ago to make their home here in Toronto. Fleeing pogroms and deeply ingrained prejudices, they came in search of a better life where they could live as Jews in freedom and safety. My 92-year-old father remembers the antisemitism he experienced as a young person, even here. I grew up believing that those days were over. But I was wrong.

According to Statistics Canada, Jews are the most targeted group for police-reported hate crimes in the country. Jewish students on campuses across Canada have been singled out, ostracized or attacked for years simply for expressing their Jewish identity. For example, over the past year alone, they were denied kosher food at the University of Toronto, kicked off the student union at McGill University for planning a visit to Israel, and at York University, were threatened with violence for attending a talk featuring Israeli speakers. Antisemitism masquerading behind the veneer of anti-Zionism is a growing problem in Canada and internationally.

It all starts with words. When Israel Apartheid Week was launched at U of T in 2005, it used hateful rhetoric singling out Israel alone as a human rights abuser. Together with the BDS movement, which has been condemned by our own prime minister, Justin Trudeau, as blatantly antisemitic, these campaigns have proliferated around the world, creating a toxic atmosphere in which harassment and targeting of Jewish students have become mainstream.

These movements represent themselves as peaceful, nonviolent forms of protest. But the last two decades have proven otherwise. Conceived by known anti-Israel activists, whose clearly stated goals are the complete elimination of the State of Israel, the manifestation of these movements has been nothing less than the total isolation and social death of any student or faculty member that dares to defend Israel’s right to exist. 

A recent survey has shown that the Canadian Jewish community, small but mighty, defines itself with things like Holocaust remembrance, tradition, and working for social justice. Though widely diverse religiously and politically, one feature among all others unites them – for a full 86 percent of Canadian Jews, their connection to Israel is an important and essential part of their identity. 

The IHRA definition clearly states that criticism of Israel in the form of civil discourse is not considered antisemitic. Yet, all too often, this criticism is presented in a historical vacuum without any sense of context, intended to mislead its audience. This is exactly what the Soviet Union did starting in the late 1940’s – take those old canards and hateful caricatures, and harness them to persecute and demonize Jews now behind a façade of anti-Zionism. How soon we have forgotten the decades of oppression and incarceration of Soviet Jewish dissidents simply because of their identity.

These are the same dangerous myths that are rearing their ugly heads today.

Just this past July, two anti-Israel rallies, one in Toronto, one in Mississauga, graphically demonstrated how anti-Zionism is used as a cover for plain old antisemitism. They were organized by known hate groups with a strong presence on Ontario campuses. Far from peaceful, they quickly devolved into hatemongering and incitement to violence, with the chanting of slogans such as “intifada, intifada”, “from the river to the sea,” and most frightening of all, “The Jews are our dogs.” Is this any way to rally for human rights, here, in Ontario?

The Arab-Israeli conflict is longstanding and very complex. The only way to resolve the issues is for the two parties to sit down together at the negotiating table and have direct dialogue. Just recently, Canada applauded as Sudan followed UAE and Bahrain in establishing a peace agreement with Israel. The Middle East is rapidly changing and finally acknowledging Israel as a partner and a neighbour. This is the way of true progress and liberalism.

It’s time to leave the ancient myths and medieval tropes in the past, where they belong. To embrace each other and give each other space. To listen to one other. To rely on data and facts on the ground. To promote freedom. To build bridges, instead of threatening destruction. The IHRA definition of antisemitism will help to confront the escalating revival of an ancient hatred, and stop it once and for all, so that all of us may feel welcome and safe.

Thank you.


Randi Skurka

Randi Skurka is a writer and lay leader in the Jewish community, with a focus on education and antisemitism. She sits on the boards of Beth Sholom Synagogue and StandWithUs Canada, and holds a Master of Arts degree in Jewish Studies.

Great Nixon’s Ghost! Donald Trump and the Jews

Oct. 26, 2020 

By ANDREW COHEN

In the last days of his embattled presidency, facing impeachment and removal from office, Richard Milhous Nixon was alone. He had been undone by Watergate, a byword for a regime of skullduggery, deception and criminality.

As he prepared to resign on Aug. 9, 1974, Nixon could rely on one unflagging loyalist. His name was Rabbi Baruch Korff, an émigré from Ukraine who had seen his mother murdered in a pogrom and had a history of incendiary behaviour.

Korff defended Nixon fiercely that summer. Claiming Nixon was a victim of a “carefully staged circus of hate,” Korff founded the National Citizens Committee for Fairness to the Presidency. Nixon called Korff “my rabbi.”

Oh, the cynicism. Audio recordings from the Oval Office released in 1999 and 2013 reveal the depth of Nixon’s antisemitism. His conversations illustrate a vulgar disdain for Jews, soaked in resentment and a sense of betrayal.

I recall the rabbi’s veneration of Nixon when I hear American Jews, a generation later, rush to the defence of Donald Trump. Like Korff, they rationalize the re-election of another corrupt Republican guilty of “high crimes and misdemeanors” – and a country club bigot, too.

One of Trump’s fervent apologists is Lauri B. Regan, who served on the Board of the National Women’s Committee of the Republican Jewish Coalition. In Hadassah Magazine, she calls Trump “the most pro-Israel president America has ever had.” She cheers the United States moving its embassy to Jerusalem, recognizing Israel’s sovereignty over the Golan Heights, and withdrawing from the Iran nuclear deal – all dear to conservative Jewry.

For American Jews who put Israel first, her argument is predictable. If you’re a one-issue voter, Trump is your man, particularly if you think he’s more Zionist than David Ben-Gurion.

Trump’s policies won’t advance Israel’s peace or security, but that’s not the point. For blinkered Jews who also lionize Benjamin Netanyahu, Trump is the man on horseback, much as Stephen Harper was for Canadian Jews.

Had Regan declared herself a one-issue voter and left the rest of her valentine undrawn, she would be more credible. Or, if she’d admitted that she’s really voting for Trump, as many Jews are, because he’s made them richer.

But Regan goes further: She hails Trump as “one of the most patriotic presidents in recent memory.” It isn’t enough that Trump is the savior of Israel – let’s all chant Dayenu – now, he’s the saviour of the United States, too!

Regan fears rising anti-Jewish sentiment on campuses, in the Black Lives Matter movement, and in the Democratic Party. This threat should make Jews “prioritize protecting themselves, not the social issues that traditionally sway their votes,” she warns.

Doesn’t Trump stand up for the military and the police to protect us “in their synagogues” from the mob? Isn’t keeping America great keeping Jews “safe”?

Curiously, Regan sees antisemitism everywhere but in the presidency. She finds a bipartisan soul mate in Andrew Stein, former president of the New York City Council and founder of Democrats for Trump. Donald Trump an anti-Semite? No, says Stein. Didn’t Trump “welcome Judaism into his family” when Ivanka married Jared Kushner? Didn’t he combat hate crimes against Jews with an executive order?

Forget the torch-bearing brownshirts of Charlottesville; Trump’s indifference to those white supremacists was a “media distortion,” claims Regan. On Trump’s embrace of the Proud Boys and QAnon while he attacks the judiciary, the military, the media and other institutions, Regan and Stein are silent. While Republicans of conscience abandon Trump – see The Lincoln Project – and Americans prepare to repudiate Trump, this pair peddles a fantasy.

They would find their reflection in Rabbi Lionel Bengelsdorf of Philip Roth’s The Plot Against America. Smarter than everyone else, the wooly-minded Bengelsdorf fell so heavily for Charles Lindbergh that he missed the danger of Lindbergh’s antipathy toward Jews until it was too late. My late father called Bengelsdorf’s ilk “educated fools.”

Regan and Stein think nothing else matters to Jews but themselves, as if they are distinct or detached from society. To them, Jews ought not care – need not care – about the existential threat Trump poses to democracy, social justice, civil rights, and the rule of law.

Ironically, when he loses, Trump won’t appreciate the affections of Stein and Regan any more than he does the Vichy Republicans in Congress. Having privately ridiculed the evangelical Christians, he’ll reserve a scorn for Jews harsher than Nixon’s Jewish “bastards.” Eventually, we’ll know what he thought.

In the meantime, the charade unfolds. Rabbi Korff, meet Rabbi Regan and Rabbi Stein. They are your spiritual descendants and happy collaborators – as naive and embarrassing to their co-religionists today as you were then.


Andrew Cohen
Andrew Cohen

Andrew Cohen is a columnist for Postmedia News, professor at Carleton University’s School of Journalism, and author of Two Days in June: John F. Kennedy and the 48 Hours That Made History.

Parshat Bereishit: Take the Red Pill

Oct. 23, 2020

By ILANA KRYGIER LAPIDES

“This is your last chance – there is no turning back. You take the blue pill, the story ends, you wake up in your bed… You take the red pill, you stay in Wonderland, and I show you how deep the rabbit hole goes. Remember: All I’m offering is the truth.”

– Morpheus, from The Matrix

The creation story in Bereishit is one of the most evocative, mystical, and beautiful stories ever told. The light racing to replace the darkness, the swirling of the heavens and earth, the sun, moon, and stars flashing into existence, the birds and fish and animals inhabiting the world. And then, the pièce de resistance: Humanity is born: “Male and Female He created them” (Gen 1:27). It is all good.

Then, after Shabbat is established as the day of rest comes a new verse about the creation of the first humans. Why two versions? What happened to the first “them”? Our sources and mythology say Adam had a first wife named Lilith who was literally a demon. In recent years, the legend of Lilith, who defied marital customs and had sexual agency, has been reclaimed by the women’s movement and is now a symbol for female independence and strength.

Nice for Lilith, but what about Eve? The second wife, the second thought. Not a whole creature but crafted out of a rib. The image of the serpent snaked around the Tree of Knowledge, of Good and Evil, tempting the naive woman, has led to cultural and political norms so internalized that we don’t even notice them: Eve disobeyed G-d, she let herself be seduced and then tricked her husband into eating the Forbidden Fruit. Ergo, woman cannot be trusted: we are temptresses – dumb at best, immoral at worst. We must be tightly controlled and regulated lest we cause Paradise Lost…again. Pretty heavy consequences for eating a piece of fruit.

It’s a bit of a mind-game to imagine an omnipotent, omniscient, and omnipresent Creator allowing the first woman to fail so spectacularly. It seems unfair, like a gotcha, and to those paying attention, it doesn’t make much sense. Elohim just created the entire universe but couldn’t conjure up a little reverse psychology to save the day?

Kabbalistic writings propose another perspective: None of this is a surprise to G-d; there is no sin here. This was the plan all along. In the beginning, Eve and Adam were innocent children with no shame or pain or problems. As they got older, they realize the world is not perfect so they seek wisdom to understand right and wrong. Eve first, followed by Adam, defy their “parent” and choose, for good or bad, to become fully aware and actualized human beings. Their story is our story – an allegory for coming of age.

“G-d expels Adam and Eve from Eden, which can be seen as a punishment. But it can also be seen as a painful but necessary ‘graduation’ from the innocence of childhood to the problem-laden world of living as morally responsible adults” (Eitz Chayyim, p. 18).

Rabbi Niles Goldstein says, “By acting with free will, Adam and Eve begin the process of individuation from God, psychologically and existentially. They are now on their own. They, like each of us, are now ready to go forth into the unknown.”

In the mystical tradition, G-d stopped work on the sixth day to allow humans a turn to be partners in tikkun olam – the repair of the world. Eve and then Adam ate from the tree because it was time to become full partners with G-d.

Yes, it seems like G-d was delaying the inevitable, but who wouldn’t? For those of us who are parents, watching our children mature and make mistakes is frightening and heartbreaking, but we still have to let our children grow up and away from us.

In life, as in The Matrix, it’s tempting to stay innocent in Gan Eden, to take the blue pill and stay ignorant of the stress and toil of reality. But that existence infantilizes us and prevents us from becoming the developed partners that G-d needs. As painful and counterintuitive as it seems, it is part of our contract with G-d to take the red pill. As Eve realized, we are only truly human when we act with the courage and strength to grow up and eat that fruit.


Ilana Krygier Lapides
Ilana Krygier Lapides

Ilana Krygier Lapides is a Jewish educator and storyteller in Calgary. She is currently attending the online Rabbinic School, the Jewish Spiritual Leaders Institute (JSLI) in New York, and will be ordained in December 2020.

Mohammed Hashim: The Right Man at CRRF

Oct. 16, 2020

By BERNIE FARBER

(CRRF) was created in 1997 as a Crown corporation, born of a dark chapter in Canadian history: The imprisonment of Japanese-Canadians during the Second World War.

These were Canadian citizens of Japanese ancestry. There needn’t have been any suspicion of treason or support for Japan, even though it was part of the Axis powers. That their ancestors were from Japan, some, going back many generations, was enough to uproot entire families, confiscate homes, disrupt professions, and imprison all, from young infants to the elderly. It was a gross abuse of political power, racist, and in the eyes of history, despicable.

Jews, of all people, well understood what this form of discrimination was about. Among those Jewish leaders in Canada who fought vigorously for Japanese-Canadian redress was Milton Harris, president of Canadian Jewish Congress from 1983 to 1986.

But amends would take decades. Under the guidance of the newly-established National Association of Japanese Canadians and its leaders – Art Miki, Roger Obata, Audrey Kobayashi, Maryka Omatsu, along with others, including Harris – redress and compensation, as well as a full apology, were realized in Parliament on Sept. 22, 1988.

On that date, Prime Minister Brian Mulroney rose in the House of Commons to apologize for Canadian human rights abuses against Japanese-Canadians. Mulroney announced individual redress payments, as well as a living legacy: A multi-million dollar community fund that would educate and engage in social and cultural programming emphasizing the vital need for positive race relations in Canada.

And so was born the Canadian Race Relations Foundation.

CRRF has been a force for good in Canada since its establishment. Its mandate to promote and facilitate race relations training, support development of effective policies to combat racism, and has been a shining example of Canada’s commitment to multiculturalism as a political ethos.

Each of its past executive directors put their own stamp on the organization. Moy Tam was followed by Dr. Karen Mock, a friend and colleague who used the same advocacy spirit at the CRRF that she brought heading B’nai Brith Canada’s League for Human Rights. Then came Ayman Yassini, Anita Bromberg (also formerly from B’nai Brith Canada), and Dr. Lillian Ma. We should also note that Rubin Freidman, a fixture in Canadian Jewish communal organizations, worked effectively for CRRF in its communications division, as did Len Rudner, who had come from the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs.

Mohammed Hashim
Mohammed Hashim

On Oct. 6, 2020, Mohammed Hashim was named the new executive director. Anyone who knows Hashim and his work will agree that he is unquestionably the right man for the right job at precisely the right time.

He arose from student activism during his days at the University of Toronto to become a labour organizer and human right rights advocate. Most recently, he spent considerable energy as a senior organizer with the Toronto and York Region Labour Council.

His organizing skills were equalled by his ability to relate to people. Their faith, sexual orientation or skin colour never mattered. He has always been present in the fight for fairness and empowerment. A devout Muslim, he has Jewish friends from across the religious spectrum. He is young, dynamic, wise, and warm.

Mohammed Hashim (centre) with Jeffrey Brown, president of Beth Avraham Yoseph of Toronto Congregation (left) and Bernie Farber, publisher of the CJR and chair of the Canadian Anti-Hate Network.

This is a tough time to be the executive director of the CRRF. With racism reaching unprecedented levels and white nationalism expressing itself in violent words and actions, those of us doing human rights advocacy welcome his appointment with strong and open arms.


Bernie Farber
Bernie Farber

Bernie Farber is publisher of the Canadian Jewish Record and Chair of the Canadian Anti-Hate Network.

StandWithUs Canada Provides Tools for Jewish Students

Oct. 13, 2020

By STEVEN GREENWOOD

It’s been no secret that antisemitism is an old problem at Toronto’s York University, and a serious security issue for Jewish students. In recent years, the changing geopolitical climate on campus has led to a situation where open antisemitism is no longer confined to extremist circles. It has become mainstream.

With the notion of academic freedom often twisted out of context, hatred towards Jewish students on York’s campus continues to be accepted. Jewish students feel they cannot express their beliefs and values without fear of harassment, intimidation, and even violence.

Adding to the discrimination they face on campus is a kind of masked antisemitism. For example, the student performing the opening ceremony at York’s Multicultural Week Parade wore a T-shirt stating, “Anti-Zionist vibes only.”

For many Jewish students, Zionism is essential for the safety of the Jewish people. But the increasing normalization of anti-Zionism makes them fear expressing this integral part of their Jewish identity.

With the university assuming little or no accountability, students have no choice but to seek support elsewhere. StandWithUs Canada is an affiliate of a 19-year-old international non-profit Israel education organization that is inspired by a love for Israel and the belief that education is the road to peace.

This school year, StandWithUs Canada is grateful to welcome three Emerson Fellows to York to help combat antisemitism: Hailey Merten, Beata Fourmanovskis, and Pablo Gonzalez.

Founded in 2007 with a generous grant from Los Angeles philanthropists Rita and Steve Emerson, the StandWithUs Emerson Fellowship is a prestigious one-year program that recruits, trains, educates, and inspires pro-Israel college student leaders on campuses throughout North America, the United Kingdom and Brazil.

In early August, Hailey, Beata, and Pablo participated in the StandWithUs Emerson Conference, held via Zoom with over 100 university students across North America, who learned about Israel, education strategies, legal rights, combating the boycott and other campaigns against Israel, and more.

The sessions were important for Fellows to expand outreach and educate more students about Israel, said Beata, a fourth-year student studying towards her Bachelor of Business Administration (BBA) degree at York’s Schulich School of Business.

“Many students on campus simply do not know about Israel or have no opinion about it. As Fellows, it is important to educate the uninformed so they understand the importance of Israel. One way is by building relationships with other clubs so they can partner with the Jewish community for events,” Beata said.

Pablo Gonzalez, a third-year biotechnology student at York University, took part in the StandWithUs Canada Insight Program. Through this opportunity, Pablo traveled to Israel for 10 days and gained first-hand knowledge about the country’s current geopolitical situation.

Travelling across the country, the undergraduate students met with Jewish, Christian, and Muslim locals and community leaders to learn about their perspectives on current political issues.

“I never visited Israel before, and the diverse ethnic, religious, and political spectrum of the country impressed me,” recalled Pablo. “Through these experiences, I learned so much about the people of Israel, and gained an appreciation for the political nuances and intricacies that are too often described in the media as black-and-white. I left this trip with a deeper understanding and appreciation for the Israeli government in ensuring Israel is a safe and welcoming home for all.”

After returning home to Toronto and feeling strongly about wanting to make a positive change based on his experiences in Israel, Pablo applied to the StandWithUs Canada Hispanic Emerson Fellowship. Now, he’s sharing his Israel experiences on campus and educating his peers about the country’s challenges and accomplishments.

Despite strong antisemitic sentiment among some students and faculty at York University, and protests that turned violent last autumn, Pablo said he is “convinced that furthering education about Israel is vital to build a safer campus where we can discuss diverse perspectives with mutual respect.”

Even though the Emerson conference took place virtually, “it had an enormous impact on the students by inspiring and supporting them to continue to educate about Israel,” he said.

Hailey Merten a fourth-year social work student and StandWithUs Canada Emerson Fellow at York University, has faced institutionalized discrimination because of her Jewish identity. What she learned from the conference is that she is not alone in the battle.

“I have my StandWithUs Canada family beside me to support me through the good and bad times I may face,” she said. “The understanding that I am no longer alone when dealing with antisemitism on campus is such a relief.”

By organizing events with StandWithUs Canada in which students of differing views on Israel can discuss their opinions constructively and civilly, Pablo, Hailey and Beata look forward to building bridges between communities and focusing on shared solutions on campus.


Steven Greenwood is the executive director of StandWithUs Canada.

Kohelet and Two Types of People: A Sukkot Drash

Oct. 9, 2020

By ILANA KRYGIER LAPIDES

“Relax, nothing is under control.”
Adi Da Samraj

There are two different types of people in the world: Planners and those who go with the flow. Granted, there is lots of grey between those two poles, but generally we lean one way or the other.

Regardless of which type we are, life is extra stressful right now. For the planners, our lives feel out of control; we can’t predict what will be, we can’t plan further than a few days ahead, and the not knowing makes it all so much worse.

For those of us who roll with the punches, well, the punches keep on coming: They trap us in our homes, force us to plan even the simplest of errands, and maintain the same ‘sameness’ day after day. Nobody is doing great – our stress and anxiety are through the roof, and it’s hard to find comfort.

Amid this leaden chaos arrives the holiday of Sukkot – Z’man Simchateynu – the Time of Our Joy. We are commanded to live in roofless huts, be one with nature, and appreciate the fall harvest. A traditional reading on this holiday is Ecclesiastes, or in Hebrew, Kohelet. The Book of Kohelet is a pessimistic, cynical, and seemingly depressing Megillah that brings us such inspiring quotes as: “All things are full of weariness,” and “What has been, has been done and there is nothing new under the sun.” Sigh. These passages are a serious downer on what is supposed to be a happy holiday.

One of the most famous quotes is, “Vanity, vanity, all is vanity” “Havel Havalim, Amar Kohelet, Havel Havalim Hakol Havel” (Ecc. 1:2). Havel, the Hebrew word used for vanity, can also be defined as futility or meaninglessness but all those definitions are pre-translated into metaphor. The actual definition of Havel is vapour or breath; like a cloud, Havel seems solid but turns to mist in our hands. Havel, looked at literally, does not mean life is futile, it means that life is ephemeral, transient, evanescent.

Kohelet goes on to philosophize about the changeability of life, postulating that no matter our wealth, career success, or fame, or even our wisdom, all of us come to the same end. So, what’s it all about, Alfie?

There is a story about King Solomon who sent his trusted minister, Benaiah, on a quest to bring back, in time for Sukkot, magic words that would make a happy man sad, and a sad man happy.

Benaiah searched everywhere from spring to summer to fall, always failing. He’d resigned himself to returning without completing the quest when he came across a poor old merchant setting up for the day. Benaiah asked the old woman if she’d heard of magic words that make happy people sad and sad people happy. The woman smiled, handed Benaiah a few words on a worn piece of paper and sent him on his way.

Benaiah found King Solomon in the sukkah and gave him the crumpled piece of paper. When King Solomon read it, he knew that Benaiah had succeeded, the words were indeed magic: Gam Zeh Ya’avor – this, too, shall pass.

Like Kohelet, Gam Zeh Ya’avor teaches us that the only constant in our lives is change. If so, perhaps reading that message when we are commanded to live in a temporary dwelling, a sukkah, makes sense. Aren’t we, in our bodies, also temporary, also sukkot? Our physical bodies act as the temporary dwelling for our souls.

Thousands of years after the destruction of one of the most solid buildings in history, the Temple, the Jewish people still construct sukkot every year. Easy to tear down, yes, but also easy to rebuild. Rabbi Jonathan Saks says, “Sukkot is about knowing that life is insecure and celebrating it not in spite of that, but because of it.”

In the end, stability is an illusion and instead, we are left with small moments of joy: “Eat your bread in gladness, drink your wine in joy…wear freshly washed clothes… enjoy happiness with a woman you love all your fleeting days” (Ecc. 9:7-9).

The moments that are hard, the moments that are great, they all eventually pass. In our quest for those moments of joy, for both the planners and the “go-with-the-flow-ers,” Psalm 118 tells us, “This is the day that G-d has made. Celebrate and rejoice in it.”

Chag Sameach.


Ilana Krygier Lapides
Ilana Krygier Lapides

Ilana Krygier Lapides is a Jewish educator and storyteller in Calgary. She is currently attending the online Rabbinic School, the Jewish Spiritual Leaders Institute (JSLI) in New York, and will be ordained in December 2020.

What Do We Mean When We Talk About Free Speech?

Oct. 9, 2020

By ZACK BABINS

Picture a large Canadian university with a law school. The school is set to offer a directorship to an academic with a long history of pro-Israel scholarship and activism in Zionist causes.

At the last moment, a Canadian Muslim – a federal judge who, along with his family, have been massive donors to this school, likely in the millions – calls the school’s fundraising team. From that point on, negotiations with the Zionist academic are cancelled and the position is somehow “no longer available.”

What would we as a community do? 

Certainly, this school would be labeled antisemitic. It would make the Top 10 list of every “antisemitic school where Jewish students aren’t safe.” We would lament the decline of academia and people would warn their children to stay away from that “Jew-hating school.”

The influencers and organizations that make a living defending Israel would see a spike in donations.

Eventually, the right-wing pundits, Jewish and Gentile, would cry that free speech is about listening to arguments and ideas that you don’t like, and would wonder whether today’s students are so soft (and antisemitic) that they could not tolerate a Zionist Jewish teacher.

This isn’t a hypothetical. We just changed some parts of speech.

Explosive recent media reports alleged that Justice David Spiro, a Tax Court of Canada judge, megadonor to the University of Toronto, and former board member of the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs, had improperly interfered in the hiring of Prof. Valentina Azarova.

Azarova, who is not Palestinian but sympathetic to Palestinians, and more than occasionally focuses her academic work on the Palestinian cause, was reportedly quite close to landing a position as director of U of T’s International Human Rights Program. According to the school, the program isn’t hiring a director at all.

Law professor Audrey Macklin, who chaired the faculty advisory committee, and was part of the selection panel that unanimously found Azarova the best candidate for the job, resigned from the board in protest.

The Canadian Judicial Council is now considering multiple complaints about Spiro’s conduct. And over 1,000 lawyers, academics, and activists have signed a petition asking U of T’s law school to apologize and reinstate the job.

And in an open letter to University of Toronto President Meric Gertler, a slew of international law and human rights practitioners and law school faculty and staff said they are “deeply concerned” that U of T’s law school dean responded to “external pressure, following the objection of a law school donor to Dr. Azarova’s work on international law and human rights in the Israel-Palestine context.”

One would think that the champions of free speech would be all over this one. But the brave “marketplace of ideas” folks, who have no qualms defending transphobes, homophobes, racists and white nationalists under the banner of free speech, are nowhere to be found. Similarly, those who argue that “sunlight is the best disinfectant” just can’t be bothered to defend an academic who, by their standards, has had her right to free speech violated.

One op-ed submitted by a Jewish organization claimed that “a long history of one-sided critiques of Israel” justified these events. What if the shoe was on the other foot? If a long history of “one-sided activism” surrounding Israel can disqualify you from a job, well, I’ve got some bad news for a lot of my friends who went to Jewish day school, summer camp or synagogue. 

I haven’t even mentioned yet how damaging this move – which any PR consultant could tell you would not remain private for longer than a week – may be to Jewish students who are actually on campus, who will now face slurs and tropes about Jewish power and influence.

Frankly, I’ve never been a free speech evangelist. Freedom of speech is a wonderful thing but it must be restrained by reasonable limits to protect marginalized communities from hatred and violence. History bears out that hate speech almost never remains “just words.” 

We either care about free speech or we don’t. We either care about academic freedom or we don’t. We either care about outside political interference in our universities – including the “outside agitators” that Hasbara organizations love to remind you are sent to campuses to scuttle BDS motions and anti-Israel campaigns – or we don’t.

To paraphrase the great “Rabbi” Jon Stewart, if you don’t stick to your values when they’re used by your opponents, you don’t have values. You have hobbies.

We have to make a decision – a microcosm of the same decision Israel has to make when it attempts to administer a democratic state that prioritizes one religion that’s necessary to the idea of a Jewish democracy.

Does Zionism – specifically, right-wing, tribal, expansionist, Revisionist Zionism that leaves no room for the humanity of Palestinians – supersede liberal democratic values like free speech? Are you prepared to defend Israel, no matter the cost? 

In other words, we must decide whether we are prepared to sacrifice our souls. I’m not prepared to do that, and I’m not alone.


Zack Babins

Zack Babins is a professional Jew and Recovering Jewish Professional™, a political communicator and activist, and amateur challah baker. All opinions are his own. You can find him on Twitter @zackbabins.

Amb. David Friedman’s Unforgiveable Misstep

Oct. 7, 2020

By DAVID H. GOLDBERG

U.S. President Donald Trump takes great pride in being a rule breaker, and in the fact that his administration has taken an approach to policymaking that has been, to put it mildly, contrary to traditional methods.

This non-traditional approach is certainly reflected in the Trump Administration’s approach toward Israel and the Middle East, and the list is substantial: Recognition of Israeli sovereignty over the Golan Heights; recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, with the transfer of the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem; that the presence of Israeli civilians living on the West Bank does not violate international law; the promotion of a peace plan that favours Israel over the Palestinians, in part by seemingly supporting the application of Israeli sovereignty over a significant area of the West Bank; midwifing the historic Abraham Accords involving formal recognition agreements between Israel and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and Bahrain, and doing so without the involvement of the Palestinians – thereby belying the longstanding belief that regional peace is dependent on a settlement of the Israeli-Palestinian dispute.

Value judgments aside, one must acknowledge that the above achieved the desired goal of demonstrating Trump’s determination to do diplomacy his way, by speaking painful truths and shake players from their complacency.

U.S. Ambassador to Israel David M. Friedman has played a key role in formulating and facilitating the implementation of the “Trump Doctrine” vis-à-vis the Middle East. An Orthodox Jew and a bankruptcy lawyer by profession, Friedman is a longtime personal friend and political supporter of the president. He has proven to be an effective advocate of Trump’s strategy of shaking up Middle East diplomacy. Consistent with Trump’s policy, he has been a strong critic of the Palestinian Authority president Mahmoud Abbas’s refusal to return to the negotiating table. He also has been a vocal supporter of the interests of Jewish settlers in the West Bank, for which he has reportedly occasionally been rebuked by the U.S. State Department.

However contentious his behaviour might be considered, Friedman was performing his professional duties. However, by recently adopting an overtly partisan position on the U.S. electoral process, he exceeded his professional boundaries and must resign.

In an interview on Oct. 6 with the UAE-based media outlet Al Ain News, Friedman cautioned that a victory in next month’s presidential election by Joe Biden would have an adverse effect on the region, especially with regard to efforts to curb the threat of Iran.

Linking then-Vice President Biden to the 2015 Iran nuclear deal pushed by the Obama Administration, “something that President Trump – and I share his view – thinks was the worst international deal the U.S. has ever entered into,” Friedman implied that a Biden victory would precipitate a U.S. re-entry into the Iran deal and to a weakening of sanctions against Iran’s efforts to expedite the acquisition of nuclear weapons.

“We worked really hard to get Iran, I think, to a much better place. I would hate to think a new administration would undermine that but, regrettably, if Biden wins, I think they might,” Friedman added. “If Biden wins, we will see a policy shift that, in my personal opinion, will be wrong and will be bad for the region, including for Israel, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Qatar and Kuwait,” he continued.

As an American citizen, Friedman has every right to express his personal opinion about policy issues driving the current U.S. electoral cycle. But he must do so only as a private citizen, not as a senior government official, and most certainly not as one of the most visible U.S. ambassadors.

The Trump Administration may pride itself on having broken many rules, but this one it cannot. Ambassador Friedman must go.


David Goldberg
David Goldberg

David H. Goldberg PhD, the author of eight books on Israel, formerly served as director of research and education for the Canada-Israel Committee and the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs.

The Pillars of Justice, or Why a Whale? – a Yom Kippur Drash

By ILANA KRYGIER LAPIDES

One of my favorite Yiddish stories is I.L. Peretz’s Ob Nisht Noch Hecher (“If Not Higher.”) It’s worth seeking out Peretz’s charming, evocative rendition, even in translation, but briefly: The Rebbe of Nemirov seems to disappear every morning at Sliches time and no one knows to where. The rumour is that he ascends to Heaven.

A Litvak, new to town, scoffs when he hears this and decides to find out where the Rebbe really goes to expose him as a charlatan. The Litvak hides under the Rebbe’s bed and in the morning, follows the Rebbe, now dressed as a Russian peasant, to the edge of the shtetl where the Rebbe chops firewood by hand. The Litvak watches with eyes wide as the Rebbe, still in disguise, enters the hut of a very poor old woman, lights her fireplace, bringing much-needed warmth and light, while secretly chanting the Selichot prayers. He then leaves, refusing to take money for his work.

From then on, the Litvak becomes one of the Rebbe’s disciples. And later, when anyone would wonder if the Rebbe was flying up to Heaven, the Litvak would answer quietly, “If not higher.”

On Yom Kippur afternoon, we will read the Book of Jonah. Most of us are familiar with the story. Kids love it, and a story with a whale is always a winner. But interestingly, the most valuable part comes after the whale releases Jonah, after Jonah warns the Ninevites to repent, and after they all immediately do so.

At this point, Jonah should be pleased. He’s not – he’s furious. Jonah tells G-d that he knew this would happen: What was the point of the whole whale thing if G-d was just going to have mercy on this terrible people? Jonah beseeches G-d to treat the Ninevites with severity. Instead, G-d forgives.

In response to Jonah’s anger in the face of this mercy, G-d sends a plant to protect Jonah from the sun and wind. This makes Jonah happy, but the very next day, G-d sends a worm to kill the plant, and Jonah grieves.

G-d does this to help Jonah understand mercy; to illustrate that if Jonah is going to grieve for a plant “which (Jonah) did not work for and which (he) did not grow, which appeared overnight and perished overnight – Should G-d not care about Nineveh in which there are more than a hundred and twenty thousand people…?” (Jonah 4:10-11)

How does Jonah respond? Does he learn his lesson the way the Litvak did? We never find out. The Book of Jonah ends here with the question.

In Kabbalah, there is a saying that justice has two pillars: mercy and severity. The pillar of mercy represents forgiveness for our wrongdoings. The severity pillar represents being responsible for our decisions and that we reap what we sow. In life, justice needs both pillars to exist in balance. The pillar of severity upholds accountability. The pillar of mercy considers the circumstances and makes exceptions.

With the state of the world now, finding this balance is challenging. We are tired and scared. We alternate between numbness and hypersensitivity. Our anxieties chatter, our nerves are shot. It is easy, in this situation, to tip the balance of justice to the side of severity: we long for somewhere to place blame. Like Jonah, mercy no longer seems fitting – we want retribution, vengeance, we want someone to pay.

As we approach Yom Kippur, our “Day of At-One-Ment,” let us work to balance our severity with mercy. Let us ensure that true justice: impartial, reasonable, righteous, is every bit as tuned to mercy as to discipline. This difficult time is exactly the time to hone compassion, understanding, and generosity. And when that friend/acquaintance/stranger comes to us to ask for forgiveness, consider offering it as a gift to them, but mostly as a gift to ourselves.

As we continue our spiritual curriculum in this school of life, we don’t always have to be better. Higher will do.

Shabbat Shalom, and G’mar Chatimah Tova.


Ilana Krygier Lapides

Ilana Krygier Lapides is a Jewish Educator and story-teller in Calgary. She is currently attending rabbinic school online through the Jewish Spiritual Leaders Institute in New York and will be ordained in December 2020.

The Abraham Accords: Winners and Losers

Sept. 24, 2020 – By JON ALLEN

The recent UAE-Israel-U.S.A. agreement takes the immediate prospects of Israel’s illegal annexation of part of the West Bank off the table in exchange for full diplomatic relations with the United Arab Emirates. Bahrain has followed suit, and others – Oman, Sudan and Morocco – could soon. These accords have been variously described as breakthrough peace agreements, an arms deal, and a stab in the back of the Palestinian people.

Clearly, where one stands on this agreement depends on where one sits. For the UAE, the U.S. and Israel, this is a good deal, with multiple benefits. For Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Iran and the Palestinians it’s either unwelcome or very bad news.

For the UAE, the accords bring into the open a relationship with Israel that, until now, has flown under the radar. The deal will allow the transfer of strategic defence and intelligence equipment, technology and training that could reinforce its credibility as a leading Gulf state, and help defend itself against its existential enemy, Iran.

The accord also puts the UAE in the good books of the U.S. Congress, the Trump Administration, and Joe Biden. In return for helping Donald Trump dig himself out of his failed Israeli-Palestinian peace deal, and depending on the will of the next Congress, the agreement could pave the way for the sale to the UAE of F-35 stealth fighter jets, radar scrambling aircraft, and other American defence equipment.

For the U.S., the agreements are also a plus. By diverting attention from Trump’s “deal of the century” that was going nowhere, and by helping Israel obtain two breakthrough recognition agreements, Trump solidifies his support among the right wing of the U.S. Jewish community and among American evangelicals. The billions that the UAE may spend on F-35s and other materiel are bonuses.

Finally, by taking annexation off the table, the deal removes potential acrimony between the Netanyahu government and the Biden campaign, and between Biden and the right wing of the Jewish community. 

That said, foreign policy issues rarely play a major role in U.S. elections, and these accords are unlikely to give Trump much of a bump in the polls or a fast track to the Nobel Peace Prize that he so desperately seeks.

For Israel, establishment of full relations with important Gulf states – and the legitimacy that confers – and the hope that more could follow, is huge. If the accords lead to a strategic relationship centred on confronting Iran, that development could signal an even greater shift in the region. And that could come without Israel having to negotiate a peace agreement with the Palestinians – the previous sine qua non to any recognition by Arab states.

Finally, the deal was a personal victory for Netanyahu and a brief respite at a time when he is being criticized at home for his failure to manage the economy and the COVID crisis.

Possible downsides of the agreement for Bibi include incurring the wrath of the pro-annexation settler movement. For Israel, a concern is the possible shifting of the strategic balance in the region as a result of the sale of sophisticated equipment to the UAE and other Gulf states that could potentially challenge Israel’s qualitative military edge.

In the medium term, if the agreement convinces Israelis that they can now somehow ignore the Palestinian question, such a notion could pose an existential threat to the nation’s future as a democratic state and the home of the Jewish people.

As mentioned, Turkey, Iran and Saudi Arabia lost ground as a result of the accords. Turkey, which has had diplomatic relations with Israel since 1949, attacked the UAE for its act of recognition. Turkey also is in conflict with the UAE in both Libya and Yemen, and finds common cause with Iran on various issues, including support for Hamas and the Muslim Brotherhood. The deal clearly poses challenges on all these fronts.

Of course, Iran is Israel’s strongest and most vocal enemy. By boosting Israel’s legitimacy, breaking ranks among Arab and Muslim nations, and allowing the UAE to enhance its defence capabilities, the deal poses a direct threat to Iran’s credibility in the region at a time when U.S. sanctions, COVID, and a failing economy are already weakening Iranian leadership.

Saudi Arabia and its Crown Prince, Mohammad bin Salman, also lost some ground. The Saudis’ disastrous forays into Yemen and Libya, coupled with the Jamal Khashoggi assassination, had already put the prince in the U.S. Congress’ bad books. The UAE departed Yemen last year in part to disassociate itself from the Saudis. By offering recognition to Israel without meeting the Arab Peace Initiative’s preconditions, the UAE further disassociated itself from the Saudis. Finally, if Congress does approve the sale of weapons and planes, the UAE will have an enhanced strategic relationship with both the U.S. and Israel that could leave the Saudis playing second fiddle for a time.

As suggested, however, this agreement bodes the worst for the Palestinians. To this point, the quid pro quo for any Arab recognition of Israel was a peace deal between Israel and the Palestinians based on the Arab Peace Initiative. The Abraham Accords instead trade removing the threat of annexation – an illegal act that was heavily criticized by the international community – for full diplomatic relations.

To add insult to injury, all efforts by the Palestinians to bring the issue before the Arab League and the Gulf Cooperation Council failed miserably. No consensus on criticizing the agreements could be achieved. Palestinian hopes that the Arab street in the UAE, Bahrain, Jordan, and Saudi Arabia might react strongly also were dashed. The only notable protests occurred in the Territories themselves.

Indeed, the only two positive elements of the accords for the Palestinians are that they united Palestinians (Hamas, Fatah, Islamic Jihad) in their opposition to them, and that they staved off legislated annexation, at least for now.

The accords’ long-term prospects are harder to predict when it comes to the Palestinians. The UAE and Bahrain claim that they have not forgotten the Palestinians. Will they and others now pressure Israel to begin negotiations with the Palestinian Authority on realistic terms? Will they oppose further settlement expansion? What role will Mohammed Dachlan, a pretender to PA President Mahmoud Abbas’ throne and an important adviser to the UAE, play in the future?

I agree with some who say it is crucial for the Palestinian Authority to replace its sclerotic leadership with new blood through open and transparent elections, to bring forward its own proposals for a two-state solution, and to dispel the notion that the Palestinians are only able to say no.

I disagree, however, with those who suggest that the time is now ripe for such a move. No legitimate proposal for a two-state solution that requires compromises on both sides will be negotiated as long as Netanyahu remains prime minister. He has made clear more than once that Palestinian statehood will not happen on his watch. Moreover, the blatantly pro-Israel terms of Trump’s so-called peace plan belies any hope that his Administration might act as an honest broker in such a negotiation.

Rather, the Palestinians should reform their political class, develop a serious draft peace proposal, consult with key Arab states and American allies on the substance and the process going forward, and act boldly once both Trump and Bibi have left the scene.


Jon Allen

Jon Allen is a Senior Fellow at the Munk School of Global Affairs and Public Policy, and served as Canada’s ambassador to Israel from 2006 to 2010.