A Hamilton, Ont., Member of Parliament has quietly deleted a tweet that accused Israel of demolishing a COVID testing centre in the Palestinian city of Hebron.
The controversial June 19 tweet drew angry responses from the Israeli Embassy in Ottawa and Jewish advocacy agencies, including B’nai Brith and the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs (CIJA).
“Pleased to see MP Matthew Green belatedly delete his false anti-Israel tweet, but an MP should be transparent enough to admit such a mistake, so that his followers aren’t misled,” B’nai Brith Canada tweeted after discovering that Green’s posting was no longer available.
In June, Green, the NDP member for Hamilton Centre, said “hundreds” had contacted him with “serious concerns” over allegations that Israeli forces had demolished a badly-needed COVID testing centre in Hebron.
“I condemn this blatant disregard for human life during this pandemic,” Green stated.
His tweet missed its mark on several fronts. Just before it appeared, the Jerusalem Post reported that the civil authority in Hebron tore down a building there in July, but it was a car dealership being constructed without approval.
Only after the building was demolished did the owner post a notice claiming it was to have been a COVID test centre.
In April, Israel did demolish a planned but unapproved COVID clinic in the predominantly Palestinian neighbourhood of Silwan, just outside Jerusalem’s Old City.
The Israeli Embassy said the structure was operating without required municipal permits, and pointed out that there are several health centers close to Silwan that provide free COVID services to anyone.
“There are dozens of health facilities within a 5km radius of Silwan (excluding 7!! major hospitals) legally administering #COVID19tests and treatment to ALL, regardless of religion/cultural background,” the Embassy tweeted.
“Like Canada and its municipalities, lawful permits are required to build new structures, especially ones that administer health care.
“Just as it would not be acceptable for an unauthorized makeshift ‘testing’ facility to be constructed in someone’s front yard in Hamilton, it is also the case in Israel,” the Embassy’s statement added.
An unnamed Civil Administration spokesman told the Post that “contrary to the false claims, this was not a center for coronavirus testing,” and not a health clinic. “That’s a total lie. We condemn the cynical use of a global crisis at the expense of the Palestinians in Hebron,” he added.
Green did not respond to an e-mailed request for comment.
Last week, Canadian Jewish actor and filmmaker Seth Rogen, while promoting his new movie, An American Pickle, the saga of a poor Yiddish immigrant to New York City who is preserved in pickle brine for 100 years (based on a quirky story by Simon Rich, available here), discussed his Jewish identity and feelings about Israel.
You may have read about it: Rogen rejected an inherent link between Jewish identity and Zionism, called the idea of Jewish statehood the product of “an antiquated thought process,” and expressed dissatisfaction with the ways he – the son of two kibbutzniks and Jewish summer camp alumnus– was educated when it came to Israel.
I may disagree with Seth on a few points – I happen to think that as long as everyone else has a state, we should probably have one too – but this much is true: The way that our community teaches young Jews about Israel, Palestine – and the conflict just doesn’t square with historical records – and there is an instinct to exile and dismiss the Jews who ask frank and difficult questions about Israel.
The realities of the Aliyah movements, the British Mandate, the War of Independence, the wars of 1967 and 1973, intifadas, settlements, and countless failed peace processes, are too messy for one op-ed and one day. But in our day schools and summer camps, and our primary educational programs, they are simplified to create a vision of Israel that is blameless, perfect and miraculous – a vision far more naïve and utopian than even Herzl’s.
“We took a deserted land and made the desert bloom.” “We (out of the goodness of our own hearts) withdrew from Gaza and just look at what they did there.” “We accepted the Partition plan and they didn’t.”
It wasn’t until my final year of university, and my decision to write a thesis on the 2005 withdrawal from Gaza, that I – who had attended Hebrew school for nine years, was active in the local Jewish fraternity, president of Hillel, and had just participated in a Birthright Israel trip – learned, for instance, that the Israeli acceptance of the 1947 partition plan was far from unanimous, with Menachem Begin and the Revisionist Zionist camp calling it “illegitimate.”
During that year of research and writing, I encountered many pieces of information that directly and forcefully disproved many of the ideas that I had been raised with. I confronted the reality of a real country making political decisions and strategic military calculations.
I felt lied to. On many occasions, I was mere sentences away from abandoning my emotional stake in Israel altogether. On some days, the only thing stopping me from washing my hands of the whole messy falafel was a mentor who encouraged me to embrace the nuances and test my values against them.
Any conversation about the Jewish future has to include a frank, reasonable discussion about the role of Israel and its ability to represent Jews around the world. It is unsustainable for us, as a people, to continue mythologizing a real, complex place and exiling those of us who express dissatisfaction with realities once we learn them.
After all of that, after the threat of annexation, the continued attack of the rabbinate on progressive values, and much more, I remain a Zionist for this reason:
I am a Jew, and a Jew in a world that is dangerous and hostile to Jews: Israel, for all its faults, remains a place where Jews can be safe as Jews, an increasing rarity in 2020. While I am relatively safe as a Canadian Jew, I know far too much Jewish history to think that this safety is forever guaranteed.
But a small part of me, in the back of my head, knows that there is a second reason. I remain a Zionist because anything else risks alienation and condemnation. From my friends, my family, the community I grew up and worked in. From the Jewish Twittersphere.
I’ve been to Israel three times and I’d like to visit again in the future. In pre-coronavirus times, Israel has barred entry to, among others, Diaspora Jewish BDS activists. I’m not interested in taking a 12-hour flight only to get deported from a country that claims to be my homeland.
My Zionism is nuanced. It is critical, it is measured, and I do my best to keep it in line with history and the values with which I judge every other political issue in my life. But it is not the only thing that makes me a Jew. Far from it.
I’ve long been party to conversations – and handwringing – about the Jewish future. For a long time, assimilation and intermarriage were the boogeyman. Now, it’s insufficient (right-wing, reactionary, unquestioning) Zionism that gets one labeled as a traitor to the Jews.
The truth is, when we lie to our kids, they resent the lie as much as they resent us. The truth is, to ensure a Jewish future, we have to tell the truth about the Jewish past. And that means a conversation about Israel that’s rooted in reality and history, not myths and utopias. These questions are not going away, and will only get louder. The truth is, we ignore them – and dismiss young Jews with serious concerns – at our own risk.
Zack Babins is a Professional Jew and Recovering Jewish Professional™, an occasional political communicator and a constant seeker of attention.
In them, Beinart asserts that the two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is no longer possible, and he advocates for a single binational state from the Jordan River to the Mediterranean Sea, with equal rights for all.
In the succeeding days, Beinart’s article garnered much attention in the Jewish world, most of it highly critical, some verging on caustic.
I approach the task of evaluating his thesis and the critiques to which it has been subjected as someone who has long been committed to a two-state solution in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
It is important to be clear on the elements of Beinart’s argument, which has three components:
• That settlements have so penetrated the West Bank that separation from Palestinians there is impossible. Hence a two-state solution is impossible, and a single state between the Jordan and the Mediterranean is inevitable. Indeed, he says, a single state is already in place as a result of Israeli settlements and the legal and physical infrastructure created to support those settlements.
• A binational state won’t be so bad. In fact, it would be a good outcome.
• A binational state has an intellectual “pedigree” going back to some early Zionist luminaries.
All of the many responses I have read focus only on Beinart’s second and third arguments, but not on his first. Even a response from Dennis Ross and David Makovsky, two of the most astute analysts of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, addresses only Beinart’s benign view of a single state, failing entirely to respond to his first argument – that a single state is inevitable. (“Don’t Give Up on the Two-State Solution,” The American Interest, July 14, 2020).
I don’t propose to address Beinart’s second and third arguments for the simple reason that if Beinart is correct about the impossibility of the two-state solution, the issues arising from his other two arguments will not affect the outcome, even if he is dead wrong in both cases.
The only issue is whether the single state between the Jordan and the Mediterranean will be a genuine binational state – one in which all current Israeli citizens and all current Palestinian residents of the West Bank are citizens with equal rights in every dimension – or an apartheid state. In either event, the vision of Israel as a Jewish and democratic state is doomed.
Some might argue that this situation has been brought about by Palestinian intransigence. I agree that the Palestinians have been intransigent in the face of numerous genuine efforts by Israel to negotiate separation on terms reasonable to both sides. But ascribing fault for the present situation is a useless exercise. The point of Beinart’s first argument is that the situation renders separation impossible.
To liberal, progressive life-long Zionists, this is a depressing outlook and not one to which we will readily acquiesce. But, as one test of Beinart’s first argument, ask yourself the following question: Can you conceive of any Israeli government of any political complexion taking either of the following actions as part of a genuine peace agreement, with the Palestinians meeting all of Israel’s security needs?
• Either requiring the residents of the settlements (or, perhaps, only those settlements which are not adjacent to the Green Line), to evacuate and relocate west of the Green Line (or, perhaps, into the settlements adjacent to the Green Line);
• Or, telling the residents of the settlements (or, perhaps, only of the settlements which are not adjacent to the Green Line) that they are on their own, that they will no longer have Israeli defence or economic assistance. They can maintain their Israeli citizenship, but simply as expatriates, or acquire Palestinian citizenship, or both. Those who maintain their Israeli citizenship will receive the same consular assistance, and in the same circumstances, as Israeli expats in any other foreign country, but nothing more.
If the answer to that question is “no,” then, I would argue there is no conceivable separation agreement that could ever be reached between Israel and the Palestinians of the West Bank. And that takes us right back to the single state, which is either genuinely binational or apartheid.
Beinart’s case for the death of the two-state solution is not premised upon annexation according to the Trump plan or Netanyahu’s campaign pledges. He argues that the settlements have already so penetrated the West Bank that separation is impossible. Indeed, there is a great risk that, if the current threat of formal annexation of whatever magnitude fades away, liberal, progressive, life-long Zionists will breathe a sigh of relief thinking that we have dodged a bullet.
More likely, considering 53 years of history since 1967, “creeping annexation” will continue as settlements in the West Bank expand and new settlements are created. Recent experience has shown that when the Israeli government reluctantly takes any steps against any settlement, even one that is illegal under Israeli law, those steps are accompanied by “compensation” to the settlement movement in the form of expansion of other existing settlements or transfer of the affected residents to another location in the West Bank to create yet another settlement. What “compensation” will Netanyahu feel compelled to provide if he fails to deliver on his annexation promises?
Israel needs effective security. While a military presence in the West Bank is currently essential to Israeli security, civilian settlements in the West Bank contribute nothing to that security. Indeed, they exacerbate security issues.
I would be overjoyed to be confronted with a convincing rejoinder to Beinart’s first and primary argument. Like most liberal, progressive, life-long Zionists, I have clung to the two-state solution for decades as the basis for resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict at some indeterminate time in the future.
Beinart challenges us to ask whether we are clinging to an illusion. If so, whither Israel as a Jewish and democratic state? Whither Zionism?
Joseph Steiner is a member of the boards of New Israel Fund of Canada, Prizmah: The Center for Jewish Day Schools, Bialik Hebrew Day School (of which he is a past chair), and the Shalom Hartman Institute, and an associate member of the Board of Governors of the Jewish Agency for Israel. He is a past chair of UJA Federation of Greater Toronto and of its former Board of Jewish Education. The views expressed in this article are his own.
Friends of Simon Wiesenthal Center (FSWC) has denounced a series of “hate-filled” anti-Israel protests that took place across Canada over the past week, including one in Mississauga where protesters were filmed chanting “Jews are our dogs.”
UPDATE: Mississauga’s mayor has denounced a rally in her city at which Jews were called “dogs.”
In a tweet on July 7, Mayor Crombie said: “I stand with our city’s Jewish community in strongly condemning these hateful and disturbing anti-Semitic comments. Hate has no place in Mississauga. We’re a welcoming city that promotes unity, understanding and acceptance. Those who seek to divide us are not welcome here.”
B’nai Brith Canada has filed a hate-crimes complaint with Peel Regional Police after protesters chanted “hateful” antisemitic slogans at the anti-Israel protest in Mississauga on July 4.
The protests, which took place in Toronto and Mississauga over last weekend, followed similar demonstrations in other cities and made false claims about Israel and Zionism, promoted the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement, and called for “intifada,” or a violent uprising against Israel, the FSWC said in a statement.
In response to the event in Mississauga, where protesters chanted “Palestine is our country and the Jews are our dogs,” FSWC called on Mississauga Mayor Bonnie Crombie to speak out publicly against the hate, and send a clear message that the city will not permit such antisemitism and other forms of hatred.
“It is unbelievable that to this day, in diverse cities like Toronto and Mississauga, we are repeatedly witnessing blatant antisemitism rear its ugly head, even in public places,” said Jaime Kirzner-Roberts, director of FSWC’s Campaign Against Antisemitism.
StandWithUs Canada used truck ads to counter the protesters’ message in Toronto, said Randi Skurka, a founding board member of the organization.
She said the trucks drove around the vicinity of the Toronto event on July 4 with messages including “Israelis Want Peace,” “Palestinian Leaders: Stop the Hate, Negotiate Peace,” and “Israel Needs a Partner for Peace.”
“Importantly, the ads don’t signal a position on Israel potentially applying sovereignty to or annexing parts of the West Bank,” Skurka said.
The Toronto rally, dubbed “Day of Rage,” was attended by about 200 people and took place at the intersection at Yonge and Bloor streets, with speakers shouting “Viva Intifada” and “From the River to the Sea,” Skurka said.
“StandWithUs Canada is sending a message that we will not be silent or tolerate hate speech that incites violence against Israel and the Jewish people,” Skurka said.
Over the course of the last 50 plus years, the dire need for a two-state solution between Palestinians and Israelis has always occupied the minds of world leaders. When there were breakthroughs, be it former prime minister Ariel Sharon’s recognition of the Palestinian people, the Oslo agreement or former prime minister Ehud Barak’s attempt at a negotiated deal between Israel and the Palestinian Authority, nothing seemed to work.
For those who longed for a settlement, it seemed a stalemate, as inadequate as that was, still left open the possibility of peace.
But, as of this week, Israel’s plans to annex a portion of the occupied territories, though temporarily on hold for reasons unknown, still seem to be careening toward some form of completion. Annexation in any form will destroy the hopes for a Middle East peace. Indeed, if Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s plans for a fuller annexation come to fruition, the chances of Israel’s very survival as a Jewish state may well come into question.
The plans set forth cannot help but render impossible any contemplation of a contiguous Palestinian state. Many Jews in the Diaspora have railed against Netanyahu’s plans. Even the stalwart American Jewish Committee, which has always found ways to defend some of Israel’s harshest policies, warned in a recent article that in annexation, “The price will be borne in the erosion of Israel’s longstanding claims against Palestinian unilateralism, in breach of Oslo Accords promises, and in increasing cynicism in multiple constituencies – including within our own community – about Israel’s commitment to peace.”
Even the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, the largest and most successful pro-Israel lobbying group on Capitol Hill, has, according to the Times of Israel, let it be known that while it will not publicly criticize Israel, it will also not cry foul if others do so, as long as the criticism stops at the issue of annexation.
Here in Canada, the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs has been quiet about annexation, but given its usual full-throated support of anything Netanyahu offers, its silence speaks volumes.
Progressive Zionist organizations have rejected any idea of annexation. A recent letter written by New Israel Fund, Jspace Canada and Canadian Friends of Peace Now and signed by many well-known Canadian Jewish writers, thinkers and advocates (including Bernie Farber publisher of the CJR), was adamant in its opposition to annexation. In part, the letter read, “An annexation agenda assails not only Palestinian rights and national aspirations but also Israel’s founding values as outlined in its Declaration of Independence. Illegal under international law, unilateral annexation could provoke a new cycle of violence, lead to the collapse of the Palestinian Authority, jeopardize peace treaties with Jordan and Egypt, undermine Israel’s security and further destabilize the region.”
We continue to dream of a negotiated two-state solution. We fear that without it, Israel as a safe haven for Jews, as a democratic state that embraces the concepts of freedom and human rights will disappear. Jews of good conscience can no longer be silent.