Questioning the Two-State Solution: A Dilemma for Progressive Jews

By JEFFREY WILKINSON

Recently, liberal Jewish thinker, journalist and teacher Peter Beinart wrote a highly provocative article in the journal Jewish Currents, followed by a shorter piece in the New York Times calling the two-state solution “dead” and advocating for a binational state with equal rights for all.

In his longer piece, “Yavne: A Jewish Case for Equality in Israel-Palestine,” Beinart reflects on moments in Jewish history where seismic shifts happened in religious and cultural practices that may have seemed threatening at the time, but were instead movements that propelled us to be better and stronger. So how will we respond to Beinart’s call for another seismic shift in our thinking and practice?

Predictably, there were rebuttals from many sides, including complete rejection from the more rigid advocates of Israel, calling Beinart irrelevant. The Anti-Defamation League (ADL) went so far as to call him antisemitic (a rich claim to be aimed at a devout Jew).

The focus here is on the response from the “progressive” Jewish community. While the term “progressive” encapsulates a wide swath of Jewish thought, I refer specifically to the large numbers who refer to themselves as Zionists but also voice concern, to varying degrees, over Israeli government policy, particularly in terms of the occupation, settlements, possible annexation, and Palestinian human rights. Beinart has long been a part of this progressive Zionist movement, though he has been retreating from the two-state camp for some time.

He makes three key points. The first, holding on to the two–state solution, based on today’s political realities, including the lack of viable left-leaning political movement supporting it, is akin to supporting the status quo indefinitely.

Second, a binational state has been successfully achieved in other places in the world, so it is attainable.

Lastly, the focus on Israel as the liberation of the Jewish people and the only “insurance policy” against another Holocaust can no longer be used as the sole justification for defending injustice and inflicting suffering on Palestinians.

The dilemma for progressive Zionists is that if the very idea of “progressiveness” is to be willing to challenge the status quo and resist injustice, how do we respond when we ourselves are being called out for maintaining the status quo? In order to answer this, we need to reflect on why so many are resisting Beinart’s call for a re-examination. Is it not innately “Jewish” to reflect and re-examine?

While there are layers to dealing with this dilemma, we must begin with what I would offer is the root of the challenge: Trauma. Historical trauma, present trauma, and the fear of future trauma.

The challenge that Beinart’s article presents for progressives is really a challenge that is already baked into the idea of progressive Zionism: To be pro-peace, pro-Palestinian and pro-Israel. I would suggest there is an existing irresolvable tension in supporting Palestinians while also supporting the very institution that oppresses them.

In spite of these seemingly incompatible goals, there are many deeply committed to this trilateral cause to support peace, support Palestinians, while remaining steadfastly Zionist. I have struggled with these contradictions for many years. To deal differently with Beinart’s call, and with the two-state dilemma more broadly, we need to deal with the built-in contradictions in our “pro-pro-pro” stance.

The key to this journey, in my own experience, is in recognizing that that this “pro-pro-pro” commitment is viewed through a 1967-forward lens. If we dig more deeply into this, it means viewing Palestinian oppression only in terms of settlements, the occupation, and the daily injustices that the Israeli government and military inflict on Palestinians.

The two-state solution is entirely a ’67–driven solution: Returning to the pre-’67 borders, sharing Jerusalem, ending the occupation, and resolving the settlement issue. This allows us to maintain Israel without acknowledging or addressing the core trauma for Palestinians: 1948.

It is, in many ways, a “have our cake and eat it too” solution. Yes, it does involve compromise from us, but not in terms of trauma. We get to have our liberation from trauma (Israel), without deeply addressing Palestinian trauma.

There have been many responses to Beinart’s article from Jewish progressives. They centre on the idea that abandoning the two-state solution is tantamount to cultural suicide. In a recent webinar, Jeremy Ben-Ami, the president of JStreet, a strongly progressive lobby group in the United States, asked Beinart why he would “abandon the Jewish State at a time Jews are under such threat?” That this fear of impending trauma continues to dominate the progressive Jewish narrative means that we have not found a way to deal with the central contradiction of being supporters of both Israel and Palestinians.

To face Beinart’s call head on, we need to be able to see justice for all as a response to the genesis of the trauma for Palestinians. We need to examine whether our call for a two-state solution is in fact “progressive” or is it clinging to the status quo? We need to ask if the binational state is really the existential threat to Jews that we have made it out to be. Granting that this is a genuine fear, does holding on to the status quo create greater safety for Jews in the long-term, and even if it does, is it a just solution for all, including Palestinians?

While I agree with Beinart and have come to similar conclusions myself some time ago, my purpose here is to remind us that re-examination is an essential tenet of our tradition, and that we should never feel that the call to question is inherently dangerous. We are strong enough to have this difficult conversation with ourselves and we must have it if justice for all is indeed our guiding light.


Jeff Wilkinson
Jeffrey Wilkinson, PhD

Jeffrey J. Wilkinson, PhD, is an educator, facilitator and researcher focused on the psycho-social causes of intractable conflicts, researching not only how these conflicts are formed, but also how they may be undone over time. His doctoral dissertation explored the Israel/Palestine conflict through the experiences of Canadian Jews and Palestinians. He is the co-author, with a Palestinian, of an upcoming book addressing the current polarization in Jewish-Palestinian discourse within the two diasporas.

If You Want to Fight Antisemitism, Engage Allies

Aug. 4, 2020 – By REBECCA KATZMAN

Anti-Israel groups have hijacked student governments on many campuses. Their aggressive, often malicious rhetoric and programs are bigoted and hateful, causing Jewish and pro-Israel students to feel marginalized. Although bigotry against Israel is often considered free speech, it is actually hate speech and antisemitic, at least according to the IHRA definition. It should be socially unacceptable on every university campus in Canada. It is not civil discourse, and far too often, it shuts down any kind of dialogue about the complexities of the Middle East conflict.

These groups are loud, angry, and their demonization of all things Israel contributes to making campus a hostile environment for Jewish and pro-Israel students. The relentless propaganda of the global BDS (boycott, divestment, and sanctions) movement to delegitimize Israel has led to overt acts of antisemitism. Although BDS motions are generally toothless and university administrations may disavow them, the damage to student life is real.

From 2012 to 2014, the BDS movement passed 11 anti-Israel resolutions on campuses across the country. Since then, Jewish campus organizations have worked together to defeat such campaigns at 11 universities. Even as we continue addressing challenges on campus, we must become more proactive. We must empower students to educate new audiences, make friends, and create alliances.

We have to bring student leaders to Israel and Israel to students! Working for StandWithUs Canada, the game-changing Israel education organization, I recognized that our community can do more to overcome antisemitism and ignorance on campus.

That is why earlier this year, I asked students who went through StandWithUs Canada’s Emerson Fellowship, which equips student leaders to proudly bring Israel to their campuses while challenging misinformation about the Jewish state, to reach out to student government presidents, executive members, journalists, and influencers on their campuses across the country to offer them an in-depth tour of Israel and the Palestinian Authority – from Tel Aviv and Jerusalem to Ramallah.

The trip was funded by two wonderful community philanthropists, Tammy Brown and Tamara Fine, their friends, and other members of the community who shared our vision.

StandWithUs Canada led its first campus mission to Israel, called InSight, this past February. I felt so privileged to lead the delegation of 14 prominent student leaders from Ottawa, Montreal, Toronto, St. John’s, and Winnipeg on a life-changing and educational 10-day adventure.

We started in Jerusalem, where we arrived in time to see the beautiful celebrations at the Western Wall on Shabbat. We toured Yad Vashem, where we learned about the atrocities of the Holocaust. Student leaders mentioned that they had never learned anything about the Holocaust during any of their school years. I watched the students learn, become emotional, and even shed tears. 

We went to Ramallah and Ariel to hear from Israelis and Palestinians, the people on both sides of the conflict. Participants met with students from Ariel University in the West Bank, and asked them what life is like in their community. Later in the day, the students went on a tour at the Achva factory, where they sampled warm halva straight from the mixer.

The group visited Save a Child’s Heart to learn about the humanitarian organization that offers life-saving heart surgeries for babies from the Middle East and North Africa. One day ended with dinner in Usafiya, a Druze village in the north of Israel, at the family home of a student ambassador for peace.

We visited the SodaStream factory in the Negev, where participants saw Palestinians and Israelis working side by side in peaceful coexistence. SodaStream’s facility in the West Bank had been a major target of BDS, and we heard from Palestinian workers about how this anti-Israel campaign endangers their livelihoods.

We visited the Gaza “envelope” – communities and towns that border or are very close to the Gaza Strip, including Sderot so the students could understand the real threat of Hamas terror, with missiles often raining on these places and families driven to bomb shelters with just 15 seconds to find safety.

We heard from Danny Tirza, the architect of the security barrier that was built to stop terrorism from the Palestinian territories during the second intifada. We learned about other security threats Israel faces as well, along with the difficult choices the Israel Defense Forces must often make during emergencies. Participants gained a deeper understanding of how complicated the situation is, and our conversations became more nuanced.

A highlight of the trip was the Ethiopian cultural centre, Beteh, in Tel Aviv. Bettae was created by former StandWithUs employee Ashager Araro.  It showcases Ethiopian food and culture. The students learned the story of Ethiopian Jewry and gained a deeper understanding of Israeli society.

Towards the end, we visited the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem, considered by Christians to be the site of Jesus’ crucifixion, burial and resurrection. To cap off this amazing trip, we toured Jaffa and the Peres Centre for Peace, went to the beach, and enjoyed the vibrant nightlife of Tel Aviv. The students got to see Israel as a complex and vibrant country, a place with a rich and diverse culture, and a home to people who found countless unique ways to make the world a better place.

In the end, this trip resulted in a whirlwind of emotions for everyone. On departing Israel, hearts and minds were more open, more reflective, and more connected. “Though each participant was different, as a group we shared one important trait: Curiosity,” one student wrote. “I was absolutely inspired by the open-mindedness of my peers, their desire to learn, and ask uncomfortable questions.”

I’m very excited about the relationships and partnerships we are building with many diverse campus groups and student leaders from many backgrounds. The more we can build understanding about Jews and Israel, the more allies we will have in the fight against hatred and antisemitism. 


Rebecca Katzman
Rebecca Katzman

Rebecca Katzman is the Campus Director for StandWithUs Canada. She is also an alumna of the 2015-2016 StandWithUs Canada Emerson Fellowship. For more about the fellowships and help fighting antisemitism on campus, contact Rebecca at: rebeccak@standwithus.com 

The Seth Rogen Drama: We Need Honest Talk About Israel

Aug. 3, 2020 – By ZACK BABINS

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.

Jewish/Palestinian Equality, Yes! A Joint Jewish/Palestinian state, Impossible!

By BOB KATZ

The writer Peter Beinart, a well-known and influential progressive Zionist, who had long advocated a two-state solution, recently reconsidered his principles. In a controversial and much-discussed essay, published in Jewish Currents in early July, he proposes an altogether different paradigm.

In his carefully written, well-researched essay, Beinart concludes that the traditional view of Zionism was no longer viable, a two-state solution was unachievable, and the only alternative to Israel becoming an apartheid state would be for it to forge an alliance with the Palestinians and create a unified state in which all citizens were equal. Most importantly, he emphasizes that if Israel continued to govern close to three million non-citizen, non-voting Palestinians on a fraction of the West Bank, it would be unable to avoid the “apartheid” label. And once the world came to regard Israel as an apartheid state, its days would be numbered.

Beinart recognizes that a one-state solution would require difficult compromises. At the same time, he points to the existence of two states within Belgium, notes South Africa’s successful transition to democracy, and proposes the example of the peace accord that ended the Troubles in Northern Ireland. 

Far from persuading me to abandon Zionism and accept a one-state solution, Beinart’s essay left me all the more convinced of the importance of Zionism, and the necessity of a two-state solution. At the same time, I am in full agreement with his bleak view that, if annexation continues, whether creeping or formal, Israel will fit the definition of apartheid, in which case it will not be able to survive the type of international condemnation that led to the end of apartheid in South Africa.

Beinart describes the logic and benefits of a unified Jewish-Palestinian state but does not offer a plan to bring about a union. Instead, he points to the largely successful integration of Palestinian Israelis into the pre-1967 borders and observes that, given Israel’s control of the West Bank, “Israel-Palestine is already binational.” He posits that education and income parity would lead to workable compromises for all Palestinians. Over the past 53 years, Israel and the Palestinians have failed to negotiate a two-state solution. There is no reason to assume that the two sides – three if you consider Gaza a separate entity – will do any better negotiating a one-state solution.

Beinart’s assertion that it would be feasible for Jews and all Palestinians to unite within a peaceful state, such as exists in present day Israel, ignores the fact that the Palestinians who hold Israeli citizenship have a very different recent history than the Palestinians in Gaza and the West Bank. It would require the integration of dispossessed people who have long seen the PLO and Hamas as their only prospects for freedom from a Zionist tyranny.

Beinart dreams of a unified state with a constitution in which both Jews and Palestinians would have equal rights. Even with constitutional protections, it is not hard to imagine both sides attempting to dominate the other. Whatever constitutional rights Armenians once had in the Ottoman Empire were extinguished by 1923 with virtually no intervention from the outside world. Iran was a multi-cultural state until it felt a need to deal with apostates such as their Baha’i, Zoroastrian and Jewish minorities. In Iraq, Sunnis persecuted Shiites until Saddam Hussein was overthrown, at which time the Shiites persecuted the Sunnis. And everyone persecuted the Kurds.

The author argues that extremists would be mollified in a state in which all peoples were full citizens with equal rights. A quick change of heart would be inconceivable. A unified state would have to persuade crazed Jewish settlers and suicidal Hamas fighters to set aside their murderous practices in the interests of peace with their mortal enemies.

Beinart’s essay does not deal with a division of so-called “holy sites.” The tombs of Hebron are sacred to Jews and to Muslims. A binational state of Israel would have to reconcile the legitimate concerns of Hebron’s Palestinians, whose Jewish extremist persecutors have erected a statue to honour Baruch Goldstein as well as the fears of indigenous Jews who remain haunted by the 1929 Hebron Massacre. Beinart also ignores the interests of fundamentalist Christians, who believe that only if there is a Jewish state in Israel can there be a Second Coming. 

Beinart discusses Gaza, pre-1967 Israel, and the West Bank as if they were in a bubble, free from external forces. Guaranteeing the security of Jews in a binational state would require more than a peace between Palestinians and Jews. Just as many Jews deny the rights of Palestinians in the interests of a truly Jewish state (see: Israel’s Basic Law, enacted in 2018), many Muslims dream of an all-Muslim Middle East. In 1948, five Arab nations attacked Israel with the stated purpose of preventing a Zionist entity from existing in the Middle East. 

The principal reason the Egyptian and Jordanian governments currently recognize Israel is because, at least for now, cooperation is a more viable alternative than war. The principal reason the Sunni states, which are still at war with Israel, no longer emphasize destroying the Zionist entity is because, at least for now, they are more worried about Iran. There is no reason to assume that Iran would be any better disposed to a Jewish power-sharing relationship in a binational Israeli-Palestinian state than they are to sharing power with the indigenous Jews who still live within their borders. 

Beinart’s bubble ignores the fact that members of non-Islamic religions are in decline in most Middle Eastern states. The Christian population in all of the Sunni states has shrunk dramatically in the past century. Lebanon has been shattered by sectarian wars. Christians leave their homelands because they believe that they live in countries that, with the possible exception of Syria, want the Middle East to be entirely Muslim, as the Prophet Muhammad ordained. In Egypt, there have been frequent slaughters of Coptic Christians, whose population has declined by roughly 25 percent in the past 60 years. In a unified state, Jews would be a tiny minority surrounded by a sea of Islamic states that have rarely shown good will to their Jewish populations.

Beinart proposes post-apartheid South Africa as a model of a successful binational state and points out that white Afrikaners’ fear of violence proved unwarranted once the majority Black population gained equal rights. The example of South Africa becomes less compelling when one considers how badly integration fared in Rhodesia, South Sudan, the former Ethiopia, or post-partition Pakistan. Bi-nationalism also failed in Lebanon, Syria, Egypt, Iraq, and Yemen.

Northern Ireland is for Beinart another example of an apparently intractable conflict resolved once a peace accord was in place. However, the issues that divided Protestants and Catholics in Northern Ireland were very different than the issues dividing Jews and Palestinians. In Northern Ireland, historical grievances notwithstanding, the two adversaries were English-speaking, white-skinned Christians. Neither party was divided by differing Biblical commandments or shared holy sites.

Moreover, the example of Northern Ireland’s generally, successful transition to coexistence becomes less compelling when contrasted with the example of the former Yugoslavia, where a functional, post-war coexistence collapsed into mayhem following the 1980 death of Marshal Tito. 

In Northern Ireland, with Ireland to the south and England to the east, Catholics and Protestants each had neighbors with an interest in “their people” and keeping the peace. Israel does not have any neighbours who see the Jews as “their people.” 

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu required three elections before he could form a precarious coalition with “Alternate” Prime Minister Benny Gantz. Although Likud’s and Kahol Lavan’s ideologies are similar, they are just barely cooperating. And neither party was willing to cooperate with HaReshima HaMeshutefet (the Joint List). A country that could not welcome Israeli Arabs from HaReshima HaMeshutefet into a coalition would be even less likely to accept Fatah as a partner—or Hamas as the opposition. 

I am in strong agreement with Beinart’s belief that unless a just and democratic solution is found for the Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza, Israel will become an apartheid state, subject to constant security threats from within and without its borders. I have a keen recollection of how the collective efforts of the Commonwealth turned South Africa into a pariah state, even as Margaret Thatcher, the British prime minister, emphasized that they were “our kith and kin.” There is no prospect of a successful binational Jewish-Palestinian state! The future of Israel and Zionism depends on Jews and Palestinians each being able to live in prosperous democratic states of their own. 


Bob Katz is a member of Canadian Friends of Peace Now’s national board and chairperson of the Toronto chapter.

UPDATED: MP Under Fire for Saying Israel Demolished COVID Centre

July 24, 2020 – By STEVE ARNOLD

A Hamilton, Ont. member of Parliament is under Twitter fire by Israel’s Embassy and Jewish groups for claiming that Israeli forces demolished a badly-needed COVID testing facility in the Palestinian city of Hebron.

Matthew Green, the NDP MP for Hamilton Centre, tweeted on July 19 that “hundreds” have contacted him with “serious concernsover the Israeli gov’s military stoppage of a #COVID testing centre in #Hebron #Palestine.”

He added: “I condemn this blatant disregard for human life during this pandemic.”

B’nai Brith Canada, the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs, and the Israeli Embassy in Ottawa were quick to respond, accusing the rookie MP of spreading “a lie” about the incident.

“Matthew Green perpetuated a falsehood about #Israel demolishing a #Palestinian #COVID19 testing centre,” CIJA said in its response. “That is a lie. Mr. Green should delete his tweet and apologize.

“MPs have a responsibility to deal in facts and verify that what they are spreading on social media is true,” the organization added.

B’nai Brith Canada took to the social media platform to accuse Green of “amplifying lies about Israel.

“A Palestinian #COVID19 testing centre was not demolished,” B’nai Brith stated. “Do your homework before sharing conspiracy theories with your base. While you are at it, kindly delete this tweet & apologize for spreading false claims.”

B’nai Brith also challenged Green to defend his claim in the media.

“If he stands behind this awful and inaccurate tweet, why won’t he defend it in the media? Time to take it down and admit you were wrong,” B’nai Brith said.

As of July 24, the tweet was still up.

The former city councillor did not respond to calls about his statement, including an e-mailed request from the CJR.

Israel’s Embassy in Canada on July 23 tweeted that the facility in question was not in Hebron but in Silwan, a predominantly Palestinian neighborhood on the outskirts ofJerusalem’s Old City, and that it was “illegally operating.”

The Embassy said it 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. “Israel and its municipalities will continue to make all possible efforts to fight this virus, regardless of religious and cultural differences in its legally functioning clinics and hospitals.”

One source told the CJR that Israel shut down an unapproved COVID testing centre operating in Silwan on April 14.

On July 23, the Jerusalem Post reported a building was torn down in Hebron, but it was a prospective private car dealership.

Civil Administration bulldozers arrived at the site “and demolished the illegally built structure” on July 21, the Post reported.

“When the civil administration told the Palestinian businessman who built the structure that they intended to tear it down, he informed the Hebron municipality that he was donating the illegally built structure for ‘public services,’” the Post reported.

A source told the CJR that after a stop work order was issued by the Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories(COGAT), the owner put up a sign advertising the planned construction of acoronavirus testing site in an effort to slowor halt the demolition.

“Contrary to the false claims, this was not a center for coronavirus testing,” an unnamed Civil Administration spokesman told the newspaper. “Also, it was 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.

In a tweet on July 22, COGAT stated: “False claims have been made recently that the Civil Administration & the Hebron District Coordination and Liaison Office have demolished or intend to demolish a building site in Hebron designated for COVID-19 testing. Any such reports are unequivocally false & without basis.”

Israel’s Embassy also noted that “clinics/hospitals in Israel, including in Jerusalem, have administered over 166,000 tests per million people to date. These facilities are staffed by Muslims, Jews, and Christians without discrimination.”

The above expands and clarifies a previous version of this story.

On the Record – Canadian Jewish Musicians of Note

SAMY ELMAGHRIBI/SALOMON AMZALLAG (April 19, 1922 – March 9, 2008) Singer-Songwriter, Cantor, Poet, Oud Player

July 22, 2020 – By DAVID EISENSTADT

By night, Samy Elmaghribi was dubbed the Moroccan Charles Aznavour – with a pop singer’s global reputation.

By day, he was Salomon Amzallag, the first Moroccan cantor at Montreal’s famed Spanish & Portuguese Synagogue. Known as Shearith Israel, on St. Kevin Street in Montreal since 1960, it’s Canada’s oldest Jewish congregation, established in 1768. Cantor Amzallag served there from 1967 to 1984.

Cantor Salomon Amzallag

Two cantors have since sung from the Spanish & Portuguese bimah, including Yehuda Abittan and present-day chazzan Daniel Benlolo, who was one of Amzallag’s students.

Amzallag was Benlolo’s mother’s cousin, and so the Montreal synagogue became their family’s new home.

“He’s the inspirational reason I became a chazzan and his shul was where I received my training,” Cantor Benlolo said. “He was a wonderful mentor. Over the years, I have been privileged to serve Sephardic and Ashkenazi congregations in Ottawa, New York, Atlanta and Caracas, to name a few. Two and-a-half years ago, I was pleased to return home to Shearith Israel to work and live in Montréal.”

Amzallag was born in Safi, a city in western Morocco. His family moved to Rabat in 1926. Growing up, he taught himself to play the oud, a short-neck, lute-type pear-shaped string instrument that dates to Assyria.

Early on, young Samy familiarized himself with Arab-Andalusian music, attending the Conservatoire de Music de Casablanca. Starting at age 20, he studied with many of the great Andalusian masters of his time.

Christopher Silver, an assistant professor of Jewish History and Culture at McGill University, has called him “a mid-twentieth century Moroccan superstar.”

“From his debut in 1948 through his professional zenith in 1956, he was a ubiquitous presence on radio and in concert,” Silver wrote in a recent issue of the International Journal of Middle East Studies.

Samy El Maghribi - Cantor Salomon Amzallag

As radio spread across Morocco, Elmaghribi’s live performances on radio and constant playing of his records on air “helped cement his status as the nation’s voice during a formative political moment.”

His popularity spilled over to commercial advertising: Elmaghribi  became an official spokesperson for Coca-Cola in Morocco. “His spoken dialogues and musical hooks for the soft drink company were played in heavy rotation on Radio Tangier International over the next several years,” wrote Silver. During this period, he became the sound of brands like Gillette, Palmolive, Canada Dry and Shell Oil.

A popular entertainer, Elmaghribi built a world-wide fan base and reinforced his Arab-Andalusian musical heritage with performances in Caracas, Jerusalem, Los Angeles, Montreal and New York, as well as playing for Moroccan fans in Oujda and Rabat. Listen to his music here.

Yet, he was committed to his cultural roots and to the sacred liturgical genre, said his daughter, Yolande Amzallag, who helped create Fondation Samy Elmaghribi.

Samy Elmaghribi and Cantor Salomon Amzallag “were one and the same person,” Yolande Amzallag told the Morocco World News at the foundation’s 2015 launch, “despite the fact they performed in different settings whose integrity was never challenged by the apparent dichotomy between the sacred and the secular.”

Her father’s allegiance to God was matched by his allegiance to art, she went on, “and he aspired to spiritual elevation both as an artist and as a practicing Jew.”

After he retired, Amzallag moved to Israel and founded Merkaz Piyyut Veshira, a centre for Sephardic music from where, from 1988 to 1994, he was pedagogical director, according to his biography.

He also co-founded and performed with the Israeli Andalusian Orchestra. In 2006, the orchestra won the country’s highest honour, the Israel Prize.

In November 2008, a few months after his death, Elmaghribi was posthumously recognized by Morocco’s King Mohammed VI, who awarded him the Commander of the Order of Ouissam Alaouite medal for Meritorious Service to Morocco.

His wife, Messody Cohen-Amzallag, died in Ashdod on April 5, 2015. The couple’s children created the foundation “to perpetuate their teachings of respect for tradition, openness to others and generosity through the love of music.”


David Eisenstadt
David Eisenstadt

David Eisenstadt is founding partner of tcgpr and is a graduate of Carleton University’s School of Journalism and the University of Calgary.

Want to Maximize your Israel Experience? Join ESRA!

July 17, 2020 – By JACK COPELOVICI

The last few months have witnessed a remarkable increase in interest from Jews in English-speaking countries in making aliyah. The reasons for doing so include Israel’s relative success in dealing with the COVID crisis, the rise in antisemitism around the world, and the desire to live a more meaningful life in Israel as a Jew.

However, some of the big questions holding back potential olim (new immigrants), especially those who are 50-plus and are already settled, may be the following:

“My Hebrew is almost non-existent. What am I going to do with myself when I get to Israel? Will I be able to find an English-speaking community in which I can feel comfortable or that has the same values as I do?”

One of the best ways to help solve these dilemmas is by joining ESRA (English Speakers Residents Association). My wife, Ida, and I are good examples. We made aliyah in June 2016 from Toronto when we were in our early 60s. We had two immediate priorities: To find an English-speaking community in which to live and to get involved in Israel by finding meaningful volunteer opportunities.

Fortunately, we found ESRA. 

ESRA was established some 40 years ago. It has roughly 2,700 members in about 21 chapters in north, south and central Israel, stretching from Eilat to Nahariya and beyond. Members originate from North America, the UK, South Africa, Australia, New Zealand and elsewhere. Programming, all of which is in English, encompasses social activities, outings (when conditions permit), educational mentoring and tutoring programs, charitable and welfare activities and volunteering. In addition, and because of COVID, a majority of our social activities – talks, visual tours and cooking classes – have been and may continue on Zoom.

Through ESRA, Ida and I are involved in tutoring Israeli students in English in schools in Ra’anana, raising funds for charitable causes, and organizing Zoom lectures on various topics. Prior to the COVID outbreak, there were numerous tours to such places as the Blaustein Institute; Zichron Yaakov, among Israel’s first Jewish settlements; world-famous wineries; Jerusalem antiquities and museums; the Agam Museum; the Weizmann Institute, Abraham’s Well in Beersheba; and a Bauhaus walking tour of Tel Aviv, to mention a few. We have also done cutting-edge environmental research in the Negev.

However, ESRA is not just for those planning aliyah.

Many people living abroad want to be able to see and hear about Israel generally and/or participate in English language programs, which address various aspects of life in Israel. ESRA is the perfect vehicle for that.

A look at the upcoming ESRA calendar will show a number of topics, ranging from finance, current events, Jewish historical topics, the environment and pure entertainment, like our National Trivia Quiz, as well as an assortment of other topics available for viewing.

In short, you do not have to be here to feel like you are enjoying what Israel has to offer. ESRA can help you do this wherever you are in the world. You can join an ESRA program even when visiting Israel.

When you look at the ESRA website, you can see many types of clubs, including bridge, photography and knitting. For the hardier types, there are monthly hikes, which have recently restarted.

Bottom line: When considering whether to make aliyah, remember that ESRA is one way you can make your experience of Israel immensely more meaningful and enjoyable, both from afar and when you arrive.

Simply go to the ESRA website and follow the prompts to join. We look forward to meeting you.


Jack Copelovici
Jack Copelovici

Jack Copelovici was born and raised in Toronto. He was a lawyer for 34 years before retiring and making aliyah in 2016 with his wife Ida. He lives in Ra’anana. Ida and Jack volunteer in a number of areas, including mentoring Lone Soldiers, assisting in English classes in area schools, and in ESRA, which Jack chairs in Ra’anana.

Bombing Changed Argentine Jewish Life ‘Forever,’ Rymberg Recalls

July 15, 2020 – By STEVE ARNOLD

Even 26 years later, Gustavo Rymberg can’t forget the shock of the morning in 1994 when Jewish life in Argentina changed forever.

It was July 18, winter in the southern hemisphere, and Rymberg was working in his Buenos Aires office, meeting with a colleague on a graphic design project.

The telephone rang. It was a friend with the devastating news that a terrorist had just driven a truck full of explosives into the Jewish community headquarters three blocks away.

Gustavo Rymberg
Gustavo Rymberg

“That was something that changed Jewish life in Argentina forever,” Rymberg recalled in an interview with the CJR ahead of a B’nai Brith commemoration of the attack set for tomorrow evening (July 16).

“It was one of the worst chapters in Argentine history,” he said. “It’s something for which the country has never given us answers or justice.

“For some reason, the government will not make an explanation for this or tell us the truth,” he said.

The attack on the seven-storey headquarters of the Asociación Mutual Israelita Argentina (Argentina-Israel Mutual Association, or AMIA) killed 85 people and injured as many as 300 more.

No one was ever arrested in what remains the deadliest antisemitic attack in Argentina’s modern history. It is widely believed to have been carried out by terrorists linked to Iran and Argentina’s then president, Carlos Menem, who is of Syrian descent. One prosecutor who tried to investigate the incident was murdered during his probe.

Beyond the carnage, however, Rymberg and many of the country’s Jews saw it as an attack on the heart of their community.

The AMIA building, he said, housed all of Jewish Argentina’s major organizations, as well as a theatre, library, and job bank. It was where Jews went to arrange a funeral, and it housed the precious records of 100 years of Jewish life in the country.

“Every Jewish person in Argentina had to go to AMIA for something,” Rymberg said. “Suddenly, you started to be very careful about everything. Children going to school now had to go through security like at an airport.”

While Argentine antisemitism had never been openly acknowledged – until the AMIA attack, the worst event was a 1992 bombing of the Israeli Embassy in Buenos Aires, which killed 29 civilians – the aftermath of the attack brought fundamental changes to Jewish life, starting with a communal obsession with security.

“Suddenly you felt like you were living behind walls,” Rymberg recalled. “For a lot of young families that was the point where they started to think there was nothing for them in Argentina.”

Even a quickly-organized show of solidarity with the Jewish community, dubbed the March of the Umbrellas because it was carried out in the rain, failed to ease that new feeling of fear and uncertainty.

“Hundreds of thousands of people were marching in the rain to remember the victims,” Rymberg recalled. “It was something we never expected to experience.”

The Rymberg family’s own decision to leave the country of its birth, something members had been considering in the face of a poor economy and rampant corruption, was cemented by the event.

One of the final nails was news media coverage of the attack, especially one television story that reported 85 Jews, and many “innocent people,” had died.

“To hear someone saying Jews and ‘innocent people’ is something I will never forget,” he said. “All of those things came together to push us out.”

In 1997 Rymberg, his wife Marisa, and their two young daughters, became one of the first families brought to Canada by the Jewish community of Winnipeg through its Grow Winnipeg initiative.

In a new country, he embarked on a new career as a Jewish community leader, serving in Winnipeg, Ottawa, Toronto, and finally taking over as CEO of the Hamilton Jewish Federation in 2017.

B’nai Brith Canada’s League for Human Rights’ commemoration will be held online Thursday at 7 p.m. To join, go to: https://www.bnaibrith.ca/amia.


Steve Arnold
Steve Arnold

As the World Grapples With Racism, Israel Seeks to Empower Ethiopian Youth

By SHARON GELBACH

The growing protests against racism in the United States have aroused strong feelings worldwide, and Israel is no exception. Ethiopian Israelis have long complained of prejudice and being treated as second-class citizens.

Sheba Medical Center, Israel’s national hospital, enjoys a global reputation for medical innovation, but many are unaware that it is also at the forefront of helping to integrate members of various minority groups in Israel.

In the past several years, Sheba has integrated hundreds of new Ethiopian olim (immigrants) into the hospital workforce, going as far to provide them with free classes to help them navigate Israeli bureaucracy and improve their language skills.

Most recently, Prof. Eldad Katorza, senior physician at Sheba, decided to give youth from the Ethiopian community a head start by folding them into a pilot program within “Project Arrow,” which he directs.

“Project Arrow” (chetz in Hebrew, the initials of chokrim tze’irim, meaning “young researchers”) is an apprenticeship program for medical students designed to pave their way into the world of medical research.

Established in 2006, the initiative matches select medical students with experienced researchers to serve as mentors. During once- or twice-weekly meetings, the student-mentor team works through every stage of medical research, from formulating the initial question, to collecting and analyzing data, to presenting the results at medical conferences.

This year, for the first time, each research duo included a third tier: high school students from the Ethiopian community.

Katorza believes in the importance of encouraging students to pursue research, noting that in medical school, they do not receive sufficient exposure to research thinking or methodology.

“I believe that research makes a doctor more knowledgeable, more curious, more creative,” he said. “A doctor who engages in research is a much better doctor.”

Employing this premise, Katorza now plans to open several slots for nursing school students in the coming year’s program.

“Nursing is also a field that stands to benefit greatly from adding researching to its ranks; it will raise the bar of nursing in Israel,” he said.

Even in the early stages of planning the pilot program for the Ethiopian high school students, it quickly became evident to Katorza just how crucial, timely, and challenging his initiative was.

“I asked my son, then in 11th grade, to look around his own school in Givatayim for students from the Ethiopian community who might be suitable for the program,” said Katorza. “As it turned out, there wasn’t a single Ethiopian student in his school, nor in any of the good schools in the area.”

The reason can be traced to the socioeconomic realities in Israel today. By and large, members of the Ethiopian community tend to dwell in poorer neighborhoods where community services and schools are on a lower level.

These conditions put Ethiopian teens at a disadvantage from the outset, and due to economic necessity, youth are pushed to join the workforce at an early age, perpetuating a cycle of poverty.

“Almost four decades have passed since the first wave of Ethiopian aliyah,” observed Katorza, “yet judging from their rate of participation in academia, their level of affluence and other markers of social mobility, it appears that the government has failed to take the necessary steps to help them bridge the gaps and facilitate their successful absorption into mainstream Israeli society.”

Anxious to change that trend, Katorza decided to include outstanding students from the Ethiopian community in “Project Arrow.”

But it wasn’t simple to locate high school students from the Ethiopian sector who met the criteria for participation in the program: High marks in the sciences, high motivation and interest, and living near enough to the Sheba campus to attend weekly meetings.

Ultimately, Katorza was aided by an organization called Fidel (“alphabet” in Amharic), which promotes the education and social integration of Ethiopian-Israeli youth.

The Fidel staff welcomed the opportunity to incorporate Ethiopian students into the program, and provided 10 candidates, from which the top five were chosen.

Katorza said the pilot was a resounding success and will be repeated in the coming year.

“We found that once they are freed from the limitations of their environment, the students manifested amazing capabilities,” he said. “We endeavored to help build their self-confidence, empower them, and teach them that they can do anything they put their mind to.”

Throughout the year, in addition to their full participation in research, the Ethiopian high-schoolers were also exposed to clinical activity at the hospital.

“At the beginning of the year, the students didn’t have any specific plans for the future,” Katorza said. “Now, they are now seriously considering a medical career.”

One of those is Yair Jalmar, 17, from Beer Yaakov, who participated in a research project with pediatric cardiologist Dr. Shai Tejman.

“This project helped me develop my interest in medicine and learn more about the advanced technologies and devices as well as the various departments in the medical field,” Jalmar said.

Former participants in the Arrow Project have gone on to publish their findings in prestigious medical journals, and several have joined the team at Sheba.


Sharon Gelback
Sharon Gelbach

Sharon Gelbach grew up in Toronto and moved to Israel in 1982. She is a writer, editor and translator and lives with her husband and family in Jerusalem.

UPDATED: Anti-Israel Protests in Toronto, Mississauga

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.

Toronto Eatery Triggers Outrage, Protest

Days of outrage at antisemitic and anti-Zionist statements emanating from a Toronto business saw social media boil over with indignation directed at Kimberly Hawkins, owner of Foodbenders, a restaurant and catering business in the Bloordale neighbourhood of Toronto.

Days of outrage at antisemitic and anti-Zionist statements emanating from a Toronto business saw social media boil over with indignation directed at Kimberly Hawkins, owner of Foodbenders, a restaurant and catering business in the Bloordale neighbourhood of Toronto.

Foodbenders’ windows prior to the protest by the Jewish Defence League.

In a development on July 6, Uber announced it is breaking relations with Foodbenders.

In a letter to Hawkins and Jann Meneses of Foodbenders, an Uber official wrote that the agreement between the food delivery service and the restaurant “is terminated effectively immediately.” No reason was provided.

Foodbenders first triggered notice for proclaiming “F@ck the Police” on a sandwich board outside the shop. But in recent weeks, it turned its ire toward the Jewish community.

Another sign outside the shop said “defund Israel,” while one stated: “F@ck Mossad, IDF, Bibi.

On Instagram, the eatery announced: “#zionistsnotwelcome,” and that “Zionists are Nazis.”

On Canada Day, the restaurant put out a sign saying, “Happy KKKanada Day.”

The business also praised Leila Khaled, who hijacked two planes 50 years ago as a member of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP), a group designated a terrorist entity in Canada. Alongside a photo of Khaled clutching a rifle, the business proclaimed: “There is only solution: Intifada. Revolution.”

Of Canadian Jewish groups, the establishment said, “These people control your media and elected officials.” On her personal Facebook page, Hawkins described Prime Minister Justin Trudeau as a “Zionist puppet.”

In a tweet on July 6, Premier Doug Ford stated: “Language and actions like this are disgusting and will not be tolerated here in Ontario. Our government stands with the Jewish community in condemning this kind of behaviour here at home, and across the globe.”

Jewish organizations all took notice of Foodbenders.

“It is outrageous that Jews would be denied service at an establishment in our city just because of who they are,” said the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs (CIJA).

CIJA said it will bring the matter to its Legal Task Force “and will pursue all options available to send a clear message that there is no place in Toronto for antisemitism.”

The sentiments expressed by Foodbenders Hawkins are “hateful and deplorable, and have no place in the Canadian food industry,” said Michael Mostyn, CEO of B’nai Brith Canada.

B’nai Brith offered concrete steps activists can take, including contacting Uber Eats and Doordash to ask they stop delivering Foodbenders products until the company renounces antisemitism and apologizes, and emailing local city councillor Ana Bailão, area MPP Marit Stiles, and MP Julie Dzerowicz.

B’nai Brith also suggested contacting 311@toronto.ca to request that Foodbenders have its business license investigated. “Be sure to mention section 27 of By-law No. 574-2000, which prohibits the use of a licensed business to discriminate against any member of the public on grounds of race, colour, or creed,” the Jewish group advised.

It is “absolutely shameful that any business would show support for violence against the Jewish people or to suggest that Jews are not welcome as customers,” said Jaime Kirzner-Roberts, director of Friends of Simon Wiesenthal Centre’s Campaign Against Antisemitism. “We urge all city leaders to speak out and condemn this and any other hatred taking place in our city.”

Also weighing in was York Centre Liberal MP Michael Levitt, who said it was “absolutely disgraceful to see this antisemitic rhetoric publicly displayed in our city. We are so much better than this. Shame on them.”

The response, noted Levitt, is “condemnation and education, and legal action if necessary.”

The furor over Foodbenders also prompted supporters of the Jewish Defence League to gather Sunday night (July 5) at the closed shop, whose windows were festooned with two large Israeli flags, one concealing an “I [Heart] Gaza” logo. Earlier screen shots had shown Stars of David had been scrawled onto the glass.

“The days when the Jewish community is going to put up with antisemitism [are] over,” proclaimed JDL leader Meir Weinstein, who added he would employ “any means necessary to shut down this hate.”

In an interview with the website blogTO, Hawkins stated: “I’m not antisemitic. That would go against all the other principles that I’ve been standing up for the past few weeks. I believe that Palestinians should be free and have the same equal human rights as everyone and that’s not a stance I will apologize for.”

She told the site that she’s received a flurry of hate messages but welcomes dialogue.

“When I’m making a statement about Zionism, I am not referring to Jewish people… It’s about the state government.”

Hawkins described herself as a “white Canadian settler on Turtle Island” and said she’s been pro-Palestinian since she was 16 years old. She also said that about half of her customers are Jewish.

Suggestions posted to social media have included boycotting the shop but also complaining to Foodbenders’ suppliers and other eateries that carry its products.

– By CJR Staff

NOTE:

EDITORIAL: Annexation Will Destroy Hopes for Peace

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. 

Canadians Opposed to Annexation, Poll Suggests

By RON CSILLAG

A new survey suggests that three out of four Canadians want their government to oppose Israel’s proposed annexation of large parts of the West Bank.

Apart from suggesting that 74 percent of Canadians want Ottawa to express opposition to Israel’s annexation proposal “in some form,” the survey also found that 42 percent want Canada to impose economic and/or diplomatic sanctions against Israel should the annexation plan proceed.

“There is very little support for Israeli annexation among the Canadian public,” the survey noted, adding that the poll “confirms” that Canada’s foreign policy “is out of touch with the preferences of Canadians.”

EKOS Research Associates conducted the national online survey of 1,009 Canadians from June 5 to 10 on behalf of three groups that oppose the annexation and support the boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) campaign against Israel: Canadians for Justice and Peace in the Middle East, Independent Jewish Voices Canada, and the United Network for Justice and Peace in Palestine-Israel.

The poll found that only 11 percent of respondents said Canada should support Israel’s annexation plans, and 15 percent said Canada should do nothing.

Among Liberal Party supporters, 42 percent favour sanctions, while 45 percent thought Canada should express opposition but take no further action. Only five percent of Liberals want Canada to support Israel’s plan, and eight percent would prefer Canada do nothing.

Conservatives were found to be most supportive of Israel’s annexation plan. Half of Conservative supporters think that Canada should either support the plan (27 percent) or do nothing (25 percent). Another 32 percent of Conservatives said Canada should express opposition, and 16 percent said Canada should impose sanctions.

Among Canadians aged 18 to 35, an “overwhelming majority” want Canada to oppose Israel’s plans, the poll suggested: 59 percent of respondents in that age group said Canada should impose sanctions on Israel, and 24 percent said Canada should express opposition but take no other action.

Imposing sanctions on Israel was the “clear preference” for a majority of those who support the NDP (68 percent); Green Party (59 percent), and Bloc Quebecois (54 percent).

Supporting sanctions on Israel was most popular with Canadians who have higher levels of education, but Canadians of all education levels favoured sanctions over the other options, the survey found.

The poll results “demonstrate that the Trudeau government would have strong majority support if it opposed the annexations, and considerable public support to go further and impose sanctions on Israel. In fact, from a political standpoint, it would be risky for the Trudeau government to stay quiet in the face of this violation of international law planned by Israel.”

Listed as investigators and authors of the survey are Michael Bueckert, Thomas Woodley, and Grafton Ross of Canadians for Justice and Peace in the Middle East; Sheryl Nestel and Stanislav Birko of Independent Jewish Voices Canada; and Ken McEvoy of United Network for Justice and Peace in Palestine-Israel.

As with at least one other past survey conducted by pro-BDS groups, this latest one was dismissed by the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs as weighted to arrive at certain conclusions.

“Predictably,” questions were “intentionally biased to skew the answer,” Shimon Koffler Fogel, president and CEO of CIJA, told the CJR.

By “prejudicially” characterizing the lands in question as “Palestinian,” and stating that Israel plans to “formally incorporate” them, the poll’s questions “telegraph to the respondent that the territory is incontrovertibly Palestinian [and is] being stolen by Israel, and [is] not disputed.”

In doing so, “the poll seeks to exploit a generic tendency on the part of Canadians to express support for the perceived underdog,” Fogel noted.

Notwithstanding the “serious deficiencies” in the survey questions and the “dubious” motivations of the report’s sponsors, “a majority” of Canadians have indicated their opposition to any changes to Canada-Israel relations, Fogel said.

An extensive Environics survey conducted last year found a plurality of respondents endorsed Canada’s level of support for Israel, but a “significant” minority said it was not supportive enough.

However, that was before Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced plans to unilaterally annex about 30 percent of the West Bank by July 1.

The latest poll comes as more than 100 prominent Canadians – former diplomats and cabinet ministers, as well as rabbis, academics, authors, and human rights advocates – signed letters asking the government to forcefully oppose Israel’s proposed annexation.


Ron Csillag
Ron Csillag

Ron Csillag is editor of the Canadian Jewish Record

BOOK REVIEW: The Conflict Over the Conflict: The Israel/Palestine Campus Debate

Kenneth S. Stern, The Conflict Over the Conflict: The Israel/Palestine Campus Debate
New Jewish Press, 2020
296 pages

Reviewed by MIRA SUCHAROV

While international conflicts have been known to exhibit ripple effects far from their borders, nowhere is the microcosm of ideological tensions over Israel/Palestine more apparent these days than on university and college campuses.

In a smart, personal and engaging book, Kenneth S. Stern, director of Bard College’s Bard Center for the Study of Hate, takes us on a tour of today’s American campus Israel/Palestine debates in the context of a full-throated argument for free speech.

While Stern focuses on American college campuses, Canadians might read this through slightly different eyes, given that our respective laws around speech are not identical in their scope. Unlike the U.S. with its First Amendment provisions (which permits all speech except for direct incitement to violence – so-called “fighting words”), Canada does have hate-speech provisions, although hate speech cases are notoriously hard to prosecute in this country.

Kenneth Stern
Kenneth Stern

The book takes the reader through the polarized debate around antisemitism, anti-Zionism and different views of academic freedom, stemming from the controversial 2001 Durban conference on racism and the rise of the academic boycott movement against Israel. 

Stern describes how he founded an academic group called Alliance for Academic Freedom, devoted to opposing the academic boycott of Israel (a group in which I was involved from the ground up before I eventually resigned, my views having changed slightly; full disclosure, since he mentions me in the text).

In the contemporary culture wars, Stern’s is an argument against such current phenomena as “trigger warnings” and “safe spaces.” And perhaps surprising to some, given that he proclaims himself a Zionist in the book, Stern is concerned by a current chill on campus speech brought about by the incorporation of anti-Zionism into the contemporary antisemitism definition much used today.

It may also read as ironic, given that Stern was instrumental in drafting the definition that is now much debated, and which has been adopted by the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (and last year by Canada). But this is where the strength of the book lies: It is a principled discussion of free speech, whether or not one agrees with his threshold.

Stern takes us deftly through the debates around Donald Trump’s “Anti-Semitism Awareness Act of 2019”, which uses the IHRA definition to define what is acceptable to say on campus. Stern opposes using this definition to assess campus speech. “Decrying anti-Zionism at the UN or in bilateral relations or recognizing it for data collection is one thing,” he writes; “declaring anti-Zionism as antisemitic for campus application can only chill free speech.”

Where I think the book’s argument falls short is around much of what is known as the “deplatforming” debate: The robust opposition to having certain speakers come to campus. Stern sees speaker freedom as akin to the principle of free speech. But I would argue that Stern’s argument should provide more scaffolding about who deserves an invitation to a given campus, not only on one’s right to constitutionally protected speech. Campuses are distinct entities: a campus invitation comes with resources: advertisements, space, security, and so on. And such invitations also come with a certain amount of conferred prestige: a speaker invited to a university can put the event on their CV; not so if one simply stands on a soapbox in a public park and opines.

Stern’s view is that as long as campus officials or student groups follow proper procedures in inviting a speaker, any idea should be fair game for airing. His is an argument that relies on the marketplace of ideas to weed out bad ideas and elevate good ones.

But I might challenge the idea that campuses should be viewed as akin to unregulated markets. I would suggest that they should apply specific intellectual standards: They are institutions of learning, not simply open-air streets where ordinary speech laws should apply.

Others will wonder whether Stern’s view opposing safe spaces and trigger warnings lacks pedagogical compassion. And indeed, there is a bit of an inherent built-in tension in parts of his book, as when he recounts an evening around a dinner table with a group of students who noted that they felt so much more comfortable talking with him about the sensitive issues around Israel/Palestine than they do on campus, where they often meet vocal and vociferous opposition.

Readers might wonder whether the students’ appreciation stemmed from Stern actually having, over the course of that evening, provided a “safe space” for the exchange, however defined.

These quibbles suggest a book worth reading; a narrative worthy of wrestling and conversation.


Mira Sucharov

Mira Sucharov is professor of political science at Carleton University in Ottawa. Her most recent books are Public Influence: A Guide to Op-Ed Writing and Social Media Engagement (author) and Social Justice and Israel/Palestine: Foundational and Contemporary Debates (co-editor)