Showing posts with label Stephen Harper. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Stephen Harper. Show all posts

Monday, October 26, 2015

Comments about Israel: Recent Events and Issues Oct 2015

Although Israel has no shortage of difficult days of commemoration on its calendar, today's anniversary is particularly difficult.  It is the anniversary of the assassination of the late Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin Z"l.  He was murdered by a Jewish religious extremist who maintained that Rabin must be killed to prevent Israel from reaching a peace deal with the Palestinians.  Twenty years have passed since  Rabin's murder.  Unfortunately, Israel is no closer to peace with the Palestinians than it was while he was alive.  If anything, the notion that there might be peace any time soon is one that, regrettably, seems shared by fewer and fewer Israelis these days.  I would imagine most Palestinians feel the same way.

As we commemorate this horrific and murderous act in Israel, I wanted to write about some of the things that have been going on here over the past several weeks.  I have not had the opportunity to write as frequently over the past few months.  This is certainly not for lack of material.  In fact, there have been so many incidents recently, that some bloggers and twitter users are releasing tweets and articles several times a day.

There is not necessarily a theme to connect the various incidents that I have picked out - but it is mixed bag of events and other items that I wanted to highlight.

1.  Terrorist Knife Attacks:

On September 30, 2015, Mahmoud Abbas, leader of the Palestinian Authority spoke at the U.N..  He had said he was going to drop a  "bombshell" prior to his speech.  While it remains unclear which bombshell was actually dropped, it appears that his intention was to kick off a new "intifadah" by raising the specter of an Israeli takeover of the Dome of the Rock - the Al Aqsa Mosque.  Abbas claimed that the mosque was under siege and that the Israeli government was plotting to take over the mosque and change the status quo.  As Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu confirmed at his speech to the UN days later, this was all completely false and fabricated.  Israel has always protected and supported the rights of Muslims to control, visit and worship at the mosque, just as it has done the same thing for Christians with respect to Christian holy sites in Jerusalem.

Nevertheless, since Abbas' incendiary address, there has been a wave of terrorist incidents across Israel. According to Israel's Ministry of Foreign Affairs, there have been (as of October 25, 2015), 43 stabbings, 4 shootings and 5 car rammings.  These attacks have killed 10 Israelis and injured 112, 12 of whom were very seriously injured.  The vast majority of the victims have been Israeli civilians.  Most of the attackers have been young Palestinian-Israelis, residents of East Jerusalem, primarily.  They have claimed that their attacks are motivated by their determination to "protect the mosque."

Many of the attacks have been against Israelis civilians, including children and senior citizens, at bus stops, street corners or other public places.  Two of the stabbing attacks were very close to home, taking place in Ra'anana. 

It is hard to imagine how anyone can draw a connection between the perceived danger to the political status of the mosque in Jerusalem and the act of attacking civilians across Israel.  It is also hard to understand why Abbas seems to believe that this type of terrorism will further the Palestinian cause.  If anything, these actions seem destined to cause Israelis to harden their resolve and move to the political right.  Abbas has refused to condemn the attacks and in several cases has described the attackers as martyrs.  Moreover, he has distorted some of the events and lied about others to further incite the Palestinian people.  Perhaps, he has been buoyed by the notoriously outrageous coverage of these incidents by some of the world media, notably the BBC and NBC news to name a couple.  Both organizations have distorted reports of incidents to suggest that Israeli soldiers and/or police were at fault in cases in which they were defending against knife wielding attackers.

2.  Killing the Perpetrators and Collateral Damage

These types of stabbing attacks against civilians have caused a high level of vigilance, tension and stress among many Israelis, as well as outright anger.  Certainly these are all the intended consequences.

With respect to the attackers, there has been a vigorous public debate about whether the attackers should be killed if at all possible or whether they should only be "neutralized."  Of course the Palestinian Authority has claimed that Palestinian attackers are being "executed" even while Abbas refuses to condemn the stabbing attacks in the first place.  Some international media organizations have gone along with these accusations.

There is little doubt, in my view, that Israeli civilians, police and military forces, must take all appropriate steps to defend against these attacks.  In many cases, that will certainly result in the death of the attackers and that is probably the most appropriate result.  I have no moral difficulty with the argument that it is completely justifiable to kill someone who is trying to stab you to death.

Nevertheless, some prominent Israeli rabbis, like Rabbi Stav, have warned against excessive force and reprisals.  Rabbi Stav argued that Israelis should not murder "neutralized terrorists" who no longer pose a threat.  He also argued that Israelis should refrain from taking any "reprisal actions," especially against those who had nothing to do with the attacks in the first place.  In both cases, Rabbi Stav has urged Israelis not to abandon the moral high ground by acting like "our enemies."  Other prominent rabbis have disagreed with Rabbi Stav and have argued that it may even be a moral imperative to "finish the job" and ensure that the attacker will not be able to harm anyone else.

Certainly this wave of terror attacks has created a great deal of anger and frustration in Israel. There have been some vigilante attacks and some attacks against completely innocent Arabs.  Moreover, in one tragic incident in Beers Sheva, an Eritrean refugee was beaten to death just after a terrorist attack.  Those who beat him to death wrongly believed that he had been involved in the attack.

There is no justification for attacking innocent people, whether at the time of the attacks (i.e. those who are wrongly associated with the attacks) or attacking other Arabs who had nothing to do with the attacks as a form of reprisal.  However, with respect to events that occur in the midst of an attack, it is hard to judge the actions of those who are fighting for their lives or fighting to protect the lives of others. While there may be an argument that we should not "execute" completely neutralized terrorists (after all, Israel does not even have capital punishment), there is no reason to think that police, soldiers and attack victims should try, in any way, to avoid harming these terrorists, even fatally, in defending against these attacks.  Even so, we have had many bizarre situations where the terrorists remain alive after the attacks and are treated in the same hospital as their Israeli victims.

3. Rescuing Syrian Refugees

With everything going on in Israel, you might have missed a story of rescue.  An Israeli yacht crew was boating off the coast of Greece last Sunday (October 18, 2015).  They suddenly saw some people in the water and sprang into action.  They rescued 12 Syrian and Iraqi refugees and took all appropriate steps to treat them and then bring them to Greek authorities.  The crew members were certain that none of these refugees would have survived if they had not been pulled out of the water by the Israeli rescuers.  Hundreds of refugees have drowned in these waters this year.  When the crew members told the rescued refugees that they were Jews from Israel, they say that they received nothing but thanks, hugs and gratitude.  I don't think I have heard Mahmoud Abbas speak about this incident but this is the real face of Israel.  Just as Israeli hospitals have treated hundreds (if not thousands) of injured Syrians near the Israeli-Syrian border, these Israeli boaters did not think twice about rescuing refugees, even those who were fleeing from an enemy country.

4.  Prime Minister Netanyahu's Invocation of the Holocaust

In a speech last week, Prime Minister Netanyahu suggested that Haj Amin Al Husseini, in the early 1940s, was the one to suggest to Hitler that the Nazis should build mass crematoria.  Netanyahu's speech has attracted a great deal of criticism and condemnation.  It appears to be the type of hyperbole and historical distortion that he routinely accuses Israel's enemies of employing.

That being said, I enjoyed this article by a University of Maryland Professor about the actual historical record:

Netanyahu, Husseini and the Historians

However, even if there is more accuracy to Netanyahu's comments that most critics would concede, there was  little to be gained in making such statements other than as a means of incitement.  Moreover, some of the comments, according to many historians, were thoroughly wrong.  It is a disservice to Israel for the Prime Minister to distort the Holocaust in this fashion, even while he might be understandably frustrated by the recent events taking place in Israel (at the behest of Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas, who has used lies to foment the current crisis).

5. Putin, Russia, Hezbollah and Assad

As if there weren't enough things to worry about in our neck of the woods, Russian President Putin stated that he was going "all in" on Syria.  That has meant that he is sending Russian soldiers, pilots, tanks, planes and other army support to his besieged ally in Syria.

I couldn't help but think of the famous scene from Fiddler on the Roof in a discussion with some friends in Israel recently:

Is there a Jewish blessing for the President of Russia?  (In the movie, the Czar...)

Of course there is.  May the Lord bless Putin and keep him far away from us....

Well, he is a lot closer now then he was recently.  He has suggested that he will protect Assad loyalists - which can often include Hezbollah and their supporters.  Will he try to prevent Israel from halting military shipments sent from Syria to Hezbollah?  If so, how far will he go?  Will he shoot down Israeli planes (or try to do so?).  Will he lose some planes himself in these efforts?

Unfortunately, all three of Israel's neighbours to the north and the east seem to part of a huge powder keg.  The inferno is already burning in Syria but Lebanon and Jordan may soon be drawn in.  Israel will have no choice but to protect its national interests, however that might best be done.

6. Visiting Entertainers  The Real Artists and the Pretenders...

On a lighter note, I must salute those artists who have stood up to the international pressure and insisted on going ahead with peformances in Israel.  Last year, it was the Rolling Stones, Cyndi Lauper and others who came to perform before appreciative crowds.

Recently, Israeli welcomed two well known acts.  In the first show, Kanye West delivered a performance that was universally panned.  It was a short concert and, apparently, pre-taped.  In other words, mostly lip syncing.  Sure it is true that thousands of fans were only too happy to lay out lots of shekels to attend the spectacle.  But it doesn't sound like the performance delivered quite what the fans were expecting.  I wasn't there, so I can't say for sure.  (After all, for those who know me, you could probably imagine how unlikely it is that you would ever find me at a Kanye West concert...)

On the other hand, Bon Jovi performed not too long after Kanye West.  This concert received some really great reviews.  The band was apparently quite enthusiastic, entertaining and very much live.  It probably would have been fun, though I couldn't justify the cost.

Israel gets its share of concerts though there are many artists who refuse to perform here.  Pink Floyd leader Roger Waters has been a one-man BDS campaign in the music industry sending out threatening letters and issuing public statements wherever he can to ostracize Israel and try to convince fellow performers to boycott the country in its entirety.

Fortunately there are many other artists who have been willing to ignore him - or even better, artists who have been willing to stand up in support of Israel and to publicly declare that they will not give in to boycotts.

7. The Canadian Election and Israel 

I suppose that this type of update article would not be complete without some mention of the Canadian election.  As you know, Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper lost the recent Canadian election quite decisively to Prime Minister Elect Justin Trudeau.  A detailed analysis of the election is well beyond the scope of this blog article.

However, it is worth mentioning that the outgoing Prime Minister was one of the best friends that Israel ever had on the international stage.  Some of the outgoing government's senior ministers were also extremely supportive.  One such minister is Jason Kenney who held different ministerial portfolios over the course of this government's mandate.

The Honourable Minister Kenney has been an extremely active and vocal supporter of Israel, a supporter of the Jewish people and a staunch ally of Jewish people, across the world, on a range of issues of Jewish interest.  He has spoken at numerous Holocaust commemoration events. He has spoken at events across the world, about the dangers of anti-Semitism, even before very unwelcoming crowds.  Minister Kenney has truly demonstrated that he cares about the Jewish people and we will miss having such a tremendous friend.

At the same time, we will  have to hope that the Liberals have some strong allies for us in their ranks as well.  Certainly, there will be some Jewish voices in the the new government, like Michael Levitt, the newly elected York Centre MP and Anthony Housefather, who was elected in Mount Royal.  But how the Liberal government deals with its Israel issues portfolio is still something that remains up in the air for now.  After all, Canada's Prime Minister has many other priorities if he is to fulfill the huge number of promises that he made over the course of the lengthy election campaign.

Although much of this is not necessarily connected, I thought you might enjoy a bit of a wide ranging update type blog.  As usual, feel free to join the discussion and add in some comments. 

Monday, January 12, 2015

Je Suis Yoav

Je ne suis pas Charlie.  Je suis Yoav.

Who is Yoav?  Yoav Hattab is one of the four French Jews murdered by terrorists at at the Hyper Cache market in Paris on Friday January 9, 2015.  Mr. Hattab Z"L was not the first French Jewish victim of terrorism in France.  Unfortunately, there have been a number of incidents including a 2012 attack on a Jewish school in Toulouse in which 4 people were killed, including three children.  If the only terrorist incident on Friday had been the attack on the Kosher supermarket, the item would probably not have garnered anywhere near the press coverage that this series of attacks has attracted.

With the murderous attack on Charlie Hebdo, the condemnations of Jihadist terrorism were near universal.  I have heard very few suggestions that we should investigate "root causes" or "deal with the underlying problem."  Of course, there will be some who will say that the press should not publish images of the prophet Mohammad or that the press should always take care to ensure that nothing printed offends Muslim sensibilities in any way. There are those who were not too concerned about the fatwa against Salman Rushdie.  But, fortunately, these voices are in the small minority.  Far more commentators and political leaders have spoken in favour of free speech and freedom of expression.

But with respect to the murderous attack on Hyper Cache, some of the responses tell a very different story.  For example, as reported by YNet News, BBC Reporter Tim Wilcox compared the hostage taking at the supermarket to Israel's treatment of the Palestinians.  Really Tim?  Seriously?  He later issued a mild apology.  CNN minimized its initial reports of the fact that a Jewish establishment was targeted.  Even so, it became apparent that the terrorist had clearly stated that his intention was to kill Jews.

When terrorist attacks on Jewish civilians occur, many quickly try to take a "balanced" approach and "condemn all forms of terrorism" in their response or speak about root causes.  But what are the root causes of the murder of a group of Jews?  How is it any less outrageous than Charlie Hebdo to see an attack in which Jewish worshipers are murdered while at prayer in a synagogue, because they are Jews?  Just because it takes place in Israel?  Or an attack on Jewish shoppers in a Kosher supermarket?  Atlantic magazine correspondent sent out this spot-on tweet on Friday:  "Selling kosher food is a provocative and vulgar act, sure to arouse the hostility of aggrieved extremists."

There is no way to link Israel's issues with the Palestinians to the murder of Jewish civilians, other than for the sickest of minds.  And by the way, Turkish Recep Erdogan does qualify in this category.  He apparently attacked Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu for attending the French protests on Saturday and tried to draw a parallel between the Paris attacks and the Israeli war with Hamas terrorists in Gaza.  Even Hamas apparently issued a mild condemnation of the attack on Charlie Hebdo but was eerily silent, if not supportive of the murder of some Jewish Parisians.

When news of the attack at Hyper Cache emerged, French leader Francois Hollande initially called the attack "an appalling anti-Semitic attack."  Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper called these French attacks "barbaric."  But when Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu indicated his attention to attend the French rally, Hollande told him not to show up.  Defiantly, Prime Minister Netanyahu eventually decided to come anyways, leading Hollande to invite Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas to provide some "balance."  God forbid Hollande should politicize this situation.  After all, even though he can bring himself to say that this was an appalling anti-Semitic attack, he would not want to be seen suggesting that there is any comparison between this attack and the murder of Jewish worshipers in a Jerusalem Synagogue.  Or the countless other terrorist attacks that Israel faces on its civilians.  Or attacks on Jews in other parts of the world.

It is about time that France and other countries, worldwide, show the same type of indignation and determination with respect to attacks on Jews that they have shown with respect to Charlie Hebdo.  Terrorism must be universally condemned, whether it is an attack on the Twin Towers, an attack on Charlie Hebdo or an attack on a group of Jews, wherever in the world they might be.  They should recognize what the leaders of Israel have, unfortunately, understood for far too long.  That terrorist attacks carried out by ISIS, ISIL, Al Qaeda, Hamas the PLO and other terrorist organizations  are all in the some category.  All of it should be condemned vociferously.

There is nothing wrong with a button that says "Je Suis Charlie."  But an equal number of people ought to be wearing buttons that say "Je suis Yoav."  An attack on Jews because they are Jews is as egregious as an attack on free speech.  Or as an attack on any other fundamental aspect of a civil society.

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Prime Minister Harper in Israel - More Comments

Prime Minister Harper in the Knesset

Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper will be in the Middle East until Saturday.  Earlier today, he met with Israeli President Shimon Peres.  He also visited the Kotel - the "Wailing Wall" - as well as Yad Vashem, the Israeli Holocaust Museum.  At a state dinner in the evening, the PM took the stage and tickled the ivories while signing a song or two.  Sounds like it must have been a fun event.  Unfortunately, I wasn't able to attend.

Prime Minister Harper in Israel - at the Piano

Unquestionably, the main event of the PM's trip was his speech at the Knesset - Israel's Parliament, yesterday afternoon.  The speech has attracted a great deal of attention in Canada and in Israel.  For ease of reference, here is the link to the full text: PM Harper Address to Knesset
Here is the link to the video of the full speech, which was delivered in English and French by Harper.  The speech was streamed live on CBC, the Israeli Knesset channel and some other channels.

PM Harper's speech was quite remarkable.  It was the first speech delivered in the Knesset by a Canadian Prime Minister.  It touched on a range of issues including Canada's regrettable refusal to allow more Jews to come to Canada at the time of the Holocaust, the continuing refusal of the UN to treat Israel as a full member nation with all of the associated committee privileges, the existential nuclear threat to Israel posed by Iran and the rise of new anti-Semitism, disguised as anti-Israel sentiment.  Canadian Jews must have been very proud to hear this speech in Israel's Knesset.

Although the policies of this Conservative government have been attacked by some as overly biased towards Israel, PM Harper called, quite clearly, for a two-state solution and an Independent Palestinian State, which he noted "must" come about.  This came on a day in which he had visited Ramallah earlier and pledged $66 Million to the Palestinian Authority while meeting with Palestinian President Abbas.  Harper also noted that Canada would be among the first countries to recognize a new Palestinian state that was formed through a process of negotiation with Israel. 

But Harper also denounced those who blame Israel for all of the Middle East's problems, and he attacked those who would call Israel an apartheid state.  At that point in his speech, two Israeli-Arab MKs began to heckle the Prime Minister and were then engaged in short exchange by Prime Minister Netanyahu.  The two MKs then got up and left, after arguing that Israel's treatment of its Arab minority population and Bedouin population was, in fact, "apartheid."  The irony was not lost on Netanyahu, who had pointed out earlier that the Israeli Parliament was probably one of the freest places in the Middle East for the expression of these types of dissenting views.  The very fact that Israel has Arab MKs, an Arab Supreme Court judge, and countless other fully integrated institutions makes it extremely insulting and inaccurate to refer to Israel as an apartheid state - and even more insulting to people who lived through South African apartheid.  

This whole issue of whether Israel and the Palestinians should be completely divided as part of a peace deal has drawn a great deal of attention in Israel over the past few weeks.  Minister Yair Lapid has called for a full separation of the two peoples for the mutual benefit of both.  Minister Avigdor Lieberman has made similar suggestions.  The issue is complicated since Israel has a large Arab minority population of Arab Israeli citizens  Would they continue to be citizens of Israel or would they now be citizens of Palestine?  Critics have called these proposals a form of "ethnic cleansing."  But the essence of a "two-state solution" is that one would be the "homeland" for the Jewish people and the other state would be the homeland for the Palestinian people and the two peoples would each benefit from having their respective homelands. 

In previous peace talks, including those chaired by President Clinton, the Palestinians were demanding that their state be free and clear of any Jews, while demanding that Israel agree to accept hundreds of thousands of Palestinian refugees into the State of Israel (not the nascent Palestinian State).  Some Palestinian negotiators are still making this demand.  But surely this is twisted and backwards.  It makes eminent sense that the Palestinian refugee problem would be solved through immigration by Palestinian refugees to the newly formed Palestinian state - not to Israel. 

President Obama himself raised the idea of 1967 borders with "land swaps."  What would "land swaps" mean?  It would mean that Israel would agree to retain some of the settlement areas in the West Bank (Judea and Samara) (with their residents) in exchange for some heavily Arab populated areas in what is now Israel.  No one would move, give up their homes or be "transferred."  But the territories, with their residents, would be exchanged. 

Minister Lieberman picked up on this idea and suggested that it would be a sensible solution.  Even John Kerry's proposal, judging from what has been leaked so far,  seems to contain something along these lines.  But the Israeli Arabs (understandably, as Netanyahu stated in the Knesset yesterday) were extremely upset at this idea.  Some Israeli Arabs indicated that in this type of case, they would leave their homes and move to Haifa (i.e. stay in Israel) rather than be part of a new Palestinian State. 

Well, isn't that an interesting answer to the comments made by MK Tibi yesterday?  Some Palestinian Israelis would rather leave their homes and move to another part of Israel rather than become citizens of a newly formed Palestinian State while staying in their own homes and communities.  In other words, they would rather continue to be part of an "apartheid state", as they describe it, than come under Palestinian Authority.  Of course, for some, this is because they are not willing to accede to a "two-state solution."  They prefer a "one-state solution" under which all of Israel and the Palestinian Territories would be one state, with equal rights for everyone.  For Israel, this would be demographic suicide and the end to Israel, as a Jewish state.  That is is precisely why it is advocated by some Palestinians.  That is also why it has been so important to Israeli negotiators to press for a recognition that Israel is the Jewish homeland.

Getting back to Prime Minister Harper, the press, particularly the foreign press as well as some Palestinian reporters have been trying to get Harper to agree to criticize all Israel settlements.  They have been baiting him with questions that are designed to get him to attack Netanyahu.   They pushed him to do this in Ramallah during a press conference and he refused.  Some Palestinians were incensed, arguing that he insulted them by refusing to call the settlements "illegal" in accordance with what was stated as long standing Canadian policy.  But Harper refused to take the bait and stated that he did not come to the Middle East to single out Israel for criticism.  Under the current negotiations that Kerry has been overseeing, there is said to be a recognition that Israel would keep certain settlement blocs under a proposed peace deal.  So it would not be helpful for any leader to simply take the position that anything built outside of the 1967 borders is necessarily "illegal" under international law.

To balance things out a bit (and I try to be as balanced as I can...), I have to turn back to Harper's speech in the Knesset.  Harper was preceded by Prime Minister Netanyahu and by opposition leader Yitzhak (Isaac) Herzog.  I thought Herzog's speech was quite good.  He called quite forcefully for Israel to seize the opportunity of the current negotiations and reach a deal with the Palestinians.  Herzog sounded much more pragmatic and realistic than the previous Labour Party leader Sheli Yacomovitch and this may well be a sign that the Labour party will look to join the government if it can do so to bolster a potential peace deal (possibly at the expense of Bennett's party).  Herzog stated that a majority of the members of the current sitting Knesset would support a deal with the Palestinians now and called on Netanyahu to do everything possible to reach such a deal.  Whether the Palestinians will agree to an deal is still an open question.

If there is a reasonable criticism of Harper's speech, Herzog's speech probably illustrates the area in which Harper fell short.  While his speech was very supportive of Israel and its many challenges, he offered no suggestions as to what might be done to push for a peace deal.  His call for a Palestinian State was strident but lacked any additional substance or suggestions.  He said little about the Palestinians, even while some Israeli opposition politicians would take a different approach from that taken by Israel's current government.  Not that I am suggesting that any foreign leader should come to Israel to meddle and criticize but there was probably some room for a bit more nuance.

Harper's visit to Israel is bound to solidify and bolster support among the Canadian Jewish community and, quite possibly, the Canadian evangelical community as well.  For the most part, that is not to say that it is simply a political ploy.  Harper's support for Israel seems to be heartfelt and logical.  Much of what he had to say seems unassailable from the viewpoint of those living in a Western democracy.  Even though many Canadians may well disagree with Harper on his Middle East policies, I feel that he must be given credit for taking a principled, morally supportable stand on a contentious issue in a thorny part of the world. 

Nevertheless, there is still some basis for cynicism.  Did this trip really require an entourage of some 200 people, largely funded by the Canadian government?  Was it necessary to take along 21 rabbis?  (Two or three would have probably been sufficient).  Is anything of substance being accomplished or negotiated?  These are some points that have been raised and they are legitimate. 

Despite these questions, the trip seems to be going quite well so far.  It is heartwarming to see Harper receive an Israel National Ice Hockey Team jersey from Prime Minister Netanyahu, to see Harper speaking at the Knesset and visiting the Kotel and to hear a Canadian Prime Minister standing up and taking a strong position against worldwide anti-Semitism and in support of Israel.  These are courageous positions for a Canadian Prime Minister to take  in the face of domestic and international criticism. 

Unfortunately for Israel, there are very few other world leaders who offer Israel this type of support and kinship.  Israel and the Canadian Jewish community are fortunate to have the Harper government's leadership on this issue and are undoubtedly enjoying this trip.