Holy week hypocrisy, Canadian style

Holy week hypocrisy, Canadian style
Comment: Religious leaders in Canada are right to speak out against hate crimes at home, but their double standards when it comes to Israel/Palestine are unacceptable, writes Hadani Ditmars.
6 min read
02 Apr, 2018
Easter and Passover coincided with a deadly attack on Palestinian protestors in Gaza [Getty]
As the Land Day killings of peaceful protestors in the holy land coincide with Easter and Passover, it seems a an opportune moment to reflect on the inter-connectedness of the three Abrahamic faiths, and how far they have fallen from their tenets.

And in the wake of a Jewish Defence League attack on participants (including a Rabbi) at a vigil to protest the killing of an 85-year-old Holocaust survivor in Paris, and the ongoing controversy about alleged anti-Semitism in the UK Labour party, it also seems an appropriate moment to reflect on the nature of both solidarity and cognitive dissonance in the face of racist violence of all forms.

In fact, only last week, Sandra Solomon, the daughter of Saher Habash, (a Fatah Founder and leader of the second intifada), who converted to Christianity - and strident right-wing Zionist Islamophobia - when she moved to Canada, defaced a Quran and harassed Muslim worshippers at prayer at a mosque in a Toronto suburb. After the incident, it was none other than Bernie Farber, former CEO of the Canadian Jewish Congress, who spoke of inter-faith solidarity.

"Today," he said at a press conference attended by other faith leaders and local politicians, "only four days before the Jewish holy days of Passover and the Christian holiday celebrating Easter, we are gathered to stand in solidarity with the Ontario Muslims of Peel Region".

He added, "We Jews sadly have all too much experience with hatred. We get it; we know what it feels like; we know its bitter taste; and, we know it must be halted in its tracks."

While Farber's stance on hate crimes in Canada is admirable – when will he stand up to hate crimes in Israel? Apart from the everyday violence faced by Palestinians under occupation, and the current killings of those protesting their dispossession, Israel has a dismal track record of stopping attacks on churches and mosques.

While Farber's stance on hate crimes in Canada is admirable, when will he stand up to hate crimes in Israel?

According to a September 2017 article in Haaretz, at least 53 churches and mosques have been vandalised in present-day Israel and the occupied West Bank since 2009. These include five attacks on St Stephens Church in the Beit Jamal Monastery, near Beit Shemesh since 2012: In 2017, stained glass windows and a statue of the Virgin Mary were broken. Two years earlier, gravestones were desecrated, and in 2013 a firebomb was thrown at the door and hate-filled slogans scrawled across the walls. 

In spite of regular incitement to violence by the likes of Jewish extremists such as Bentzi Gopstein - head of Lehava, a vigilante group  that has publicly called for the burning of churches and mosques - most cases of arson and vandalism were dismissed on the grounds of being caused by "unknown perpetrators".

An exception was the arson attack on the Church of Loaves and Fishes in 2015 by Jewish extremists, when a young settler, also known for arson attacks on mosques, was 

They have co-opted the language of anti-hate and anti-racism groups, while ignoring and even encouraging hate crimes in Palestine

But Farber - who stands against hate crimes in Canada while ignoring hate crimes in Israel and tacitly supporting the settler violence behind it – is representative of Canada's relatively conservative Jewish lobby, whose pro-Likud stance on most issues has an inordinate influence on Canadian foreign policy.

Even the left-leaning NDP party is not immune from the influence of "liberal Zionists" 
Farber and Karen Mock who actively campaigned against a recent resolution that called for a boycott of goods made in illegal settlements.

While Farber's old CJC organisation was aligned with Conservative Zionist elements, and often fomented the very Islamophobia he now decries, at least it had a pretense of liberalism and democratic process (although critics pointed to its increasingly top-heavy as opposed to grassroots style).

But the 
Canadian Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs – formed from its ashes in 2011 – is even more ardently right wing in its views

Canada's increasingly extremist Jewish groups, including B'nai Brith Canada (who have worked with the notorious Jewish Defence League, quite active across Canada) – have co-opted the language of anti-hate and anti-racism groups, while ignoring and even encouraging hate crimes against Palestinians who face settler and Israeli army violence on a daily basis.

B'nai Brith, which calls itself a "human rights organisation" also joined the CCIJA in opposing the Canadian anti-Islamophobia motion in the wake of a murderous attack on a mosque in Quebec City last year by a white supremacist.

Further cognitive dissonance is evidenced  by the CCIJA's stand on the issue of African refugees in Israel. While tacitly supporting Israel's right to deport them and thus maintain a majority white and Jewish state, they actively encouraged their acceptance by Canada.

The organisation called on the government to "expand the capacity of the Canadian embassy in Israel to process the resettlement of more of these asylum seekers in Canada".

This dangerous disconnect makes a mockery of Canadian values

This dangerous disconnect is akin to the US government's long standing "democracy at home, fascism abroad" stance, and it makes a mockery of Canadian values and our official foreign policy stance on Israel/Palestine.

The cozy relationship with right-wing Israeli elements that began with the bromance between former Conservative Prime Minister Stephen Harper and Benjamin Netanyahu, has hardly diminished under Justin Trudeau. And even as young American Jews become increasingly disenchanted with Israeli politics, Canadian lobby groups remain trapped in intransigent positions that equate criticism of Israel with anti-Semitism.

But in the face of such horrific violence currently unfolding in Palestine, with Israeli snipers executing unarmed and largely captive protestors, how long can this double standard continue?

At least one group in Canada – the progressive Independent Jewish Voices – is calling out the hypocrisy this holy week.

Read more: Palestine: Let's stop pretending it's a fair fight

Featured prominently on their website is a call to Bring the Palestinian struggle for freedom to your Passover Seder! It's linked to a story by Jewish-Canadian activist Rabbi Lucia Pizarro who worked with the Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions (ICAHD), an NGO that opposes Israel's policy of demolishing Palestinian homes in the occupied territories, and also helps to rebuild them.

She writes: "How can I tell the Passover story as if it was me who was delivered from slavery in Egypt when 10 minutes away in East Jerusalem, my friend's home - and world - has been destroyed?"

Hadani Ditmars is the author of Dancing in the No Fly Zone: a Woman's Journey Through Iraq. A former editor at New Internationalist, she has been reporting from the Middle East for two decades. Her next book, Ancient Heart, is a political travelogue of Iraqi heritage sites.

Follow her on Twitter: @HadaniDitmars

Opinions expressed in this article remain those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of The New Arab, its editorial board or staff.