Adapted from a speech delivered on November 2 at the “Halifax Jews Say Not In Our Name” rally for a ceasefire.
Before I start with the presentation for this wonderful rally, in front of Halifax’s historic Public Gardens today, I want to expose the campaign to shut down civil voices here in Halifax and beyond.
- The chief librarian at Halifax Public Libraries disallowed Dr. Rylan Higgins, a professor of anthropology at Saint Mary’s University, from holding a symposium called “Palestinian Existence Under Israeli Occupation” at the Central Library. After the library had agreed, it suddenly denied him, and other academics the public space. If that wasn’t bad enough, the chief librarian’s assistant had the nerve to cite the fact this week is Holocaust Remembrance Week, so the library would not permit Higgins’ symposia.
- Yara Jamal was fired as a production assistant at CTV Atlantic in Halifax last month. She had attended a public rally for Palestine, and is involved with Free Palestine Halifax – both on her own time. Yara is Muslim, a Palestinian-Canadian born in Haifa. Dan Appleby the news director at CTV Atlantic, told Yara he could not allow anyone who is sympathetic to Hamas to work at the TV station. Yara told him she has nothing at all to do with Hamas. Still he fired her.
- Zahra Al-Akhrass, a reporter at Global TV in Toronto who is Muslim, was fired on Oct. 17 for her support for Palestine.
- Sheikh Aarij Anwer, a Chaplain at the University of Western Ontario in London, was fired last week because he dared to speak against the lie that “dozens of babies were beheaded and young girls were raped” by Palestinian fighters. This is a claim even the White House has “walked back” and agreed that the information came from Israel.
- On Oct. 12, a 26-yr-old political staffer who worked for a Quebec Liberal Member of the Legislature was fired because she “Liked” two tweets in support of Palestinian human rights.
So much for free speech in Canada. These examples are just the tip of the iceberg. Every day more people – Muslims and others – are fired or censured for supporting Palestinian human rights.
I am a proud founding member of Independent Jewish Voices, which just celebrated its 15th anniversary.
IJV Canada is a grassroots organization grounded in Jewish tradition that opposes all forms of racism and advocates for justice and peace for all in Israel-Palestine. IJV has active chapters in cities and on university campuses across the country.
Jewish people say, “Not in our name!”
We are here today in Halifax to join Jews all over the world who are saying “Not in Our Name” and “Ceasefire Now.”
We are joining the thousands of Jews, led by two dozen rabbis, calling for a ceasefire, who occupied the US Congress, where hundreds were arrested, including IJV Canada member Rabbi David Mivasair.
We are joining the Jews calling for a ceasefire, who occupied New York’s Grand Central Station, where more were arrested.
We are joining the hundreds of Jews, led by IJVCanada, calling for a ceasefire who marched in Toronto a week ago.
We are joining the brave band of young Jews in Germany, ground zero for the suppression of support for Palestine. This group called The Bund, picketed the Reichstag in Berlin a few weeks ago telling the German government “You are not protecting us [Jews].” My partner, Larry, met with them when we were in Berlin last week.
And we are joining the even braver band of Jews in Israel who oppose the Israeli occupation of Palestine.
It’s being said that the Israeli War on Gaza has sparked the largest mass mobilization of Jews in American history– and dare I say Canadian history as well.
Canada’s Jewish community is not monolithic
A well-kept secret is that the Jewish community in Canada is not monolithic. It is much more diverse politically than anyone imagines. More and more of us are fed up with the moral blackmail that says the ticket to Jewish identity is unquestioning support of the State of Israel.
I say my Jewish identity includes justice for Palestine.
In a 2023, an EKOS survey of Canadian Jews done BEFORE the current conflict found that:
- 73 percent opposed the proposed judicial reform to reverse Israeli Supreme Court decisions.
- 60 percent agreed that the Canadian government should refuse to meet with fascist Kahanist Israeli politicians Ben-Gvir and Smotrich.
- 60 percent said the Israeli government was moving in the “wrong direction” and only 13 percent said the Israeli government was moving in the “right direction.”
- 54 percent opposed expanding Israeli settlement in West Bank.
- 31 percent wanted establishment Jewish organizations (e.g. CIJA, B’nai Brith, Wiesenthal Centre) to be more critical of Israel.
A 2018 EKOS survey of Canadian Jews found:
- 60 percent did not see criticism of Israel as antisemitic.
- half of those surveyed agreed that accusations of antisemitism are “often used to silence legitimate criticism of Israeli policies.”
And in a 2021 Jewish Electorate Institute poll of US Jews:
- One quarter agreed that “Israel is apartheid state;” among those under 40 years of age, that rose to one half
- A third of US Jewish voters under 40 agreed that Israel is committing genocide, long before the current bombing of Gaza.
History did not being on October 7
I want to tell you that history did not begin on October 7, as some would like you to believe.
One of our signs here today carries a famous quotation from Albert Einstein the scientist, humanist and, I should mention, trenchant critic of Israel. It applies so well to the current situation: “The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again but expecting different results.”
Israel has bombed Gaza innumerable times before Oct 7, 2023 and has invaded with ground forces four times in the last decade. These attacks resulted in 6,400 deaths, 1,434 of them children, not including any of the deaths from the present conflict.
In every instance we were told by Israel and its unquestioning supporters that they were doing it to root out the Hamas terrorist infrastructure. How well did that work out? When the tumult dies down and the killing pauses, and Gaza once more lies in ruins, what lessons will be learned?
Let us remember that today’s Palestinian 12-year-olds fearfully experiencing bombardment will be 16-year-olds in four years’ time, ready and willing to sacrifice themselves to avenge. If Israel means, as it swears, to root out the Hamas “terror machine,” does that include today’s 12-year-olds? Or tomorrow’s? Or those who will be that age in four years’ time?
The role of non-violence: Israel rejects it
Some defenders of Israel say, where is the non-violence? Well, let’s look at what happens to non-violence.
When Palestinian civil society organizations devised the non-violent Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) campaign, it was attacked viciously and denounced as antisemitic.
When Gazans staged non-violent demonstrations at the border fence from 2018, Israeli forces killed 214, including 46 children, and injured over 36,100, including nearly 8,800 children. One in five of those injured (over 8,000) were hit by live ammunition. In those same demonstrations, one Israeli soldier was killed and seven others were injured.
Dr. Gabor Mate, is a physician and renowned addiction expert, speaker and author, an expert on trauma, addiction, stress and childhood development. He is a member of IJV and says:
“If one follows only the Western media and politicians, one might believe that the current inhumane assault on Gaza is a defensive response to the atrocities of October 7. In fact, it is only the continuation of a colonial ideology and strategy that has historically visited unspeakable oppression, collective punishment, ongoing ethnic cleansing and periodic massacres on Palestinians for the crime of wanting to exist in their own land.”
Nikolas Kristof of the New York Times recently wrote about several relatives of Israelis killed or taken hostage on Oct 7.
Yonatan Zeigen, of Winnipeg, son of Vivian Silver, a peace activist who was taken hostage, said “My basic belief is that military actions don’t solve anything. If they [the hostages] are the first priority, then bringing hostages home should be the governments’ first priority. Now I’m afraid because it seems like the military option is more prevalent for the [Israeli] government.”
Maoz Inon, whose 78-year-old father and 75-year-old mother were killed, says “I’m crying for my parents. I’m crying for my friends. I’m crying for those who are kidnapped. I’m crying for the victims on the Palestinian side. And I’m crying for all the victims that are going to suffer. We are just broken. But from these traumatized days, we must learn the lessons from history. And foremost among them, is the need to break the pattern of escalating violence that feeds hatred, creates orphans and self-replicates indefinitely.”
Before Hamas, Israel was fighting other Palestinians
I want to finish by quoting Peter Beinart, the well-known Jewish-American writer and commentator, professor of journalism and political science at the City University of New York, former editor of The New Republic and editor at large of Jewish Currents magazine.
Two years ago, he wrote an ironic and prophetic piece entitled “If Israel Eliminated Hamas, Nothing Fundamental Would Change.”
He observed that 25 years ago, Hamas didn’t even exist and Israel was fighting other Palestinians, and in fact, supported Hamas as a possible moderate counterpoint to the PLO.
How well did that work out?
“Nothing would change because as long as Israel denies Palestinians’ basic rights, Palestinians will keep fighting Israel. That fight began long before Hamas was created. If Hamas were somehow destroyed, it would continue long after Hamas was gone.”
“Fundamentally, Israel doesn’t have a Hamas problem. It has a Palestinian problem. [Israel] dominates and brutalizes another people. Until that domination and brutalization ends, every cease-fire will be merely an interval until the next war, regardless of which parties lead the Palestinian struggle.”
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