Anxious time for Canadian Jews

By Anna Morgan

The Toronto Star, August 16, 2005


There are probably more opinions within the Canadian Jewish community on the merits of the current evacuation from Gaza and parts of the West Bank than there are Canadian Jews. It's a debate where realists face off against ideologues and moderates against hardliners. Depending on the news and how it is presented, some argue for it in the morning and against it at night.

Indeed, the only thing most agree on when discussions turn to the current disengagement is that it will not bring peace any time soon.

For those who believe strongly in religious claims to the land of Israel, the territories belong within the borders because of a biblical promise to the Jewish people. While the West Bank holds a higher significance because of the ancient Jewish narrative that transpired there, the settlers and their supporters in Canada see any disengagement from the land, including Gaza, as a betrayal.

For many of them, both international realpolitik and democratic values are secondary to the Zionist endeavour of settling the land. Cynicism runs so high among this group that they wonder at the hypocrisy of a world that would cringe at the removal of Arab inhabitants from Israel but smirks at the transference of Jewish settlers from Gaza.

On the other side are those who believe in solutions that sound better in political theory classes than they do in the Middle East street. These mostly academic analysts argue that the disengagement, because it is partial rather than complete, will only empower terrorists bent on destroying the State of Israel.

The only way to undermine terrorism, according to these theorists, would be for Israel to withdraw to the Green Line, give up its claims to Jerusalem and to defensible borders, arm the Palestinian Authority and hope that it can build a nation before any terrorist group takes over.

Of course, there are views to the right, left and middle of these extremes, but most Canadian Jews still believe in a process that begins at the negotiating table and would work towards security for both peoples. They want peace in the area, but not at Israel's demise. They are hopeful that this is a first step but memories of the failed talks under Bill Clinton's auspices remind them that the Palestinians are quick to turn to terrorism as a solution to the first roadblock.

The recent intifada has left many Canadian Jews fearful of hoping too hard for something that may not be achievable.

Diaspora Jews have an emotional tie to Israel and a belief in its need to exist as a refuge state. In Toronto, with its large community of Holocaust survivors and their children, Jews are conscious that if Israel were around in the early stages of Nazi Germany, many of their family members might have survived.

In Montreal, with its large North African Jewish population, the community is equally conscious that Israel has provided a home for their many relatives who were expelled from Arab countries. They want it to be there for those fleeing anti-Semitism in Russia, France, and anywhere else.

They also trust that Israel will remain a democratic state that they can be proud of, and are worried at the current revival among radicalized Jewish rightists that oppose the government's moves and that occasionally turn violent.

When Marc Gold, chair of the Canada Israel Committee, says that he "supports the disengagement in the hope that it may reduce confrontation and steer things towards a peace track," he is being cautiously optimistic. He acknowledges that "disengagement has triggered pain and anguish within the Jewish world" but "hopes that the Palestinian leadership will step up to the plate and respond in a positive way."

And so, while Israelis have taken their first painful step toward peace, Canadian Jews nervously wonder about the many challenges left to overcome - the West Bank, Jerusalem, Palestinian statehood - and the compromises that will be required on both sides.

Now that the Israelis are staring down those among them who have for years demanded a right of return to Gaza and the West bank, the Jewish world finds itself wondering when, and if, the Palestinians will start staring down those among them who demand a right of return to Haifa and Jaffa. Supporters of the withdrawal understand the need to live and let live with the Palestinians; their unease comes from not knowing whether anyone will ever do the same for them.

While much of the world focuses on ending the occupation and ignores the broader conflict, Jews tend not to forget that the antagonism to a Jewish state goes far beyond those territories. Indeed, for Jews in Canada and elsewhere the real question lies well ahead of the current disengagement.

They simply do not know whether the likes of Hamas, Islamic Jihad, the Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades, the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, Hezbollah, Al Qaeda, Syria, Lebanon, Sudan, Yemen, Libya, Algeria, Iran, etc. will one day live and let live with Israel in return.

Anna Morgan is a Toronto writer.


Copyright 2005 Toronto Star Newspapers, Ltd.