Sunday, January 11, 2009

Two Days + Two Rallies + Two Issues = One Cause

"Tevy, the world is going crazy right now."

That was the first thing I heard as I stepped into my buddy Josh’s van that was picking me up to go to the rally. I thought to myself yeah, it’s crazy, but let’s go do something about it.

In case you’ve been living in a cave (like the terrorists), or a bomb shelter (like those been put there by terrorists) or simply been hiding out somewhere, not paying attention to anything (like the Hamas soldiers who hide in civilian areas, calling on Israel to retaliate and make the world pressure them even more while mindlessly firing rockets into Israel without any regard as where they may land), ** the world is going through some crazy times as we speak. I speak, in case you haven’t noticed by now, specifically about the military crisis that’s going on between Israel and Hamas. I haven’t devoted a post entirely to Israel yet, but like Israel, who unfortunately didn’t do very much when being bombarded by rockets and other attacks from Gaza since 2005, they decided to finally fire back. And now it’s my turn...

Within the span of 24 hours, I attended 2 rallies in support of Israel. The first one was organized by the UJA Federation (UJA- United Jewish Appeal) and entitled “The Rally for the People of Israel and Freedom from Terror.” Geared towards the entire Jewish Community of Toronto, the rally featured a number of speakers including one of my new favourite people: the Honourable Peter Kent, Minister of State Foreign Affairs and Member of Parliament for Thornhill (I even got to talk with him after the event was done!). Over 5,000 people attended the event which was held at Beth Tzedec Synagogue this past Thursday night (Jan 8).

The second event was a smaller, yet very enthusiastic protest at the Ontario CUPE Regional Office. Organized by the Jewish Defence League, it was arranged in opposition of a recent proposition made by CUPE Ontario (Canadian Union of Public Employees) to ban Israeli academics teaching in Ontario universities as its own protest against a Dec. 29 bombing that damaged a university in Gaza. At least 40 people showed up Friday (Jan 9) afternoon outside the Milner Avenue offices in the blistering cold weather to give CUPE and their despicable president Syd Ryan, a piece of their minds. This is the same CUPE (which is made up of several divisions within the province) that’s responsible for the two-month long strike at York University too.

**Before I go on about the rallies, I just want to make clear that even I’ll probably make it very clear what my views are within these writings/reports, but I won't go on 100 different rants about the whole conflict. At least in this post...maybe another time. I was very close to ranting about CUPE when the story first came out, but then the rallies came up I held off and decided to write about them instead. And in all honesty, who doesn’t go on a rant when talking about Israel and the Palestinians?

The first rally was something of your typical citywide rally and by the standards of Jewish community in Toronto that means two things are always evident: Lots of people & Lots of different people coming in solidarity. I’d say over the past 8 years since the conflict has escalated, I have never seen a citywide rally held by the Toronto Jewish community lacking in attendees. And what’s even more special is that no matter what your affiliation, all types of Jews come out to support. I mentioned to Josh’s brother Mike that you end finding someone you know at these rallies everywhere you look. It could be one of your best friends, a cousin, friend’s sister, uncle’s band mate, or random guys you haven’t seen for years since you attended public high school (Check marks on all those for yours truly)! Josh saw it a little differently, saying that unfortunately it takes someone else to knock the Jews as a whole in order for us to stop bickering with one another on regular basis and come together in solidarity. Nonetheless, the amount of people and solidarity was tremendous.

(Quick fact: Beth Tzedec is the largest synagogue in Canada. At the rally, not only was the massive main hall filled to capacity, but so was the adjacent chapel on the main floor, the reception hall on the second floor, and then people also began rallying outside the main entrance in cold! The three of us started out in the reception hall, but eventually moved into the hall later on.)

In addition to Peter Kent (whom Josh dubbed ‘The Man’), other speakers at ‘the sit-down and listen to prominent individuals embrace and Israel and inspire the crowd’ rally included Amir Gissin, Consul General of Israel to Toronto, who emphasized the significance of the public support the community must show in face of opposing public opinion.

Reiterating the Canadian government’s support for Israel, Peter Kent drew an enthusiastic response from the crowd. “Tonight, I am here, we are here, to stand with Israel,” Kent said. “Canada maintains these rocket attacks are the cause of this current crisis, and we support Israel’s right to defend itself against the continued attacks by Hamas.”

However, Kent also reiterated the government’s desire for an enduring peace and sustainable ceasefire, followed by a call for a Palestinian State. Regardless of the circumstances surrounding this conflict, I don’t think you will find one elected official, no matter what side or position they or their government/party holds on the conflict, who won’t be calling for ceasefire and for peaceful resolutions to take place. To me, that’s expected political talk... You may not agree with everything that’s said because due to several borders that exist between both entities, you know that it’s not as easy as it sounds. For Israel, I'd say hear it, accept it, but continue to push or support the government to support Israel.

I say this because of what keynote speaker Alon Pinkas, the former Consul General of Israel in New York, had to say. Offering some very intriguing insights and analysis of the on-going conflict, he personified what the operation should accomplish: “to exact an overwhelming military price on Hamas,” but not destroy it entirely. I especially liked what he had to say about the ridiculous concept of proportionality, in relation to the world saying Israel is not responding in proportion to what Hamas has done to them. He said that by using their (Hamas and the media's) definition of proportional response would mean doing exactly what they do in return; an eye for an eye. That means firing 3000+ rockets arbitrarily into Gaza without concern for where they land, not warning civilians when attacks are coming and to take cover, not providing humanitarian aid, and blowing up buses with the intention of killing innocent people. Another thing he touched on was something I’ve wondered whether the world will ever understand: the ineptitude of the Palestinians to make smart decisions and constantly waste opportunities to better help themselves. If you do your research, you’ll be amazed to discover that Israel has offered multiple peace proposals over the years, and every single time, the Palestinian ruling body has said no. Not ceasefires. I’m talking about legitimate peace offers that have Israel giving up territory to Palestinian control and rule.

Also part of the rally was a live satellite feed to Israel at 3:45 a.m., from Beersheva, of the bigger cities facing a threat of rocket attacks from Gaza. Yossi Tanuri, Director General, United Israel Canada, new Beersheva Mayor Rubik Danilovich, as well as other valiant Israelis gave the crowd a firsthand look as to what they’ve had to deal with in the past few weeks. One of the most moving parts of evening took place during this segment, when video footage was shown of a live attack occurring Beersheva. It started with a Tanuri speaking outside a school that was close to a previous attack, only to be interrupted by the sounds of sirens notifying the town of an imminent incoming attack. The video than shows Tanuri and others rushing into the school bomb shelter and others throughout the city scrambling for shelter (from other footages mixed in). An explosion follows and is shown in the video. Soon after Tanuri and the arise from the shelter to see that it was the school they were hiding in that was hit, with the rocket landing in the middle of an empty classroom.

The second rally, which brought a significant number of Jews to Scarborough (literally along my bus route), was more of a ‘let’s make some noise to show that we won’t stand for these kind of actions’ rally. I don’t like being judgmental about these events because of their main goals and purposes, but the event time it was planned for was doomed to prevent a greater number of people from coming. Friday afternoon in the wintertime is not the best time for a rally. Too many Jews have too many things going on before Shabbat to go out Scarberia and protest outside in the cold. (Read one of my future blogs for a personal experience of that nature!). Still, they’re no better than a recent group of coward protesters who showed up at the Israeli Consulate last week on a Saturday afternoon, or to many Jews – Shabbat (aka, when we can’t mobilize and defend ourselves in bigger numbers for obvious reasons...)

For those who are unfamiliar with this issue, earlier last week CUPE Ontario president Sid Ryan called for the boycott of Israeli academics and educators who do not condemn the Dec. 29 bombing of the Islamic University in Gaza and "the assault on Gaza in general." He also called the resolution a reasonable response to the attack, which he likened to the torching of books by Nazis during the Second World War. He eventually apologized for the Nazi remarks, but refused to retract the proposed resolution. Here’s one of the first reports to come out on it:

For me the rally was a great opportunity to not only show my support but to also practice a few on-site journalism reporting techniques. I came well in hand with a voice recorder, camera, and video camera, while waving a flag and raising a sign at the same time**

**Okay, I know what you’re thinking fellow journalism students (you too Ellin, I know your reading this), but where’s my objectivity? Yes, this report/writing is only for the blog and personal benefit, and not for an actual news outlet, but I’ve said this before and I’ll say it again: even though I’m trying to be a wannabe journalist, which means utilizing every opportunity to push ‘the journalistic mindset’ button (I’ll come up with a better name and post later), I also won’t hesitate giving those who speak the truth and follow those morals and beliefs that I greatly value proper and valuable exposure when the moment is acceptable and appropriate. One day I’ll make a post that purely focuses on the challenges of maintaining objectivity when reporting on an issue one has a clear and definitive view on.

As for what I have to say about the whole issue, hey, I did go to rally on my own accord... I went because like those who attended, I don't support the actions of CUPE. They not only criticize Israel unfairly, but set a bad precendent when attempting to pull off these kind of boycotts. The concept behind it all - why CUPE is doing, misrepresents a public union and all it's members by associating it with a policy on an international (that it honestly has no business sticking its nose in). Where were they when Russia went into Georgia? Or China to Tibet? Why not boycott them for their academics? If you plan on reading the article in the link above, be sure to take a look at some of the other related articles dealing with the issue, such as Jonathan Kay's column:

Bottom line, it was nice to see the Jewish community step up for Israel. The rallies may have different but they both made it know that the community has no problem with proudly expressing their support for Israel.