The Bear Hug
Posted Mon, Nov 30, 2009

Some people will find it an important achievement that Canada’s two largest political parties are arguing over Jewish votes and trying to portray themselves as enthusiastic supporters of Israel, following the pamphlets that were distributed by the Conservative Party, in areas of large Jewish populations. However, the said pamphlet is actually problematic to say the least, and the Liberals’ criticism against its initiators is quite justified.

The pamphlet’s contents may hint that the Jewish community is being driven by an external agenda and is making decisions based on foreign interests. Some may find the Conservatives’ hug a warm one, but it may turn out to be a bear hug that feeds claims regarding the Jewish community’s double identity. This has already been expressed in one of the resolutions discussed a few months ago during a conference by the United Church in British Columbia. It is very important to clarify that the Jewish community does not vote in Canadian federal elections based on Ottawa’s support of Israel. The support of Israel is not obvious or unconditional; rather it is based on values common to both countries. Canada’s foreign policy is only one of a variety of issues being voted on, and the Jewish community has an interest in expressing its voice and influencing many issues, including the economy, human rights, and concern for social rights.

Canada went through some political turmoil last week, following the testimony of diplomat Richard Colvin in the House of Commons and his claims that Canadian troops committed war crimes. Colvin’s claims should be heard and investigated by the appropriate authorities. It is an obligation to examine the basis for his serious claims. According to quotes by Colvin, he only spoke to four detainees and he is not even sure if they were arrested by Canadian troops. In addition, Colvin (for reasons he keeps for himself) did not report to the Foreign Minister when he visited Afghanistan about the serious findings he allegedly found during an inspection of Afghan prisons.

Even if Colvin exaggerated, or blew his accusations beyond proportions for political reasons, we cannot ignore the fact that seven years after the removal of the Taliban regime, human rights are still violated by the authorities in Afghanistan. Reports by the American government and human rights organizations speak of torture in prisons, oppression of women, slavery of children, and more. The Canadian government has done a lot in order to instill in the new Afghan government and in Afghan society as a whole, a democratic society and values of human rights in the spirit of the west. Girls attend schools, something which was forbidden during the time of the Taliban, leadership is elected in democratic elections, and large amounts of money have been invested in establishing a local security force and in guiding it to keep the laws. There has been a gradual change and Canada should be greatly appreciated for its work in this area and for the willingness by young Canadians to risk their lives for the freedom of another nation.

The severity by which Colvin judged the Canadian military and authorities reminds us of the Goldstone committee’s biased attitude towards Israel and may teach us about his motives. Canada should not be ashamed of the “occupation” of Afghanistan which was meant to give the Afghan people a true chance to return to the fold of nations. Among those who strictly criticize Canada are those who are demanding an immediate withdrawal of coalition troops in order to give the Afghan nation a chance to say its piece, knowing that such a move at the present time might bring back the Taliban regime. Afghan human rights activist Malalai Joya expressed herself in this manner last week, when she visited Toronto to promote her new book. This world view brings to mind some tough questions about the critics’ integrity. How do they settle their declared standpoints about human rights with the possibility that their actions might bring the Taliban’s radical Islamic regime (who exercises a brutal repression of human rights) closer?

As this is being written, Gilad Shalit’s fate is being decided through negotiations with Hamas. Israel is willing to release terrorists and serial killers and minister Eli Yishai is acting “for the sake of balance” to approve a lighter sentence for Jewish terrorists who murdered Arabs because they are Arabs. Those “simple criminals” who embezzled and laundered money do not receive patronage. They will have to serve their time behind bars. If they had murdered an Arab/Jew on the basis of their identity while stealing they likely would have improved their chances to get out of prison early. Food for thought about morality, retribution, and punishment.

Jonathan Dahoh-Halevi
Fellow and senior researcher at the Jerusalem Centre for Public Affairs , head of research of the Orient Research Group Ltd., investigative journalist and an activist in the Jewish and Israeli communities.

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