Part V: Israel and Diaspora Politics

There is another very different area in which progressive Jews who support Israel have to re-examine their thinking, the relationship between Israel and the diaspora. Though far from the only area, the domestic political scene with respect to the political party platforms in one’s own country is one obvious dimension of this relationship. Once a Zionist group re-examines and comes up with a political platform that it will support vis-à-vis Israel, then the politics of one’s own country has to be a priority. I begin with the Canadian party most critical of Israel, The Green Party.

Like all Canadian parties, the Greens support a two-state solution, that is, support Israel as a state alongside the state of Palestine. But both states must be viable. The Greens support the right of Israel to exist, but insist that this must be alongside Palestine as a “viable” state, usually taken as a code word for a Palestine which has the old Green Line as a border – subject usually, but not always, to the usual qualifier, “with adjustments agreeable to both parties.” The Palestinians are then put in the position that the Old City, East Jerusalem and any part of the West Bank can only be part of Israel if the Palestinians agree. Hence, the Greens support a divided Jerusalem with the Old City under Palestinian jurisdiction and the dismantling of all settlements defined as “illegal”. There is no mention of “secure” borders, a code word which endorses a shift from the Green Line as a border for Israel for new borders which will enable Israel to reinforce its security.

Thus, with respect to Gaza, the Greens have focused their political fire on the violence used by Israel against the Palestinians in Gaza and not the rockets fired from Gaza onto Israel, even though the Greens deplore the use of violence from either side. In fact, the Green Party leader, Elizabeth May, went even further and accused Israel of deliberately targeting civilians in Gaza. In a May 2018 press release by the party. Elizabeth May claimed that the “Israeli Defence Forces have targeted and killed 110 Palestinians, including 12 children, with more than 12,000 injured…Targeting civilian protesters is in direct violation of the Fourth Geneva Convention, to which both Israel and Canada are signatories…We call on the Liberal government to join us in demanding that Israel immediately stop targeting civilians.”

If you believe these words were strong, read her other statements where she condemned “the intentionality of the Israeli military” in “the shooting of unarmed civilians in a peaceful protest,” claimed that the shootings were “a clear violation of all accepted international norms,” and that “ Israeli snipers did exactly what they were ordered to do and that the country’s military commanders have said that “every bullet went where it was intended to go…This was a systematic plan to murder unarmed civilians.”

To that end, the Greens have insisted that Canada impose an arms embargo against Israel, but say nothing about stopping missiles and the parts thereto from being shipped into Gaza. “We again call on the government to cease all arms shipments to Israel.” While stating that the party supports Israel’s right to exist, it does not discipline candidates who support BDS, even though BDS is widely charged, in the end, with denying Israel’s right to exist. The party did discipline a candidate who was a vocal Holocaust denier.

Officially, the Green Party “opposes the use of Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions tactics,” but defends the rights of members not only to support BDS, but move resolutions at annual conventions endorsing BDS. The party did not discipline its candidate, Dale Dewar, in the riding of Regina-Qu’Appelle, though Dewar did apologize for her tweets on Israel, but not for her support of BDS, but because of the inflammatory tone of her tweets. She had called Israel “a serial rapist,” dubbed Zionism a “cult,” defined Israel as a colonizing state and a country “imposed” on the Palestinians by the U.N., declared support for Israel to be a product of guilt over the treatment of Jews in WWII and accused Israel of having a “distorted sense of reality” and of picking on children. There was no withdrawal of these specific statements or a reprimand for them.

What was JSpace’s response? Elizabeth May’s statements crossed the line and revealed bias. Karen Mock retorted, “Israel does not have a systematic plan to murder civilians. Hamas cannot be trusted when it says it is committed to non-violence. The demonstrations on the border are not really peaceful protests. When a statement censuring Israel says the killing and human rights violations must end, it is absurd to compare the murderous regime that runs Gaza with Israel. While many of the demonstrators were peaceful and exercising their right to protest, others were indeed engaging in violence, including members of Hamas’ military wing. This is why we believe it is both unwise and unhelpful to accuse Israel of intentionally shooting unarmed protesters, as Ms. May did.”

Everyone knows, or should know, how much I both admire and appreciate Karen and her work. The criticisms are pointed, but the evaluation – “unwise and unhelpful” – comes across as milquetoast when Elizabeth May’s observations reflect not only extreme bias and an ideological underpinning, but very distorted observations and evaluations of what took place in the Gaza War.  

Jagmeet Singh, leader of the New Democratic Party, came in for similar criticism by Karen. He had denounced Israel’s approach to Gaza as “counterproductive to peace.” Singh had removed Rana Zaman as a Nova Scotia candidate when he characterized Israel as behaving like Nazis, committing genocide and even using money to influence Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. The NDP policies on Israel are not nearly as repugnant as those of the Green Party.

However, they cannot be considered to be friendly.  In August, when the Federal Court in Canada ruled that labeling wines made in the West Bank settlements as “products of Israel,” as “false, misleading and deceptive” and, therefore, in violation of Canada’s consumer protection, food and drug laws, the NDP went much further and did not just applaud the decision – which I personally believe was a correct one – but denounced the free trade agreement between Canada and Israel for including products made in settlements in the West Bank. The problem was not just one of misleading labeling, but the fact that the items were produced in “illegal settlements” in clear violation of the fourth Geneva Convention. I happen not to agree with the latter statement, but the fact that the NDP used a court ruling in Canada that said no such thing to imply that the court upheld in effect boycotting products made in “illegal” settlements in the West Bank required a more probing criticism. 

At the very least, JSpace had to clarify and define its position on the settlements otherwise it has no foundation for discriminating among different positions and launching hard-hitting critiques based on its platform.

What about the Liberals? Trudeau dumped Hassan Guillet as a Montreal-area Liberal candidate after he was accused of attacking Israel and glorifying terrorism. That party restored funding to UNRWA cancelled by the Tories. That party said it would not follow the lead of the Americans in recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. Further, the Liberals also continue to characterize the settlements as illegal.

United Nations Security Council Resolution 2334 (2016) during the Obama administration passed by a 14-0 vote with the U.S. abstaining. The resolution characterized Israel’s settlement activity as a “flagrant violation” of international law with respect to an occupying power under the Fourth Geneva Convention and called on Israel to cease all such activity. Since 1980, no UNSC resolution had previously specifically addressed the issue of Israeli settlements. Resolution 2334 changed that. However, it was adopted under the non-binding Chapter VI of the UN charter.

To be binding, the UNSC would have to first determine that, in international law, Israel was occupying the territory of another state and thereby recognize Palestine as a state. There is a controversy over whether non-state territory fell under this part of the charter, an issue that remained moot as long as U.S. administrations vetoed similar motions. There is also the issue of the failure of the UN to condemn other states in unequivocal flagrant violations – Russia in Crimea. The Palestinian Authority welcomed the passage as a step towards ending the occupation and establishing a Palestinian state based on the 1967 lines.

This is the nub of the debate. Are the armistice lines of 1949 also the territorial boundaries of the successor political authorities or were these just ceasefire lines? Progressive Zionists have to determine their position on this question and the policies and strategies that follow from such a determination.

Only the Conservative Party of Canada refuses to characterize the settlements as illegal and denounce them. Andrew Scheer also promised to “recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital when we form government.” Further, it was the Harper government that withdrew support for UNRWA, the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA), monies that the Liberals restored after Trudeau’s first victory. Scheer promised to reinstate that withdrawal of financial support.

As for the Bloc Québécois, out of ignorance, I hesitate to write about their policies on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, though I have a passing acquaintance with the views of Francine Lalonde, the long-time foreign affairs critic for the party who has an intimate knowledge of the conflict. To the degree that I understand the Bloc position, on the one hand, it was critical of President Barack Obama’s stance on settlements because the Bloc found them to be contradictory, praising Netanyahu for freezing the settlements while characterizing them as illegal. She took the Tories to task for their one-sided approach and Israel for perceiving Palestinians only as threats, whereas the independenistes in Québéc never saw English Canadians as threats. One sensed that she both sympathized with the desire of both groups for self-determination but was very willing to contemplate Israel-Palestine as a united federal state. However, this is only an impression. Finally, she was very critical of antisemitism, but also very wary of any attempt to paint critics of Israel as antisemitic.

The three English progressive parties in Canada, to different degrees, are critical of current Israeli policies. Only the Conservatives seem to support them. Where does JSpace stand on the following issues:

  1. The 1967 ceasefire lines as borders or just ceasefire lines
  2. Jerusalem
  3. Settlements
  4. Support for UNRWA
  5. The characterization of IDF military actions in Gaza?

In my perception, many Jewish progressives are torn, disagreeing with progressive parties in Canada on these issues to different degrees but unwilling to endorse a non-progressive party even if its stand may, for some or many, correspond more closely to their own convictions. Is it sufficient to support dialogue between Israelis and Palestinians, a peaceful approach to resolution of the issues and the recognition of Palestine as a state alongside Israel, or must JSpace, to be effective, come out with concrete positions on these controversial issues?

On the border question, I would hold that the 1949 armistice lines were an interim border. Further, it divided Israel from Jordan as an occupying and annexing power. With Israel’s victory in the Six Day War, the Jewish state revived its right under the Mandate for Palestine (assumed by the UN as the successor to the League of Nations) to settle anywhere in Palestine. This has been a platform of almost all of the Jewish political parties in Israel from left to right. The dispute was over the extent to which it should be exercised, but not over its legal right to do so. Hence, for Israel, the settlements are not illegal, but they may be considered an obstacle to peace.

Subsequent events and international actions, including steps by Israel, went beyond the Mandate which guaranteed the civil and political rights of Arabs (Article 2 of the Mandate), but no national rights to recognition of Palestinians as a nation with collective political rights in Palestine. Just as the extent of Jewish rights are under dispute, so are the boundaries of Palestinian rights. Hence, I would conclude that the settlements are not illegal though they pose a problem for any peace agreement. Further, Area C in the West Bank has almost achieved the same ratio of Jews to Palestinians as in Israel proper. Finally, it is politically impossible to envision Israel uprooting those settlements. Is it really correct to say that the expansion of settlements (all, some, which ones?) in the West Bank is an obstacle to peace and that they threaten Israel’s security?

What about Jerusalem? Though in the aftermath of the Six Day War, excluding the Old City, many Israelis were willing to cede East Jerusalem in return for peace, this is no longer the case since most Jewish Israelis have become convinced that such an offer would not resolve the issues over Jerusalem. Should JSpace recognize a) Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and b) a united Jerusalem?

As for UNRWA, given the evolution of the refugee repatriation issue as a right and the evolution in practice of virtually no repatriation, would Canada be better off continuing its support for education for Palestinians by channeling such support through the Palestinian Authority, thereby facilitating a unified educational system in both the West Bank and Gaza, but also raising the possibility of conditioning such support on Palestine ending its support for terrorism in its textbooks and its denial of Israel’s right to exist?

Finally, there is the issue of the application of just war theory to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. I would claim that the evidence does not support that, in general, Israel has been in violation of those norms and, further, that those who insist that Israel is in violation, more often than not misinterpret those norms.

Would JSpace be better off wrestling with determining its policies on these issues and risk turning off a number of progressives who would hold different views, or would it be better to zero in on its positions on these various issues so that clarity replaces vagueness on JSpace policies?

Next: Israel and Jewish Diaspora Communities

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