Thursday, 18 November 2010

Shooting the Messenger

Yesterday, Rabbi Ahron Hoch, Rabbi of the Village Shul in Toronto, received a letter from York University threatening legal action for casting aspersions on its President, and encouraging non students to participate in a rally against the appearance of the infamous George Galloway at York, funded by student fees. I have the honour to have known Rabbi Hoch for about 20 years. He is a gentle, humorous, extraordinarily welcoming individual, someone who respects all of God’s creations. If Rabbi Hoch felt moved to motivate others to stand up and be counted at York, it is because he, like me, has been listening to Jewish students at York describing the increasingly hostile environment for far too long. It is not only Rabbi Hoch who has been moved by this growing problem.

This fall, the US Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights announced its intention to more strictly enforce the provisions of an important policy benefiting Jewish students in elementary, secondary and post-secondary schools. In a letter issued on October 26, OCR declared that it will enforce Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 to protect Jewish students from harassment, intimidation and discrimination at federally funded schools.

In Canada, the federal government under Prime Minister Stephen Harper has made its position clear, even though education is regulated at the provincial rather than the federal level. When it has had the opportunity to be involved, including in funding decisions, it has acted decisively. In a recent speech, Prime Minister Harper stated:

“Anti-Semitism has gained a place at our universities, where at times it is not the mob who are removed, but the Jewish students under attack (This is a direct reference to events at York University last year)… There are, after all, a lot more votes, a lot more, in being anti-Israeli than in taking a stand. But, as long as I am Prime Minister…Canada will take that stand, whatever the cost. Not just because it is the right thing to do, but because history shows us, and the ideology of the anti-Israeli mob tells us all too well, that those who threaten the existence of the Jewish people are, in the longer term, a threat to all of us.”

Jewish York University students have been testifying for years that the environment created on their campus - by anti-Israel activists; by anti-Israel student governments; by University administrators who are at best bewildered, possibly intimidated or at the very least ambivalent  - is a noxious, hate filled, poisoned environment. The standards of the Ontario Human Rights Commission and the Canadian Human Rights Commission protecting individuals from a poisoned environment in the workplace or at school are simply not being met. 

The responsibility for enforcing those standards lies with the institution, and ultimately with President Shoukri himself. Now, I don’t presume to know President Shoukri’s conscience. I don’t assume he is an anti-Semite. He may even have an earnest desire to work with the Jewish community, especially considering how much of York’s fund-raising comes from within it. Nonetheless, I know that he and his predecessor Lorna Marsden (with whom I sat along with colleagues discussing similar problems more than seven years ago) have utterly failed to protect Jewish students as is their responsibility under the Charter. Graffiti, physical attacks, verbal attacks (Hillel @ York reported shouted comments such as ““Die Jew,” “Get the hell off campus,” “Go back to Israel,” and “F---ing Jew,”), blockades in rooms, disrupted events, even allegations (with signed affidavits) that Mr. Shoukri engaged in supportive discourse with Hammam Farah, an anti-Israel activist with SAIA – these all evidence a fundamental disregard for the Charter rights of thousands of York students.

As the former Director of Israel Affairs for National Jewish Campus Life, and the former Campus Coordinator for B’nai Brith Canada, I have spent countless hours working with students, student groups, Jewish professional staff, security, and even York administrators to solve and confront these problems. I have stood in the Vari Link and debated anti-Israel activists, and with more wise experience I have helped organize and execute campaigns aimed at creating a better climate through engaging the 90% who do not have an interest in the conflict in a positive way. My experience tells me that there must be a point at which the Jewish community stands up and says “Enough!” as Rabbi Hoch has done. And I would go further than that.

There are two avenues for Jewish students and the Jewish community to take that they have not yet done as effectively as they might.

  • Students have a right to redress under York’s Code of Conduct, as well as through the Ontario Charter of Rights. Not one, not ten, but HUNDREDS of students should avail themselves of these avenues as often and as loudly as necessary, and the legal talent of the Jewish community must be harnessed to support them.  The York Federation of Students, SAIA, and the York administration must be held to account using their own rules and procedures, if necessary to the point of paralyzing their administrative and legal resources unless they address the issues.
  • York University is the beneficiary of millions of dollars every year from donors within the Jewish community, and the choice of thousands of Jewish families for the education of their children. Many of these have been increasingly dismayed by events at York, and some of them have withdrawn their support. Students, donors, and community professionals should draw up a campaign to finally use the leverage they have been accused of holding for years by the likes of Professor David Noble. The consequences of inaction should be spelled out to York’s administration. The potential withdrawal of thousands of students and millions of dollars will send a message that is hard to ignore.

Rabbi Hoch, you have the esteem of the entire community, as well as that of concerned Canadians from sea to sea. You are in good company. Prime Minister Harper agrees with you. The US government agrees with you. Thousands of Jewish students at York University and across the country agree with you. The administration at York University has countenanced actions which create a poisoned environment for far too long. The obscenity of hosting George Galloway at York follows from a long series of events, and a long history of ineffective “leadership” on the issue by York University senior administrators. This crisis has been a decade in the making. It is past time to ensure the security, safety and the peace of mind of thousands of Jewish students at York and around the country.

Monday, 15 November 2010

Credit Where Credit is Due

In a recent column, the Washington Post’s Charles Krauthammer delivered a rare note of praise to President Obama. Instead of lambasting him over the expense of the recent Presidential trip to India, Krauthammer explained that India’s key role in counterbalancing China’s expansionist agenda in South Asia was an excellent reason to foster better relations and to advocate for India’s inclusion as a sixth permanent member of the UN Security Council.

The sinecure of Security Council membership is no great shakes in and of itself. Take note of the fact that two Security Council members, Great Britain and France, have descended to sharing aircraft carriers and command structures as cost saving measures, and compare that with India’s projection of military and naval power in its region, and one determines that India already has the power and influence of the seat without holding it. No. Calling for India’s accession is a demonstration of respect for its growing influence.

India’s importance, though, goes much farther. As early as 1992, when Israel’s relationship with Turkey was still growing and positive, geopolitical observers were noting the growing convergence of interests between Israel, India, and Turkey, and the vise-like geographic grip they placed on nascent fundamentalism in the Islamic world. Ilan Berman, writing in the Middle East Quarterly (Fall 2002) reflected on the practical implications of this in the post 9/11 world. Berman argued that the roots of this alignment lay in the end of the Cold War, and the shifting of alliances therein. I believe that Berman was only right as far as the impetus, but mistaken about the glue. What would hold this alliance together, or tear it apart, would be the responses of its constituents to the geopolitics of identity and the demographic realities of a Near East filled with undereducated, underemployed, and grievance filled young men in countries from Pakistan to Jordan, and places in between.

Turkey proved to be the weak link. As its fear of the Soviets receded, some of the rationale for backing an army-dominated government evaporated. Into the vacuum came the resurgent Islamists, culminating in the current Islamist government. Disappointed with Europe’s intransigence on its accession to the EU, and unhappy with the Americans for not speaking up on its behalf, Turkey has withdrawn into petulance and recrimination. These emotions suit an alliance with the aggrieved Islamists of Iran and its proxies perfectly. With most opposition leaders in jail or under close watch, no changes can be expected in Turkey’s   political environment. As such, neither India nor Israel will see any part of the cooperation that was so evident in the late 90’s and early 00’s.

India has both a pragmatic and ideological rationale for partnership with Israel and the US. As the US’s more reliable ally in the sub-continent, it will benefit from American restraints on its increasingly more volatile adversary and neighbor, Pakistan. It is one of Israel’s largest customers for military hardware, but more importantly it has developed very close intelligence sharing protocols with both the Israelis and the Americans. As a country isolated by religion and looked upon as heathen by many of its neighbors, it shares an ideological position with Israel and the West in opposition to radical Islam of both the Wahabi and Shia varieties.

What should also be recognized are the economic relationships India shares with the West. Challenged by its massive population, India has developed a growing information based sector in its economy, a growing entrepreneurial “class”, and a nascent replacement of the societal caste structure with a meritocracy.

Finally, there is the shared experience of terrorism, on a large scale, in the streets of its largest cities. The Mumbai attacks reflected the experience of 9/11, of the London Subway bombings, and of the suicide bombings of Israel’s Al Aksa War. Whereas India’s experience with Sikh or Tamil extremist terror was perceived as a local phenomenon, its encounter with Islamist annihilationist terror is part and parcel of a global phenomenon.  It is for these, but especially this last reason that President Obama made such a powerful gesture to India.

If the UN is to recover any of its shattered credibility, it is through the actions of a revitalized Security Council prepared to confront the greatest threat to the ideals upon which the UN was founded six decades ago – Islamist terror and its quest for a global Caliphate.

Tuesday, 2 November 2010

Back To the Future

In a speech today lamenting Canada’s failure to achieve a seat on the UN Security Council, Liberal Party leader Michael Ignatieff set out his vision for Canada’s foreign policy direction. John Ibbitson of the Globe and Mail described Ignatieff’s plan as “turning back the clock”. Ignatieff’s suggestions look alarmingly like the policies of Jean Chretien, Prime Minister from 1993 to 2005. Here are the back to the future policies as Ibbitson described them, and the flawed, morally bankrupt ways in which the Chretien government and subsequent Liberal leadership has handled them.

·         A renewed commitment to peacekeeping operations, which Canada largely abandoned to concentrate on the war in Afghanistan. 

Canada’s departure from the peacekeeping scene occurred largely on the watch of the Chretien government. Canadian peacekeepers in Bosnia and Croatia during the Balkan wars were repeatedly handcuffed by idiotic rules of engagement and often under fire from all sides, watching helplessly sometimes as ethnic cleansing played out over years. Peacekeeping missions in Somalia – begun under a Conservative government - ended in utter failure for the “human security” agenda, as well as disgrace for the Parachute regiment given a mission with no chance of success. The final disgrace to the idea of peacekeeping as it was practiced on the Liberal watch was the murder of a million Tutsis in Rwanda in 1994, as a powerless Canadian commander of UN forces looked on, as Belgian peacekeepers were gunned down, and as the UN Secretariat under Kofi Annan sat on its hands. The concept has been discredited, and trying to revivify it will not change the new security environment, the threat of terrorism that the Conservative government has tried to address. 

·         Spearheading efforts to ban cluster bombs 

The most dangerous thing about cluster munitions is their capacity for inflicting harm – after the battle – on civilian populations. It is a fair and civilized notion to seek their reduction or elimination. But an even more ethical approach is to call out and criticize countries and non-state actors like Hezbollah in South Lebanon who operate from and hide within civilian neighborhoods, and who launched thousands of rockets at the one million plus people of the northern Galilee from these areas, drawing defensive fire using these and other munitions on the launch sites. The Conservative approach was to do just that, while some Liberals were marching in demonstrations under Hezbollah flags, and Mr. Ignatieff himself (though he later apologized) was describing Israel’s response as a “war crime”.

·         Repudiating the Conservative government’s refusal to repatriate Omar Khadr from his Guantanamo prison. 

It has now become clear that Mr. Khadr was indeed the individual who threw the grenade that killed a US army medic; that he was involved in the placement of IED’s; that he was still reveling in his accomplishment well into his incarceration; and that his presence on the battlefield was at least as much a result of volition as of indoctrination. Notwithstanding the question of his status as a combatant, he is now an admitted murderer, and as such, as Minister Cannon’s spokesperson has said, he will have to engage in a process with no guarantees of repatriation as any other murderer might do. Like it or not, that is in keeping with existing jurisprudence. Mr. Ignatieff might do better than to adjudicate from the commons, as it were.

·         Renewing Canada’s commitment to limit global warming to within 2 degrees C.

The limitation of global warming will start and finish with the conversion of emerging massive economies like China, Brazil and India from dirty carbon-based fuels and energy production to cleaner alternatives like hydro-electric and nuclear energy. Canada’s commitment, while admirable, will be meaningless if these countries don’t stop building coal fired plants at the rate of 2 or 3 every week. Any representation Ignatieff makes that ignores these realities is disingenuous. It speaks to the inaction of former Liberal leader Stephane Dion, who as Environment Minister ignored the Kyoto protocols until it was too late, exclaiming “It is not Fair!” and then trying to blame his successors when the Liberal governments of Chretien and martin left them with a legacy of doing nothing.

·         Increasing the number of African countries receiving aid.

Most international endeavours in providing aid to Africa have encountered gross mismanagement, corruption, delay, and failure in the past five decades. UN agencies have proven inept and unaccountable. Hunger, disease, civil strife, war, and social disintegration still plague many parts of Africa. In Congo alone, over five million people have died in the fighting in the last fifteen years. In Darfur, the international partners Mr. Ignatieff would like to return to have refused to describe the horrors perpetrated by the Sudanese government as genocide. In Zimbabwe, Mr. Mugabe’s government continues to slowly strangle the country, without relinquishing an iota of control over the distribution of aid. The Liberals have fallen prey to the oldest of mistakes – doing things the same way and expecting different results.  

·         Rebalancing the emphasis on the Middle East to focus less on defending the rights of Israel and more on promoting the rights of Palestinians.

Looking around the world, the Palestinians do not suffer from a lack of advocates for their cause. Indeed, Mr. Ignatieff, both in personal conversation with me last November and in public statements has insisted that there is no daylight between Conservative and Liberal support for Israel. And yet, with the exception of one autumn under Paul Martin,  recent Liberal governments have voted with grave inconsistency on Israel in the UN General Assembly. Their MPs, from Colleen Beaumier to Carolyn Parrish, from Borys Wrzesnewskyj to Denis Coderre have used many opportunities to not only advocate FOR Palestinian and Arab causes – which is entirely legitimate, but to advocate AGAINST Israel and its defensive actions. In 2002, Liberal MP and Foreign Minister Bill Graham berated hundreds of Jewish leaders in an Ottawa speech for their support for Israeli intransigence and disproportionality at a time when Palestinian terrorists were lynching lost reservists, blowing up buses and gunning down families. If that is the kind of rebalancing Mr. Ignatieff is interested in, Canadians with conscience, fortitude, and perspective will say no thank you.

I have no doubt that Mr. Ignatieff is a man of goodwill, good intentions, unquestionable intelligence, and great erudition. He has the rare quality of focusing all of his attention and his formidable gaze on the individual he is conversing with, and in the conversation I was part of, his words were well considered and precise. He is, however, anchored to a bankrupt mindset which supports a broken international system focused on a corrupt and hypocritical world organization known as the United Nations. It is time for a Liberal reevaluation of the realities of the international system and Canada’s place within it. The Conservatives have already made that evaluation, and found that principle once again has primacy of place in making foreign policy.