CIJR TEACHES STUDENTS HOW TO DEFEND ISRAEL
Canadian Jewish News, September 28, 2011
When Marian Pinsky, a Bialik High School graduate, entered McGill University, she felt the shock of being in an environment where Israel was frequently the target of criticism and attack. Most disturbing for her was that it generally went unanswered. Despite her passion for Israel, she didn’t feel equipped to respond effectively to Israel’s detractors.
Two years ago, she learned of a well-structured, academic-oriented program for CEGEP and university students like her. The Student Israel Advocacy Program (SIAP) was developed by the Canadian Institute for Jewish Research (CIJR), an independent think-tank headed by Concordia University professor Frederick Krantz.
SIAP, which is being offered again for a fourth year, from October through April, is a series of seminars led mainly by Concordia professors on Jewish and Zionist history and modern-day Israel and the Middle East politics, as well as antisemitism.
“Drawing on both primary and secondary documents, it provided me with a comprehensive overview of both the past and present situation, as well as critical talking points to counter accusations and demand a more balanced perspective of a complex and nuanced situation,” said Pinsky, who is now a master’s student in sociology at Concordia.
Almost as important as the knowledge she acquired, Pinsky says SIAP gave her the confidence to defend and promote Israel. The program includes practical instruction in writing, speaking and organizing skills. The students tested those skills out with an actor who pretended to be an aggressive critic of Israel.
In fact, Pinsky says SIAP transformed her from being merely a concerned supporter of Israel to a campus activist. She recently became editor of Dateline: Middle East, the student-run periodical published by CIJR.
“I think the most critical thing that SIAP provide students with, above and beyond the opportunity to meet with experts in the field, was a support network and community,” Pinsky added. “This is so critical, especially as pro-Israel students can often feel outnumbered and alienated on campus.”
She is among the founders last year of the Zionist Youth Network, a grassroots group of pro-Israel students.
For the first time, students can earn three tutorial credits if they complete SIAP, said Krantz. The credits will be issued by the university for which they write the final paper. “SIAP gives students the knowledge and skills they need to defend Israel and Jews, in the face of deepening antisemitism and delegitimization of Israel,” he said Speaking up for Israel is increasingly being hindered on North American campuses, he said, by “selectively restrictive speech codes” and “the sometimes intimidating abuse of professorial authority.”
This year’s SIAP, on the theme “Taking Back the Campus,” comprises sessions held roughly every three weeks at the CIJR office on downtown Ste. Catherine Street from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. There are also film screenings on Sundays, one day-long public colloquium per semester, and required and optional reading.
Among the faculty are Concordia’s Ira Robinson (Jewish studies), David Pariser (fine arts), Norrin Ripsman (political science), Harold Waller (political science, McGill) and David Bensoussan of the Université du Québec à Montréal, as well as Krantz.
Outside experts include National Post columnist Barbara Kay and Paul Agoston of HonestReporting Canada, a pro-Israel media monitoring group.
Krantz said arrangements are being made to transmit SIAP sessions by Skype to the University of Manitoba, through Prof. Catherine Chatterley, director of the Canadian Institute for the Study of Antisemitism, and possibly to other universities in Toronto and Ottawa.
To apply to SIAP, call Charles Bybelezer, 514-486-5544 or e-mail him at email@example.com. More information is also available on CIJR’s newly revamped website, www.isranet.org.
ROSH HASHANA EXPECTATIONS
Jerusalem Post, September 27, 2011
Rosh Hashana is the season of Tshuva—of soul searching and reviewing events of the past year in order to improve our conduct and raise our moral standards for the coming one. Unfortunately, reviewing the “annus horribilis” of 5771 is a disconcerting and gloomy exercise.
We are probably more globally isolated than ever before.
The Iranian nuclear threat looms ominously; the Arab Spring, as many of us predicted, has been transformed into a vicious populist Islamic anti- Israeli hate fest; the UN continues beating up on us; we have been all but abandoned by the Europeans; global anti-Semitism is mushrooming; and despite formal expressions to the contrary, our relationship with the Obama administration was far from ideal.
Sounds grim, but without discounting the dangers arising from the deterioration in relations with Erdogan’s Turkey and post-Mubarak Egypt, little has really changed.
The mantras we chanted in the past about peace with our neighbors were always delusionary.
Even during the Oslo accords, while making unilateral concessions in pursuit of the “irreversible peace process,” terrorism and suicide bombings remained the order of the day, and global anti- Israel hostility was merely temporarily suspended. The threat of a nuclear attack on Israel is very real, but probably no greater than that of such an attack against any major Western city. The sad reality is that the entire world has become a daunting place.
On the positive side, we should note that the IDF is today more powerful than it has ever been before. It may have displayed flaws in the conflicts against terrorists in Lebanon and Gaza, but the Arab world is fully aware of the potentially devastating response Israel is capable of should it be confronted by a genuine existential threat.
In relation to the US, we seem to have forgotten that long before Obama, we faced formidable problems with former administrations—Republican no less than Democratic.
Indeed, our current standing with the American people has never been so good, despite having been abandoned by many liberals. This is crucially important, because notwithstanding its global decline under the Obama administration, the US remains the world’s greatest superpower and our principal ally. And Obama’s stunning pro-Israel speech at the UN General Assembly last week demonstrated that Netanyahu’s policies, combined with protests from Jews at a grassroots level and gentile friends of Israel, succeeded in at least temporarily reversing the anti-Israel tide.
We can also take satisfaction in the fact that by and large Netanyahu’s crisis management of foreign affairs, despite continuous media criticism that he was either too tough or too weak, proved to be responsible and above all, highly effective. In spite of ruling over a right-wing coalition he achieved a consensus throughout the country and succeeded in moving the government toward a centrist position.
Another positive factor is that our economy is extraordinarily robust. In stark contrast to the massive global economic upheavals, unemployment and falling ratings, our economy is thriving, unemployment stands at its lowest levels and our international credit ratings were even raised. Our hi-tech industries stand second only to the US.
But during such tumultuous times, there is a desperate need for greater unity. To achieve this, our dream is that the mainstream Zionist political parties set aside their trivial political differences and form a national unity government.… A unity government could…dispassionately and constructively focus on the socioeconomic concerns which have been raised throughout the country in public protests over the past months. It could devise long-term strategic plans rather than band-aid solutions, including long overdue reforms in the educational system, which desperately requires upgrading. The current appalling remuneration of teachers, doctors, nurses and public sector workers could be reviewed to reflect the critical role they contribute towards society.
On the eve of Rosh Hashana 5772, we are indeed isolated on the international scene and facing major challenges. But we must restrain our masochistic inclinations, dismiss the whiners and wailers and not succumb to the prophets of gloom and doom. We certainly share no desire to revisit the 1967 era prior to the Six Day War, when we enjoyed the “sympathy” of most of the world, which believed that we were about to be annihilated.…
Those born after the establishment of the State of Israel are the first generation of empowered Jews in 2,000 years. It is important for us to convey to younger Israelis the atmosphere which prevailed during the Holocaust prior to the existence of a Jewish state, when European Jews were desperately begging countries to open their gates to enable them to escape the Nazi extermination.
In the absence of a Jewish state, we would still be reliant on the goodwill of others.
Let us be grateful that we and our offspring are the most privileged generations of Jews to emerge since the dispersion 2,000 years ago and responsible for our own destiny. We must remind ourselves that this miraculous country with all its weaknesses and faults represents one of the greatest success stories of all time.
For this we should thank the Almighty, pray for unity, strengthen our Jewish heritage and look to the future with determination and pride in the knowledge that Am Yisrael Hai.
OVER OUR DEAD BODIES
Jerusalem Post, October 3, 2011
Honorable Vice President of the United States of America, Mr. Joseph Biden:
Shalom and a happy Jewish New Year!
Up until several days ago, you, Mr. Biden, were considered “Israel’s closest and truest friend in the White House.” As such, we here in Israel are wondering what exactly was going through your mind when you declared that Jonathan Pollard would be given clemency over your “dead body.” It’s important to us, here in Israel, to understand. To all of us: to Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s supporters and detractors, to the far right and the far left, to the rich and the poor, the Ashkenazi and the Sephardic.
Anyone with eyes in their head and hearts thumping in their chests would like to know what led you to issue that unhinged statement. Are there things that you know that the rest of the world does not? What has changed since 2007, when you declared, in your own voice, that Jonathan Pollard’s bid for clemency was justified? I’ll tell you what has changed: Pollard has spent five more years in prison, in solitary confinement; his health has worsened (I recommend you use your influence to verify to what extent); his chances of starting a family have been decimated; his father died and he was barred from accompanying him on his final journey; and more and more respectable people have stepped forward and declared that the time has come for his release.
That’s what has changed.
Is it possible, Mr. Biden, that you know something that James Woolsey, former director of the CIA, and Dennis DeConcini, former chairman of the US Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, do not? Because the two of them are both in favor of releasing him. Do you know something that Henry Kissinger, George Shultz or John McCain does not? All of them, esteemed American patriots, are in favor of clemency. Do you know something that the former US attorney-general Michael Mukasey does not?
Are you holding on to intelligence that Lawrence Korb, assistant defense secretary under Casper Weinberger, was not privy to? Korb was there, in real time, but Korb, an honest and decent man, felt his conscience claw at him, and today he leads the call to free Pollard, who next month will mark his twenty-sixth year in American prison.
On Wednesday, you, Mr. Biden, will host a Rosh Hashana party at your residence for American Jewish leaders. You, as I said, are considered to be our closest friend among President Barack Obama’s inner circle. Now, as the race toward the presidential elections picks up pace, you have taken upon yourself to serve as the president’s ambassador to the Jewish community.
I suggest that during the festive celebration at your residence, you ask Abe Foxman, a man whose integrity cannot be called into question, or Malcolm Hoenlein, one of the most astute watchers of American politics and a man whose finger is always on the pulse of the American Jewish community, why they support Pollard’s urgent release.
Foremost, though, I ask that you examine your own conscience. Ask yourself, Mr. Biden, why Pollard has been in prison for 26 years for a crime that generally receives a two-to-four year sentence in America.
Ask yourself why spies who have committed far graver sins, betrayals that led to the killing of American agents on foreign soil, received far lesser sentences? Ask yourself why it is that the blood libel of attributing those murders to Pollard was circulated so widely. Ask yourself why, once those allegations were proven to be false, his sentence was not commuted.
Ask yourself why the United States of America, a society governed by law and order, did not honor its plea bargain with Pollard. Ask yourself where the limits of human suffering lie. Ask yourself about the nature of compassion.…
In America, Mr. Biden, you are regarded as the world’s preeminent superpower not only on account of your weapons and military might. You are the leaders of the free world also on account of your values: liberty, equality, human rights, justice and compassion. Where have those morals gone, Mr. Biden, when assessing Pollard’s case?…
Until now, Mr. Vice President, you have made a name for yourself as someone with a quick tongue and a short fuse. No responsible parties have charged you with being cruel, evil, or bloodthirsty. Henceforth, Mr. Biden, the notorious slips of your tongue are the least of your problems. The message you conveyed to those rabbis in Florida, that if it were up to you, Pollard would “stay in jail for life,” put you in a whole different league. A league that you don’t want to be playing in and one I don’t believe you belong in.
We Jews, Mr. Vice President, have begun the Ten Days of Repentance leading up to the Day of Atonement. If what was said in Florida was merely a slip of the tongue, this is the time, Mr. Biden, to take it back. We will forgive and we will forget. All of us make mistakes. It can happen to the vice president, too. But if you really stand by the statement that “over my dead body” will he be released, then it’s important to understand that the dead body is likely to be his. Jonathan Pollard’s release, after 26 years, is not a matter of politics, diplomacy or national security. It should not be linked to current events. We Israelis, along with many American Jews and other honorable Americans, believe that Jonathan Pollard’s release, in late 2011, is a matter of morality, justice and compassion. Those values are at the heart of President Obama’s beliefs; they are also the very lifeblood of the great American democracy and of humanity at large. And so, if justice is to be done, Joe Biden, help us make it happen now!
OBAMA’S ARMY OF LEFTIST RABBIS
National Post, September 28, 2011
Every year a few weeks before Rosh Hashana, the celebration of the Jewish New Year, I have a freewheeling conversation with my longtime rabbi—and friend—about potential themes for his Rosh Hashana sermons. I tell him what’s Jewishly on my mind, he listens politely, then usually ends up sermonizing about something completely different. But it’s a nice 30-year or more tradition we both enjoy.
We are both of the Reconstructionist branch of Judaism—the youngest, smallest and most intellectually liberal of Judaism’s four denominations. Yet my rabbi is (thankfully) a sermonizing traditionalist. He mines the holiday’s designated sacred texts, as well as wide-ranging homilies and parables, for intelligent application to contemporary dilemmas. The content varies, but his hortatory objectives are constant: Encouragement toward personal ethical stock-taking and reinforcement of cultural identity by spiritual and other means. My rabbi always demonstrates true ahavat Yisrael: A love of Israel (though not always uncritical) and devotion to Jewish unity.
I rather like the fact that my rabbi is open to what I have to say, yet feels no qualms about rejecting it. He is his own man when it comes to communicating what he hopes will be his most inspirational words of the year. In this, and his refusal to politicize his pulpit, he seems to be unlike many other liberal rabbis today, for whom political solidarity with the left trumps specifically Jewish concerns. Many of them seem to see nothing wrong in taking High Holiday direction—or pastoral direction in general—from people with a political or ideological agenda that has nothing to do with, or even subverts, Judaism’s fundamental values of ahavat Israel and united peoplehood.
For example, in 2009, President Obama instituted his annual White House “Day for the Religious,” now in its third cycle. On that day, he uses conference calls with massed rabbis to download thematic guidelines for their High Holiday sermons. In 2009, he urged 1,000 rabbis to “tell the stories of health-care dilemmas to illustrate what is at stake.” At political stake for Obama, of course. Not for Jews—or not particularly for Jews. In 2010 and 2011, he pushed his plan for job creation and his prowess in Mideast peacemaking.
(Imagine, if you can, George W. Bush or Stephen Harper telling 1,000 rabbis, “I am going to need your help in accomplishing necessary reforms,” because “We are God’s partners in matters of life and death,” as Obama did. The media would quite rightly have tarred and feathered them for crossing church-state lines.)
It’s troubling that these rabbis don’t find Obama’s interventions inappropriate, or not enough to say so publicly. Surely, the annual opportunity to speak to a full congregation—no other holiday or Shabbat service competes with the crowds that turn up on the High Holiday’s three service days—should be inspiration to provide guidance in becoming better Jews, and therefore better human beings, not better Democrats. Still, while he had no business telling clerics what to say to their flock on a holy day, Obama was not proposing themes actually in conflict with Jewish values, a saving grace in the light of far more problematic partnerships certain liberal rabbis have embraced.
Take the Israel-bashing group, Jewish Voices for Peace (JVP). The Anti-Defamation League rates JVP amongst the top 10 anti-Israel groups in America (Naomi Klein sits on its advisory board, so you can imagine). Membership, according to its website, comprises both Zionists, anti-Zionists and “many non-Jewish Americans.” The intellectually corrupt and terror-laundering version of Mideast history outlined on their website is a tiresome brief for the demonization of Israel we are all too familiar with from the extreme left.
So, as a member of a Reconstructionist synagogue, I am embarrassed to note that of the 11 actually accredited rabbis on JVP’s Rabbinical Council (most of the 27 listed are self-anointed), eight—or 73%—were either trained or were ordained by the Reconstructionist Rabbinical College (RRC). Since Reconstructionist Jews account for only 3% of the American Jewish population, that is disconcerting.
JVP is by no means the only anti-Israel political group in which Jews and some liberal rabbis or rabbinical students are front and centre. One has to wonder what the motivation is for these young people entering the rabbinate. And one has to wonder as well why the leaders of liberal rabbinical colleges are not doing their due diligence in weeding out radically anti-Zionist students, or publicly distancing their institutions from them. For according to the mission statement of the RRC, ahavat Israel is a “core value” of the rabbinical training program. If shilling for JVP falls within the definition of ahavat Israel, I fear to know what hatred of Israel would look like. And if I were a rabbi, I’d sermonize on it.
DESPITE DIRE LIBERAL WARNINGS, CANADA’S STILL NO. 1
National Post, September 28, 2011
If you ever want to know what Canada’s foreign-policy consensus was back during the Liberal era, Paul Heinbecker is your man. Heinbecker served as Canada’s UN ambassador under Jean Chrétien. And since then, he’s made a career of telling his successors what they’re doing wrong—primarily in the pages of the Globe & Mail.
Heinbecker’s big message has been that Canada needs to engage with the world, and stop being so picky about who’s on the other side of the negotiating table: “Getting back in the game” (the title of his 2009 book) should be our foreign-policy goal, not supporting Israel or the United States, or advancing other “ideological” (his word) objectives.
In 2006, for instance, when Stephen Harper’s government properly sided with Israel after its soldiers had been attacked and kidnapped by the terrorist group Hezbollah, Heinbecker scolded the Conservatives for “staking out a one-sided position,” ignoring Israel’s “disproportionate response,” and thereby endangering our “reputation” on the world stage.
“Canada has a well-earned reputation precisely for being fair-minded and principled, because we have brought a constructive attitude to international problem-solving,” he argued. “That reputation is why Canadians (and not only Canadians) sew the Maple Leaf on their backpacks.”
The only solution, Heinbecker concluded was for Harper to “criticize intransigence on both sides”—Israel and Hezbollah alike. “Otherwise, [our] government’s decisions will be neither popular nor meritorious, just ideological.”
In 2009, when Canada voted down a UN Human Rights Council resolution singling out Israel, the Globe cited Heinbecker’s views as evidence that Canada had isolated itself “in a small club of key Israel allies, along with the U.S. and a few South Pacific nations.” Separately, Heinbecker also fretted about “the cumulative effect of change in Canadian policies, including Middle East votes, our climate change policy, and the policy of aid concentration, which lessens the connections with Canada of a large number of countries.”
And Heinbecker is not alone: The idea that Canada has somehow lost its global “reputation” was seized on by Michael Ignatieff when Canada’s UN Security Council bid was about to be defeated by a cynical EU seat grab. (“This is a government that for four years has basically ignored the United Nations and now is suddenly showing up saying, ‘Hey, put us on the council,’” the Liberal leader declared in September.) NDP foreign affairs critic Paul Dewar added that the defeat was “devastating for our country’s reputation. We’ve lost our credibility.” (True to form, Heinbecker himself blamed the defeat on our Middle East policies: “We followed policies that are frankly and strongly in support of the government of Israel.… There are 57 votes in the Arab and Islamic community.”)
You see the theme here, right? Canada, once a bastion of the multilaterally virtuous, now has become an international pariah because of a government driven by pro-American, Zionist, unilateralist, anti-UN “ideology.” Our reputation? It’s in the septic tank, out behind the Israeli embassy.
And so I’m kind of curious what Heinbecker et al think of a new global survey, conducted by a New York-based reputation-management firm, of international perceptions of Canada and 49 other countries. Our spot? #1.
“Canada has earned the highest reputation ranking in Reputation Institute’s 2011 Country RepTrakTM,” says the press release. “The study measures the overall Trust, Esteem, Admiration and Good Feelings the public holds towards these countries, as well as their perceptions across 16 different attributes, including a good quality of life, a safe place to live and a strong attention to their environment. Results from over 42,000 respondents worldwide showed that Canada scored well in all of these elements.… Canada was followed by Sweden, Australia, Switzerland and New Zealand, all showing stability in their high scores throughout the three years of this annual study. Their strong reputations are attributed to their steady democracies, high GDP per capita, focus on active lifestyles, well developed political systems and perceived neutrality to international political upheavals.”
Interestingly, Canada ranked only 4th on self-perception (behind New Zealand, Australia and Finland). Apparently, we don’t think of ourselves as being quite as great as others do. Maybe that’s because of politicians and pundits who assure us—wrongly, it turns out—that the principled foreign policy of Stephen Harper’s government is wrecking our international image.