Thou Wilt Debate
I congratulate Joseph Rosen for writing, and The Walrus for publishing, “The Israel Taboo” (January/February). It is a fresh and insightful consideration of what impedes objective—or at least fair-minded—discussions of Israel. I hope that it contributes to healthier discourse about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and our connection to it, both as Jewish Canadians and as Canadians in general.
Rosen’s article does a disservice to the cause it allegedly serves. It is based on a faulty premise; there is no Israel taboo. In fact, no country, other than the United States, receives as much attention and public debate. The writer also builds his case on a fundamental misunderstanding.
Implicit in his argument, to be a Zionist is to hold right-wing views on the Israeli-Palestinian question. Yet the overwhelming majority of Jewish Israelis—all but a small minority of political and religious extremists—are Zionists. To be a Zionist means to believe that Zion is the ancestral home of the Jewish people, and that Jews have the right to a country of their own in that place. Peaceniks as well as hardliners are committed to this idea; they disagree on the territorial or political makeup of that state. But Amos Oz is as much a Zionist as Bibi Netanyahu.
Rosen unwittingly undermines efforts to find a reasonable settlement in Israel-Palestine. By linking Zionism with the hardline right, he helps to legitimize hatred of Zionism and, by extension, of Israel.
Given the Conservatives’ unconditional support of the Israeli government, this timely piece raises important questions. Among them, how do we distinguish between Zionism and the creation of a Jewish homeland? Zionism contains a contradiction: the expressed desire for a Jewish state where all residents should be treated equally. If all are treated equally, then it is not a Jewish state. A Jewish homeland can be a secular state where Jews feel at home as an important ethnic group, but Israeli Jews cannot be given special privileges without it becoming a state of unequal citizens. This is the same problem inherent in the establishment of any theocracy, which is undemocratic in principle—no matter the religion.
Rosen rightly identifies the Holocaust experience and historical anti-Semitism as elements that inform Canadian Jewish support of Israel. Many proponents desire a strong Jewish state to ensure “never again,” a rational response. But surely an equally local question is whether such an insurance policy—a five-decade military occupation of the ’67 territories—is worth the price. Security built on oppression is illusory and self-defeating; occupation breeds hatred and resistance. Ironically, Jews are safer in Berlin and even Tehran than in occupied eastern Jerusalem or segregated Hebron.
History is not irrelevant. The pivotal 1917 Balfour Declaration to Baron Rothschild on Palestine perfectly encapsulates the root of the conflict: a colonial power pledging to European Jews land that belonged to neither.
The recent online comments prove the merit of Rosen’s thinking. Sadly, the discussion of Israel is dominated by one or two voices who have set out their stalls to stifle meaningful conversation, and to insult, belittle, and demonize anyone who disagrees with them.
— gretta vosper (@grettavosper) February 7, 2014
— Hannah Ayer (@nanzorina) February 10, 2014
Give an Inch
In “Fool’s Gold” (January/February), Chris Turner writes about Quaker Oats and the Big Inch Land Co.: “For the price of one mailed-in box top, American kids received an official-looking deed overflowing with flowery legalese, attesting to their ownership of a full square inch of land in ‘the wildest country on earth and the most savage of climates.’” But it wasn’t just American kids. As a nine-year-old living in Kitchener, Ontario, I sent in a box top and got my own deed, which I taped to my bedroom wall and kept for years.
Alan L. Brown
— Philippe Morin (@YukonPhilippe) January 20, 2014
— Kate Beaton (@beatonna) January 13, 2014
I am sure that a civilian oversight board for the RCMP would be as toothless and ineffective as the one overseeing the Toronto Police (“Upholding the Right,” January/February).
— Sarah Dearing (@sarahdearing) January 4, 2014
Thank you for the brilliant art by Tanya Lam (cover, January/February). It brought memories of my own two boys, sustaining me through the cabin fever of our recent polar vortex. I look forward to buying a frameable copy from the Walrus Store.
This appeared in the April 2014 issue.