COLUMN

The message between the lines

Barbara Amiel April 4 1988
COLUMN

The message between the lines

Barbara Amiel April 4 1988

The message between the lines

COLUMN

By Barbara Amiel

Canada’s largest-circulation newspaper chose a Saturday for a recent display of what in the opinion of many Jews—including myself—was nothing short of venemous anti-Semitism. Saturday is The Toronto Star’s peak circulation day, and the editorial in question was a commentary on External Affairs Minister Joe Clark’s March 10 speech to the Canada-Israel Committee. Clark, showing the uncanny political instinct that has marked his career, apparently decided that this would be a good venue for some critical remarks about Israeli policy in the occupied territories. He strongly criticized Israel—and his audience bitterly disagreed with him.

Clark’s ability to stand up to an audience of Canadian Jews gathered together at Ottawa’s Château Laurier Hotel was applauded in the media as “brave” and an indication of his “moral courage.” The Globe and Mail felt that the members of the CanadaIsraël Committee needed to hear Israel’s role described in “plain words,” thus endorsing the Clark point of view. If nothing else, the collective swoonings told us something about the spine—or lack of it—of our journalists.

But this all paled in comparison with The Saturday Star’s March 12 editorial. “Clark’s remarks may have cost his party votes,” the Star declared. “But his message was a timely one. It was also a necessary reminder to members of the Jewish community in Canada that they are citizens of Canada, not Israel.” The implied charge—that Jewish patriotism is suspect and that Jewish citizens of this country are not really Canadians—is the nastiest and oldest anti-Semitic smear in the world. The follow-up editorial in The Star a few days later did not begin to address this smear. As I read them both, I could feel a coagulated lump of anger and pain pushing against my rib cage. “What is behind it? ” I asked myself.

The answer, of course, is a mixture of naïveté and malevolence. Whenever it has been politically expedient for anyone, from the old Russian czars to the current ones, to call anti-Semitism into action, they have done so. This time, the Kremlin, through the medium of the Palestine Liberation Organization and the whole Palestinian

question, is whipping up the latent ingredients of anti-Semitism all over the world. This is done by a consistent program of misinformation on the political history of the Palestinians—and is very effective. It causes dissension and strains the social fabric of Western countries.

Its effectiveness lies in the fact that so much of the Western media and political establishment knows next to nothing about the political history of the Middle East, and in the fact that anti-Semitism is a hardy virus, as Albert Camus wrote in The Plague. It lies dormant, but never seems to die.

Of course, one must not let one’s natural outrage over a Joe Clark or a Toronto Star editorial blind one to the fact that some kind of peace is Israel’s best defence and security. But this is the one firm conviction of which no one in Israel—hawk or dove—has to be reminded. Nor am I unhappy that the

The implied charge that Jewish citizens are not really Canadian is the nastiest anti-Semitic smear in the world

Western liberal democracies do not have a loyalty to Israel that supercedes the concept of liberal democracy and its institutions. I would not blame the West for turning on Israel if the country abandoned those institutions.

My problem with current attitudes is that Canada has succumbed to a mixture of disinformation and fear. This stems, I think, largely from historical illiteracy. But it is also the result of the deliberate disinformation from those left-wing forces who regard it in their political interest to foster continued Middle East conflict by supporting solely those elements in the Arab world that reject any peaceful solution.

This is the key element. The Palestinians, backed by many elements including the PLO, Moscow and Syria, simply do not want a separate state on the West Bank and Gaza. They turned that down in 1947 and have never agreed to it since then. They want Haifa and Tel Aviv and the rest of Israel, which they regard as occupied territories. Anyone who does not clearly understand that really disentitles him-

self to comment on the question. It is the very being of Israel that is at jeopardy.

As for Canada lecturing the Israelis on “unacceptable” human rights violations, what can one say? During the October Crisis of 1970, it took a couple of kidnappings for Canada to have tanks and soldiers on the streets of Montreal and the suspension of civil liberties. Indeed, Pierre Trudeau’s reaction to the FLQ threat may not have been the wrong one. But for Canada to criticize Israel when she attempts to restore peace to riot-torn territories really is high hypocrisy.

I wonder how the Canadian government would have reacted to mobs throwing rocks and Molotov cocktails at federal troops daily on the streets of Quebec? If the FLQ had been capable of bringing out rock-throwing mobs, then perhaps separation would have been the only answer for Canada. But even this analogy to the Palestinian question is misleading—after all, the FLQ never claimed Toronto and Vancouver as French territories. For the Arabs, it has too long been a question of all or nothing.

The real problem for Israel is indeed that she remains not only a Western liberal democracy but a highly principled one at that. Her people recoil from taking the sort of ruthless measures many other countries would take. The Iraqis use poison gas on their own people if it will help them win a war. The British didn’t worry when they used the Diplock Courts— where suspected terrorists were often tried on the basis of uncorroborated evidence and without a jury—and internment against the Irish Republican Army in Northern Ireland. I suppose the problem in the occupied territories could have been cleared up in a matter of days if Israel could have brought itself to seal off the areas and gone in with a real iron fist.

I am not unhappy that they couldn’t do this, although from a Palestinian point of view I suspect fewer lives would have been lost if they had. I’m not unhappy because my culture and religion binds me with certain moral constraints. But I need no absurd reminders from The Toronto Star or anyone else that I am a Canadian citizen first—any more than The Toronto Star needs the ridiculous reminder that it must be a Canadian newspaper first and not a disinformation and propaganda agency for the PLO.