A Message to Canadian Leaders: There’s No Room for Vanity in the Struggle for Palestinian Justice

Liberal MP Ya'ara Saks. (Photo: via Liberal Party of Canada)

By Paul Salvatori

Recently two Canadian Members of Parliament (MP), Ya’ara Saks and Anthony Housefather expressed their strong disapproval of Robin Wettlaufer, Representative of Canada to the Palestinian Authority. Having had a pleasant meeting with him, she described Palestinian official Jibril Rajoub as a friend to Canada. 

The tweet itself, from Saks account, reads: “Myself and @AHousefather vehemently object to Jibril Rajoub being described as friend of Canada. He has been charged with glorifying terrorism, and is guilty of inciting hatred and violence against Israelis by politicizing sport. He does not share our values as Canadians.”

This further reinforced for me the lack of moral leadership in Canada.

Both MPs were quick to condemn Wettlaufer, whose sympathies for Rajoub—apart from his personal or political past—were primarily a reflection of the meeting. For things much worse, however, such as early August’s bombing of Gaza that took the lives of 49 Palestinians—17 of whom were children—and the assassination of Palestinian journalist Shireen Abu Akleh, they said nothing. And it’s obvious why: Israel was in both cases the perpetrator.

We cannot expect the Canadian government ever act on behalf of, much less in solidarity, with Palestine so long as they either stay silent on the injustices they’re facing or, like Saks and Housefather, only condemn Palestinians. It amounts to protecting Israel for its crimes against humanity while seizing every opportunity, large or small, to frame Palestinians in a negative and dishonest light.

Over time that has an effect. The public, looking up to these leaders, will believe Palestinians are bad and Israel is good. More specifically it reinforces the myth that Palestinians are “terrorists” or intent on the destruction of Israel while the violence while the violence the latter perpetuates against them is “necessary”, to ensure its security.

Particularly troubling is Saks. Not only does she fail to ever condemn Israel—a priority for any elected official of a liberal democracy. She has also declared herself a “proud Zionist.”

We need to take this seriously. Zionism is not simply an ideology, belonging only to the realm of ideas or abstractions. If it were, perhaps it’d not be objectionable in so far as the idea that Jews are entitled to a homeland has nothing nefarious about it. But Zionism—happening outside the head—is nefarious. It’s manifested in the criminal brutality Israel commits against the Palestinian people. Moreover, how the culprits here identify—religiously or otherwise—is irrelevant. All that matters is that Palestinians are being murdered and that those casually responsible be held accountable. Likewise, you are free not to like this article. But for me to attack you as being anti-Italian on account of that is preposterous.

Saks, like other apologists for the Israeli state, has shown no urgent regard for the daily suffering and oppression of the Palestinian people. Instead, they invest great efforts in amplifying what offends them and they deem a “threat” to the existence of Israel, which in reality are legitimate criticisms of the state of Israel (not the religion it purports to uphold). It smacks of paranoia. Yes, people don’t like the actions of Israel but they’ve got good reason. They’re killing innocent Palestinians.

Insisting that Israel’s existence hangs in the balance is disingenuous. Its aim is to deflect attention away from the ethnic cleansing of Palestine. This distraction gains force when Israeli apologists profess to be committed to various social justice causes—the rights of women, people of color (except for Palestinians), the LGBTQIA community, etc. It’s a rather convenient ruse. As this happens people are not thinking about Israel-the-criminal but Israel-the-progressive country. It’s an illusion. You can publicly champion all the social justice causes you want. But if you continue to endorse the ethnic cleansing of Palestine, including implicitly when you fail to use your position of power to denounce it, you’re up to no good. You’re being a moral fraud.

Upholding human rights is an either/or proposition. You either want them for all or for none. When your actions or words say that you believe in human rights but not Palestinians, you lose all credibility as a person who cares for social justice. You’re doing it so people like you. There are fewer things I can think of as dishonorable.

Social justice can never be a vanity contest.

- Paul Salvatori is a Toronto-based journalist, community worker and artist. Much of his work on Palestine involves public education, such as through his recently created interview series, “Palestine in Perspective” (The Dark Room Podcast), where he speaks with writers, scholars and activists. He contributed this article to The Palestine Chronicle.
(The Palestine Chronicle is a registered 501(c)3 organization, thus, all donations are tax deductible.)
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