A while ago, I was talking to a friend about some things I was helping another go through. He was experiencing some unnecessary barriers within Toronto-based social services, specifically on account of discrimination against people with disabilities. She said this was symptomatic of a “sick” society.
At the time, I wasn’t quite sure what to make of it. I’ve long known that we live in an unfair society but I wondered whether “sick” was too harsh a word to describe it.
Seeing however the Canadian government’s response to what’s been happening in Palestine these last few weeks confirms that my friend is right: we do live in a sick society. I wanted to thank her for trying to convey to me then what I see now. But she passed away at too young an age and for reasons never publicly disclosed. Sometimes I wonder whether the sick society got to her and couldn’t take it anymore.
In those weeks: near 20 Palestinians killed, thousands more terrorized at Al Aqsa Mosque during a violent raid and Gaza bombed by Israeli forces. Not a word, let alone an official statement or press release, from Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.
Nauseating about this is that, despite the silence on Palestine, he did reaffirm his “commitment” to the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, including to Canadian Indigenous peoples. There’s just no way he can be serious. When you care about human rights, in any genuine sense, you’ve deep and universal concern for all. And you don’t, in words and action, simply extend such rights when its easy or convenient, when it gains you favour and support. Indeed moral philosophers such as Immanuel Kant regard such self-serving behaviour as a formidable evil, overshadowing a will that does not conform to moral duty but the shallow desire of ego. It’s no surprise that this upsets us. It’s a form of manipulation.
The Canadian government is helping Israel’s first Pime Minister, David Ben-Gurion’s, mission to eliminate Palestine. He describes the mission in the well-known 1937 letter he wrote his son:
“We must expel Arabs and take their place. Up to now, all our aspirations have been based on an assumption–one that has been vindicated throughout our activities in the country–that there is enough room in the land for the Arabs and ourselves. But if we are compelled to use force–not in order to dispossess the Arabs of the Negev or Transjordan, but in order to guarantee our right to settle there– our force will enable us to do so.”
Many Canadians—in solidarity with Palestine—are demanding this end but it’s as if our government never hears us. Instead, in contempt of international law and morality, it keeps supporting Israel, including exporting arms to its military.
The government’s message is clear: Israel is our friend, Palestine is not. We want you to go along with the ethnic cleansing of Palestine as if that’s “normal”, part of what it is to be Canadian and embodied by the example of Prime Minister Trudeau, never condemning Israel for all the horrors it inflicts.
How long I wonder has Canada known about the ethnic cleansing and why hasn’t our federal government, throughout its history, ever intervened? Those of us who were raised from an early age in this country remember teachers telling us that we’ve always cared about others, prioritized human rights as embodied by the Charter. I believed it then. It feels like a lie now.
Perhaps the Canadian government is afraid that if they condemn Israel they, even though that is in keeping with Canada’s express commitment to human rights, will be met with the predictable criticism (by Israeli supporters) that it’s being “antisemitic.” And of course they don’t want that reputation. However, a democratic government, if that’s what Canada actually has, cannot do things on the basis of reputation. They should be acting according to what’s right, just, honours all human life and willing to lose popularity contests in the process.
Governments should be setting an example for its citizens, not cowering to what Gideon Levy calls the “emotional extortion” of defenders of Israel’s ethnic cleansing campaign. Not only is this cowardly but it feeds the myth that to condemn Israel on wholly legitimate—moral, legal and otherwise—grounds is antisemitic. On the other hand, when a government confidently defies that, in this case to help end the illegal occupation of Palestine, it mobilizes citizens to follow suit. Moreover, as momentum is built the lie and dishonesty behind the myth comes into full relief. People realize that to fight for Palestinian justice is to care for humanity, dovetailing with precepts, such as saying “no” to murder and colonization, of religions around the world.
On a personal level I cannot relate to Israel. As an Italian-Canadian, I would never see it as “anti-Italian” for one to be part of any movement to eliminate racism in Italy, which unfortunately too often occurs against refugees and migrants of colour. They are my brothers and sisters. And it incumbent on all of us to condemn Italy where it harms them, via racism or otherwise. In fact, those of us who identify strongly with our Italian heritage, as do I, should be all the more concerned about the necessity of this. Why would we ever want that heritage to be associated with dishonouring human beings? How does that square with the warmth, hospitality, other-orientedness so central to Italian culture?
The sick society my friend identified extends to the callous disregard the Canadian government, on top of failing to intervene in the ethnic cleansing of Palestine, shows Palestinian-Canadians. They are suffering tremendously, seeing from afar (geographically) the murder, bombing and dispossession of Palestinians on a routine basis. Our government however, much as they protest, do nothing substantial about it.
What’s perhaps most maddening about it is that it is casual, done as if there’s nothing serious to worry or be alarmed about. It recalls philosopher Hannah Arendt’s observations of Adolf Eichman during the Nuremberg trials, who described his role as a Nazi killer nonchalantly. The Canadian government’s attitude towards Palestine is equally as reprehensible. It is ultimately one of indifference, spurring no urgent action—on the part of our elected officials—to end Israeli brutality.
As Canadians of conscience we must defy this. We must demand as a single voice—not ask—that the harshest possible sanctions be imposed on Israel. They are not a democracy, a successful “start-up nation.”
They are a terrorist regime and, much as they may be a “friend” or “ally” to our Prime Minister, they are not to us. People who refuse to support, let alone turn a blind eye to, a sick society.
– 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.