Ottawa Jewish Community wrestles with its attitude towards Israel

rosen short

Montreal author Joseph Rosen moderates thoughtful discussion

For weeks, war has been raging in esteemed publications like the New York Times and the Washington Post. “At heart, the issue boils down to the question: is Liberal Zionism dead?” – Asher Schecter, August 29th, Ha’aretz

There is an increasingly public discussion among American Jewish intellectuals over whether it is possible for Israel to live up to its declared intention of being both Jewish and democratic. This has been intensified by the images coming from Gaza, as many are struggling with the intense contradiction they feel between their love for the idea of Israel, and their shock and even horror at some of the acts that have been committed by it.

That discomfort was clearly on display at a recent event held on September 15th at the Jewish Community Centre in Ottawa organized by the New Israel Fund.

“The New Israel Fund of Canada is committed to fostering the development of Israel as a Jewish and democratic state as envisioned in its Declaration of Independence”, explained Executive director Orit Sarfaty at the beginning of the evening. She also outlined an impressive range of NIF activities aimed at promoting democracy and equality for all Israelis.

The range of opinions from the  speakers – all Jewish – was very broad, from a very strong Zionist (Michael Regenstrieff, editor of the Ottawa Jewish Bulletin,) to Lisa Goldman, a contributing editor of +972 Magazine, a politically leftist collective of young Israelis.

Regenstrieff described himself as “pro Israel” and “Zionist”. He described the attitude of his publication as complete support for Israel during operation Protective Edge.

Goldman’s magazine on the other hand was strongly critical of Protective Edge. She also noted that her magazine was prepared to defy the Israeli ban on supporting the boycott of Israel. In defiance of Israeli law, 972 magazine has published several articles by supporters of the BDS movement.

The event was excellently moderated by Joseph Rosen, a Montreal teacher and author who came to national attention in Canada last year when he penned an article in Walrus Magazine “The Israel Taboo” asking why it was so hard for Canadian Jews to have a serious discussion about Israel.

While ostensibly an evening about how the media portrays Israel, (all the speakers were involved in the media in some way) most of the discussion focused on the conflicting emotions that Canadian Jews have towards Israel. After the presentations there were a number of questions from the approximately 100 attentive and concerned people in the audience, evidently mostly members of Ottawa’s Jewish community.

“Israel is a part of my identity”, offered one questioner, ‘but the diaspora is so black or white. Why can’t we discuss this better?”

The Ottawa event was one of a series of similar evenings carried out by the New Israel Fund. Other evenings were organized in Toronto and Montreal.




  1. Indeed this is a healthy discussion among the Canadian Jews and all those interested in learning more about this conflict.

  2. I cannot believe that Canadians give Israel full support even during and after the last massacre in Gaza ( aside from politicians). Colonialism (and the accompanying supremacist world view) still has a place in people’s minds when it comes to Israel. Mondoweiss has a wonderful piece on that mindset that finds talk about Gaza’s suffering objectionable:

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