In this year’s message marking Israel’s independence day, Prime Minister Trudeau said Canada was committed to fighting “anti-Zionism”. This is unprecedented. What does it mean? Read more….
Every year on Israel’s Independence Day, the Prime Minister of Canada issues a congratulatory statement. There is nothing unusual in this. We do the same for most of the other states with whom we have diplomatic relations.
The statement with respect to Israel usually contains a reference to Canada’s continued commitment to fighting Antisemitism. Antisemitism is a specific form of racism that discriminates against Jews. It is entirely appropriate that our government declare opposition to it. Last year, Prime Minister Trudeau’s 2016 statement said Canada “stands with Israel in its fight against Antisemitism”. Prime Minister Harper said the same thing in 2015.
But this year, in an apparently unprecedented move, Prime Minister Trudeau went a lot farther – he committed Canada to supporting Zionism itself!!
“Today, while we celebrate Israel’s independence, we also reaffirm our commitment to fight anti-Semitism and anti-Zionism.”
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, May 2, 2017
This new development was quickly and enthusiastically picked up by right wing Canadian Jewish media. “Trudeau: “We reaffirm our commitment to fight anti-Zionism”, headlined the CIJ News, in a lead article that got over 1200 “likes” on its Facebook page.
Trudeau’s statement is surprising for several reasons.
First, it is highly unusual for a sovereign country to endorse the political program or ideology of another country. Zionism is the ideology and political policy of the State of Israel. It is unlikely that Canada would express support for President Trump’s “America First” program, for example.
Second, there there is very little support for Zionism in Canada outside of the Jewish community and almost none among Canadian religious institutions. “No mainstream church endorses Zionism,” notes Reverend Robert Assaly, spokesperson for Canadian Friends of Sabeel. Among non-Jewish Canadians, only the most fundamentalist and evangelical churches in Canada endorse a form of Zionism called “Christian Zionism“, which holds that the creation of the State of Israel in 1948 is in accordance with Biblical prophecy.
But most importantly, it is surprising because Zionism itself is an ideology that seems to be at variance with Canadian values of democracy, equality and social justice.
It is not clear whether Prime Minister Trudeau really understood what he was saying. He may be confusing Judaism and Zionism. Trudeau might have thought that defending Zionism is the same thing as opposing racism.
What is the difference between Judaism and Zionism?
According to Montreal professor Yakov Rabkin, there is a world of difference between Judaism and Zionism.
Judaism is one of the worlds oldest monotheistic religions. It is the source of both Christianity and Islam and goes back at least three thousand years. From its origins in the middle east, Judaism has spread to every continent in the world.
Zionism, on the other hand is a relatively modern political ideology that developed at the end of the 19th century. It arose as a reaction to rising Antisemitism in Europe, particularly in Eastern Europe. It holds that Jews are different from all other peoples and that for their own protection, Jews need a state of their own.
When Zionism first arose, it was opposed by a large majority of Jews. However, since the horrors of the Holocaust, most Jews have come to support Zionism.
In an interview with me last December, Dr. Rabkin outlined his views in an audio interview. In it, he explains that Zionism is itself a form of racism, because, like antisemitism, it holds that Jews can never be accepted into other societies. “Zionism, Antisemitism, two sides of the same coin: Montreal Professor”
Antisemitism defines the Jews as “the other” and argues that they don’t “belong”. This was taken to extreme by the racist Nazi regime who first wanted to expel Jews from Germany, and then, horrifically, decided to try to exterminate them.
But Zionism also defines the Jews as “the other”. It accepts the premise that Jews can never “belong” here, and claims that Jews can only flourish in safety by having a state of their own.
In a recent article in Jewish Forward , Suzanne Schneider argues that “Zionism and Antisemitism have in fact often worked in concert to achieve their shared goal: concentrating Jews in one place (so as to better avoid them in others).”
The consequences of Zionism
Unfortunately, the effects of the racial/ethnic discrimination (i.e. discriminating between Jews and non Jews) at the core of Zionism can be seen in today’s State of Israel.
Unlike Canada, which defines itself as a secular state in which all citizens are equal, Israel defines itself as a “Jewish State” in which Jews have prior rights over others. It became a Jewish State by expelling hundreds of thousands of non-Jewish residents in 1948. It safeguards its Jewishness by refusing to allow those refugees the right to return. And today, Israel continues to practice racial/ethnic discrimination against its non-Jewish (i.e. Palestinian) citizens in a wide range of areas including housing, education and employment.
So far only a few voices have been raised questioning Trudeau’s statement.
“Canada should not be “fighting” opposition to a political ideology that has caused and continues to cause immeasurable suffering for the Palestinian people, and which does not correspond to the values of a growing number of Jews,” noted Independent Jewish Voices Canada on its Facebook page.
Whether consciously or not, Mr. Trudeau, whose reputation rests to a great extent on being a “liberal” Liberal, appears to have committed himself, and Canada, to defending an ideology based on racial/ethnic discrimination.
Let us hope this is an accident that can be quickly corrected. Canadians who value democracy and equality and who oppose racism of all sorts, including Antisemitism, should be asking their favorite member of Parliament whether Canada really supports racial discrimination in the Middle East.
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