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Manifestation à Concordia à l'occasion du passage de Benjamin Nétanyahou

Why I protested against Netanyahu's visit

ZEV TIEFENBACH
Freelance
THE GAZETTE Wednesday, September 18, 2002

As a child, I was known to family and friends as "Mr. Religious." I stayed clear of pork, never ate a cheeseburger and knew how to daven, or pray. It was at my insistence that Friday nights, before dinner, the family would stand quietly behind their chairs and enjoy the prayer to usher in the Sabbath.

Although my Hebrew was never good enough to know exactly what I was praying for, I was nonetheless drawn to the ritual aspects of Judaism. The prayers connected me to the lives of my ancestors, with their countless pogroms and cold Polish winters. It connected me, most importantly, to my grandparents and helped convey some of the horrors that they endured. As a child, I imagined myself a survivor, and I prayed.

In recent years, I have become somewhat of a heretic. Where once I saw myself as a future rabbi, now I scramble to find a place of worship on the high holidays. My estrangement from the mainstream Jewish community has to do with my politics. I am an outspoken critic of the Israeli state. In Montreal, this has earned me regular hate mail, abusive phone calls and the designation of a "self-hating Jew."

At the temple on Monday, the rabbi gave a sermon that I am sure he considered liberal and enlightened. He spoke about what was on everyone's mind: the events at Concordia University on Sept. 9. He urged people to remember that 99,800 Muslims in Montreal did not participate in the violent riot. He said we should not let a few bad apples spoil the rest. He assured the crowd that those thugs responsible for the terrible violence would be charged by the police and, if found guilty, expelled from the university and returned to their countries of origin.

At the back of the temple, I broke into a sweat and dropped my head into my hands. I was one of the organizers of this "riot." The hyperbole and manipulation in the media and on similar pulpit across Canada is immense.

Jews are taught that the most profound expression of Jewishness today is Zionism, a fundamental belief in the need for a Jewish homeland on present-day Palestine. I can understand where this sentiment comes from. As a child, I dreamed that, if I didn't become a rabbi, I would grow up to be a pilot in the Israeli Defence Force. I imagined flying state-of-the-art fighters destroying those enemies of the Jews. I sang Zionist songs full of longing and hope for the land of milk and honey.

But as I grew older, the world opened up to me. I began to understand that while anti-Semitism is still rampant and part of daily reality for many people, as a North American Jew, I am not exempt from responsibility for the actions carried out in my name.

The process of colonization of the aboriginal peoples and enslavement of Africans to build North America must be a relevant part of our lives. If we, as Jews, feel the loss of our historical homeland so profoundly, then we cannot remain blind to the massive historical injustices, the effects of which are still felt. But the North American Jewish community has moved dangerously to the mainstream of American life and culture. Dangerously, because in aligning itself with American political centre, there is an implicit support for the injustices that American policy has wrought. The wealth accumulated in many Jewish communities is a testament, not only to the hard work and determination of an industrious people but also to the benefits from their alignment with American policy that has seen most of the Third World living in a virtual economic enslavement.

Back in the temple, the rabbi echoed the sentiments of U.S. President George W. Bush: "You are either with us or against us." Those against "us" are people who are critical of Israel, and they are typically "barbaric rioters" who "denounce democracy" and, as Benjamin Netanyahu so cleverly put it, "have the glint of hate in their eyes."

If the hyperbole were true and if this was the second coming of the Holocaust "just like 1938" as stated by oneHolocaust survivor, you would think this mob that descended on Concordia would have injured someone. Yet, to my knowledge, the only Jews injured that day were me and another Jew. We were beaten by riot cops as we stood defenseless, using the methods of non-violent resistance advocated by Gandhi and others.

It seems to me that there were two violent mobs that day. One wore uniforms, carried guns and truncheons. The other got angry when brothers, sisters and friends were attacked by the first mob for trying to point out the double standard pervasive in North American public institutions.

By bringing in Netanyahu, Concordia was saying the killing, detention, torture and deportation of Palestinians is acceptable because "Palestinians are against us, and Netanyahu is clearly one of us."

This double standard is intolerable. World Jewry must allow clear discussions as to which Israeli practices are un-Jewish, and stop blindly accepting human-rights violations and acting as the apologist for fatal American foreign policy. World Jewry must use hope, passion and prayers to build a world where all displaced people will be able to enjoy their own "milk and honey."

- Zev Tiefenbach is co-ordinator of a soup kitchen.