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  • Writer's pictureAvi Abraham Benlolo

TheFridayReport: Another Tragedy for the Jewish Nation

04/30/21: Dear Friend - Shabbat Shalom and welcome to this edition of TheFridayReport - bringing you important updates about issues of concern. Please feel free to share it with family and friends.

Israeli radio channels played somber music today as 45 souls were buried in this ancient land - soaked with blood and tears. How could it be that an annual occasion of celebration, could turn into a major disaster - another tragedy for the nation of Israel?

Lag Ba'Omer is a date for celebration. A date for showing the strength and resilience of Israel. The mountain is a pilgrimage site for religious Jews on this occasion. But this year, perhaps because of the Covid lockdowns, attendance was higher than normal.

With so many innocent lives lost for no reason at all, radio stations today were somber and said they were "gearing down because of the tragedy on Mount Meron" last night.

Now the mountain is no longer a place for rejoicing. It symbolizes a long list of tragedies that often befall the Jewish people. This date, for the coming years, will be one of remembrance of the "Lag Ba'Omer disaster". It should never have happened and after all the burials are done, Israel will commence its soul searching.

So many young people were crushed to death - mostly all in their twenties and early thirties. The videos of the tragedy are horrific as masses and masses of people walk through what was a bottleneck - enclosed by metal fencing on either side - with hundreds of people squeezing through. Any event organizer would know this could end in tragedy. And sadly it did.

Every nation has its tragedies - and Israel is no different.

But it is different according to the double-standard that is often demanded of it. This week, Israel was once again under attack. This time it was by Human Rights Watch - a non governmental organization that issued a widely criticized report (including by the US) accusing Israel of crimes connected to apartheid.

Israel gets no peace of mind. Not even for an instant.

To explain these attacks, in my column today in the National Post, I wrote about Schadenfreude. Most people haven't heard of this complex psychological term. Here is the best way to explain it:

With Schadenfreude, there is a false sense of justice associated with seeing either someone or a nation being accused of being “bad.” This is why our conception of human rights on a social level and an international level is failing us today. It has been co-opted by false narratives and actors that act according to political interest, and the world is not blind that in the case of Israel, Schadenfreude appears to be the motivation behind the relentless efforts by state actors and NGOs to attempt to showcase its behaviour as being “immoral” or “bad” and therefore requiring punishment.

Schadenfreude reminds us that when the Jews were marched out of their villages and shot at a nearby ravine, it was their neighbours who stood by. Schadenfreude teaches us why, 76 years post-Holocaust, when an elderly Jewish woman (Sarah Halimi) is thrown to her death from a third-storey balcony, the world is silent. Where were all the news alerts about the travesty of the acquittal of her murderer?

The tragedies that unfold before us are not always a result of Schadenfreude. But it's the public interpretation of the phenomenon that matters. The Lag Ba'Omer tragedy might be interpreted with covert happiness or glee by Israel's detractors.

It also might explain why after the NGO report, news stations were quick to simply post the allegations (that Israel is a criminal apartheid state) rather than take a more cautious and balanced approach to the assertion. This was disappointing, especially given the incredible inroads toward pluralism that is occurring today in Israel.

Even while Palestinian Authority President Abbas delayed the Palestinian elections again - as he has done time and again in the last 15 years - this is not covered critically in western media. The losers of his oppressive rule are the Palestinian people who don't get a democracy and continue to live in a state of flux because of his poor leadership.

Still, within the tragedies of the week, a glimmer of light began to shine as the European Union passed a resolution condemning UNWRA for teaching hate and incitement in its schools. It threatened to withhold all funding until such teaching stopped. Will Canada and America follow these important developments? Or will our nations continue enabling a hostile UN institution and a Palestinian Authority that depresses its own people?

As the world turns, another Shabbat is upon us. Today we mourn the heavy losses in Israel. But we also rejoice in a Jewish legacy that is widely recognized for promoting human rights. This week, it was unveiled that the new Washington National Cathedral will have a bust of Elie Wiesel, recognizing his important contribution to human rights in America.

We reach out for peace and humanity. More importantly, we have to act upon the world to make it a better place. We cannot allow the darkness to consume us.

- Shabbat Shalom

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Avi Abraham Benlolo, BA MA, Doctor of Philosophy (Honoris Causa)

Order of Vaughan, Queens Diamond Jubilee Medal, Race Relations Award

ABOUT: Avi Abraham Benlolo has been described as the nation's most prominent and noted expert in Holocaust studies, in countering Antisemitism and promoting human rights. He has dedicated nearly three decades in executive capacities, was founding President and CEO of a major organization in the Jewish community, has raised over $150 million for charities and is a leading voice in Canada. His academic research, graduate degree, Ph.D. coursework and nearly three decades of professional work has focused on these arenas in addition to peace and security in the Middle East. He has published hundreds of articles in these areas. In recognition of his national and international leadership in this area, he has received numerous awards including an Honorary Doctorate from a prestigious Israeli university for his work in Holocaust studies and combating antisemitism; an Order of Vaughan for his distinguished contribution to anti-racism, equity and diversity; the Queens Diamond Jubilee Award for his contributions to Canada and a race relations award for best practice, based on distinguished service in promoting human rights.

As a supporter of Israel, he is proud to have established "The Avi Benlolo Scholarship Fund in National Security" at Haifa University.

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