TheFridayReport: The Miracle of Israel, But Lets Be Honest First
03/19/21 - Before we get to the Miracle of Israel and this week's roundup, let's be honest first: it has been a difficult week for members of Toronto's Jewish community. A violent antisemitic assault occurred at a bakery in a Jewish area. In working with both the victims and the police hate crimes unit, we were able to piece together a case and a grim picture of the growing problem of antisemitism.
We have seen violent antisemitism of this nature in France - but now in Toronto?
The assaults -- one verbal and one physical -- had traumatic consequences for its Jewish victims. In mediating between the victims and the police what became apparent was the trauma inflicted by these demeaning incidents. In addressing such occurrences, it's important to provide victims with as much guidance, care, and compassion as possible - particularly while they also may navigate legal understanding of hate crime.
If there is a new front to this war, we must address it comprehensively from a position of expertise. As I mentioned to the victims this week, I am happy to help anyone affected by antisemitism, to the best of my ability.
From this point of view, we must stand up and speak out for all victims of racism. The spa-shootings this week in the US serve as a reminder that we must stand up and denounce any language that demeans any group of people. Anti-Asian and anti-women hate crime must be universally condemned. I can tell you in my experience that the Asian community has stood up with us against antisemitism on many occasions.
I still hold out hope that Canada can project its best self unto the world around us. In today's National Post, I write that the world needs more Canada because we can stand up for human rights and fight against racism and discrimination:
"Freedom, democracy and pluralism help foster peaceful societies, and they are worth preserving. Our system, though imperfect, has wiped out centuries of oppression, slavery, war and conflict. In contrast, in failed states and dictatorships that turn a blind eye to, or actively participate in, atrocities, terrorist groups like ISIL are once again growing in strength and wreaking havoc on villages. Organizations like Boko Haram continue to kidnap young boys and girls, turning them into child soldiers". (**see link below for the full article).
In the shadow of this week's havoc, we recall the insanity of our world 29 years ago this week when Iranian-backed Hezbollah terrorists carried out a violent terror attack against the Israeli embassy in Argentina. They murdered 22 people and wounded 240. Hatred has many faces; it appears in terror, in daily violence, and in hate speech.
Despite these challenges, some would say that the prophesy of Israel is being fulfilled. Should we really be surprised when miracles in Israel happen every day? Its very existence despite the odds is a miracle in and of itself.
How was it possible for this tiny group of people to return to their homeland and win battles against insurmountable odds? For 73 years, the nascent nation state was surrounded by the worst of the worst -- and still is to some extent. At a cost and sacrifice, it won every major battle fought against it.
So no one on the planet is surprised that today, it's the only nation on earth that is miraculously pulling out of the Coronavirus. This week, video images of open markets and even parties in Tel Aviv flashed on my screen. Young people were dancing on tables. At a political rally, Prime Minister Netanyahu claimed victory over Corona to his vaccinated audience.
Yes, there are still coronavirus deaths in Israel. But before the holiday of Passover, this battle-hardened nation is once more celebrating another win -- a miracle. Truthfully speaking, we are all thinking of how quickly we can return to visit the Land of Milk and Honey and join in the festivities, after a harsh year of lockdowns.
Israeli leaders have been on the move, expanding Israel's presence everywhere. The coronavirus has, in fact, unlocked the nation's incredible potential. Just this week, Israel's Foreign Minister Gabi Ashkenazi tweeted from Moscow that following his meeting with Russia's Foreign Minister Lavrov, he attended "the unveiling ceremony of a memorial to the more than two and a half million Jews murdered in the Holocaust on Soviet soil by the Nazis and their accomplices".
In other words, while President Biden was having a horrible spat with President Putin, having called him a killer which act resulted in a Russian envoy being recalled from Washington, high-level Israeli diplomacy was taking place in Russia. This is critical given Russia's presence in Syria and its allegiance to Iran. Israel's best interest is to maintain all diplomatic channels.
And while this was going on, Israel's President Reuven Rivlin was greeted as part of a state visit in major European capitals including in Vienna, Paris, and Berlin. Austria's Chancellor Sebastian Kurz said he was very pleased to see Israel's president in Vienna: "Israel is a strong partner and friend of Austria. Thank you for the good exchange".
Highlighting the respect Israel has garnered, President Rivlin received presidential welcomes in Berlin and in Paris. He held a friendly press conference with German President Steinmeier and talks with Foreign minister Heiko Maas about strengthening relations between both countries.
In Paris, Rivlin was warmly greeted ceremonially by President Macron at the Palais de l'Elysee. Pictures say more than words, and the state reception provided to Rivlin by France show a deep desire to strengthen bi-lateral ties.
Israel's President Reuven Rivlin met with French President Emanuel Macron this week
Yes, the devastating headlines continued to pour in this week as more antisemitic incidents occurred; as Iran was accused of enriching uranium with new advanced centrifuges at an underground plant; as tensions between Canada, the US, and China increased; as concerns grew over the possible collapse of Lebanon and a Hezbollah takeover; and growing tensions between Israel and Jordan over the debacle of the canceled visit of the Jordanian Crown Prince to the Temple Mount.
The news is continuous, vexing and certainly problematic. All this is true. But in the shadow of the negativity and the harshness of our world, one more ray of hope occurred: it was announced that New Dead Sea Scrolls were discovered in the Judean desert. They were believed to have been hidden during the Bar-Kochba Revolt. The texts are from the books of Zecharia and Nahum dating to the second century CE.
For me, what this proves once again, for all the detractors of Israel who claim it is merely a Jewish "colonial project", evidence of Jewish presence in the land demonstrates that this is our ancestral homeland. There is no denying that the return of the Jewish people to their homeland is nothing short of the fulfillment of a miracle, if not a prophecy.
Candle Lighting EST - 7:11 pm:
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 in the Jewish community and as a leading voice in Canada. His academic research, graduate degree 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.
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MY ARTICLE IN NATIONAL POST: https://nationalpost.com/opinion/avi-benlolo-the-world-needs-more-canada-now-more-than-ever