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June 3, 2010

As a Jew I say to Israel 'You don't speak for me'

Scott Stockdale

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(Toronto, May 30) The tension was palpable as demonstrators against Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's visit to Canada faced off against demonstrators from the Jewish Defence League (JDL), across Stratchan Avenue, at the Princess Gates entrance to the CNE.

Mr. Netanyahu was in town to kick off the annual Walk with Israel, at the Canadian National Exhibition, where he also delivered a speech.

While Jewish Defence League members hailed his visit as an honor for Canadians because it marks the first visit to Canada by an Israeli Prime Minister in 32 years, a coalition of community, human rights, and peace and justice organizations, on the other side of Strachan Avenue, branded him a war criminal.

Naomi Binder Wall, a member of the International Jewish anti-Zionist Network, explained why the protesters believe Mr. Netanyahu is a war criminal.

“We believe he's a war criminal. It's documented. He's violated international law. During his first term as Prime Minister, which ended in 1999, he presided over executions, and torture of Palestinian prisoners, which goes on to this day.

Now, he's demolishing hundreds and hundreds of Palestinian homes in the West Bank and Jerusalem and putting up Jewish homes.”

Several hundred supporters of such diverse community organizations as Palestine House Community Centre, Coalition Against Israeli Apartheid (CAIA), Canadian Arab Federation, Independent Jewish Voices, Not in our Name (Jews Opposing Zionism), Women in Solidarity with Palestine, Toronto Coalition to Stop the War, the Canadian Peace Alliance, carried signs, gave speeches and shouted slogans, and the JDL responded in kind, while about 20 police officers stood watch.

On the coalition side the signs were also diverse, with message including: “War Criminals not Welcome Here”, “Zionism is Racism”, “Free Palestine and “Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions.”

Standing in the back of a pickup truck and addressing the crowd through a public address system, United Church Reverend Lawrence Pushee said the United Church Holy Land Awareness and Action Group wants to get the Boycott, Divestments, Sanctions (BDS) campaign alive in his church.

He said Israeli supporters' outrage at Israel being called an apartheid state, is their response to a truth they refuse to face.

“Apartheid is the word, because apartheid is the truth. The more they fuss about the word, the more we know we have a valid criticism.”

He added that many Canadians aren't aware of how much Canada's esteem in the world has plunged under the Harper government, as a result of its unwaivering support for Israel.

Rafeef Ziadah, an organizer with the Coalition Against Israeli Apartheid, said she's proud to be a member of CUPE (Canadian Union of Public Employees), the first union to support the BDS campaign and, Jewish representative's characterization of Toronto as the centre of the BDS campaign, makes Toronto the center for deligitimizing Israel's violations of international law.

Another speaker pointed out that the Harper government refused to let British MP George Galloway into Canada to talk about the situation in Gaza, but it let an alleged war criminal - Mr. Netanyahu - in to justify Israel's conduct.

On the other side of Strachan Avenue, next to the Princess' Gates, JDL supporters held signs with slogan while chanting “There's no such thing as Palestine.”

Moments after agreeing to an interview with the Charger, Meir Weinstein, National Director of the Canadian Branch of the Jewish Defence League, changed his mind, and spouted invectives about the Charger and a certain editor, some of whose public stances on related issues, Mr. Weinstein vehemently disagrees with, for reasons he refused to explain.

However, I did see Mr. Weinstein being interviewed on a couple of TV stations and by various other media outlets.

In one interview he said: “Our hearts are overwhelmed with joy that the Israeli Prime Minister is here in Toronto. This is a historic moment for Jewish people. It's a historic moment for Jewish people in Canada.”

Critics of these kinds of blanket statements often point out that the Jewish community is not homogenous; but, in fact, quite diverse in its opinions and public stances on Israeli-Palestinian issues.

Naomi Binder Wall, a member of the International Jewish anti-Zionist Network and a member of Women in Solidarity with Palestine said, “Benjamin Netanyahu is here to cement relations with Canada. He and other cabinet ministers have said Canada is Israel's best friend in the world. As a Jew I say to Israel, 'You don't speak for me. As a Canadian, I say to the Canadian government, 'You don't speak for me.'”

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