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Aspects of Attack

An Agenda for<br>Alliances and Action

Institute Bulletin No.25


“Where there are no men, be thou a man.”—Rabbi Hillel

“If I am only for myself, what am I.”—Rabbi Hillel

I want to thank each of you for your involvement, whether advisory or participatory, in the recent political evenings the Institute hosted for several Ministers. This was by no means our first such encounter with public officials on matters of Jewish and Israeli import. What was notable in your reactions were the feelings expressed by some that these were the most effective such exchanges you had participated in and that, as one person put it, the manner of debate and discourse was almost “liberating”. I think this is true and I would like to share some of my thoughts as to why, what lessons can be learned from the past several years of engagement and exchange and what we can take going forward as an agenda for action.

Attitudes: Old Cautions, New Boldness

Too often Jewish communal overtures to governments on foreign and domestic matters are undertaken with a tone of supplication and a note of caution. Many have been concerned with the charge of dual loyalties on matters relating to Israel. With asking too much on social services. With just being too demanding. Our approach at the Institute has been consciously and deliberately the opposite.

While always honouring confidences and never using public admonition as a bargaining tool,we have always stressed that as a community Canadian Jewry has given out of all proportion to its numbers not only in supporting the political parties with time and treasure but also in contributing to our society at large, morally and materially, in public service, business, media, science and the arts. That that contribution has been greater than any other ethnic group save for the two founding communities. And that there is reason for this quite apart from wealth---the heritage of the universal Jewish liberal message of humanism that compels Jews to a heightened sense of responsibility to, and engagement with, all members of our Canadian mosaic, a responsibility and engagement which benefits all from the penniless pauper to the powerful politician.

This egalitarian Jewish ideal has benefitted all western societies at all times and now these values echo not only through the Judeo-Christian ethic universally, but indeed through all strata of our land resulting in the acceptance of Jewish concerns as a vital and normative part of the Canadian agenda because our language of justice and equality has found subliminal resonation among, and become the shorthand slogans for, all who plead and petition for redress of their discontent. These echoes can be heard through the variety of voices in our land. It is important to continually mirror to decision makers and elected officials, pointedly and proudly in these treacherous times, how Jewish values, in contradistinction to those of others, are so favouribly foundational to Canadian ones and how they have, for decades, contributed to the survival and success of this good and gentle land and been the framework of expression for the best in Canadian aspirations.

On Israel, we have successfully engaged the Government on eight policy changes by couching our arguments in a strictly Canadian historical context. We point out that though Canada has often been called a peace loving nation this is only a half truth. Canada is above all a freedom loving nation. We have sacrificed more sons and daughters for the survival and success of liberty in the past century than even the United States as a proportion of population. We never shirked from this responsibility. We never calculated how many more soldiers there were in the Kaiser’s army. We never worried about the number of tanks in Hitler’s Panzer Divisions. We were never awed by Stalin’s might in Korea. And we never hesitated at home when terrorists threatened to make Montreal a charnel house. We supported the values of western civilization because we wanted to live as free men and women even when we had little more to give than Churchill’s “blood,sweat and tears”. We understood, viscerally, that man’s millennia long struggle to break out of the forests of barbarism was a precious quest. We lionized and celebrated those who stood with us in vigilant opposition to any assault on our values of democracy and freedom. We would “rage against the dying of the light” whenever the black night of terror threatened.

We come to elected officials as intervenors and petitioners bearing a very important title in our land.That title is citizen.And as citizens we want our Canadian government to stand with us and send a message to the world that our heritage is not forgotten. That in a part of the world that knows no freedom we will support the only democracy in the Middle Rim from the borders of India to the Atlantic Ocean. That Canada’s pride and purpose shall not be compromised or cudgelled by barrels of oil as it was not by mountains of munitions. That we understand that Israel is the frontline state in the family of liberal western democracies and that the outcome of its struggle against terror holds consequences for us all.

We can assure you that whenever we have put our arguments in this manner, as was done with the Secretary of State, decision makers understand that the progress of their political futures will be enhanced by their support of human dignity, freedom and courage. We always follow with a clear question.When will our government end support for the double standard voting Israel is subjected to in international arenas and give the appropriate latitude to a sister democracy and political,economic and cultural ally. We make it clear that we need our government to demonstrate its comprehension and recognition that Israel is the frontline state in the family of liberal western democracies facing a militant Islam that, in the words of Prof.Daniel Pipes “…is the only truly vital totalitarian movement in the world today.”

Contrary to being particularist and parochial as some have painted it in the past, the Jewish agenda resonates with all Canadians across ethnic and economic divisions and as such is a legitimate, and indeed vital, component of our current Canadian political priorities in that it benefits and buttresses the best in us. The Jewish community’s concerns now amplify the pride of our nation and as such can be advocated with the same vigor and vitality as the interests of all within the Canadian mosaic, without being taken for granted either electorally or economically by politicians .

Canadian politicians understand and respond when we approach them directly with demands fully in the context of Canadian values and history. We are in a new day and it is understood by all in government that if President Kennedy said “…too whom much is given, from them much is expected…” we can,and do, now say- proudly and purposefully- that “… from whom much is gained, to them much may be given.”

Alliances: Communal Challenges, Striking Success

For too long others have been allowed to hijack the language of Jewish concerns and to paint the community as narrow and provincial. Nothing could be further from the truth and just as we have done, this needs to be driven home to decision- makers and government leaders at all times and at all opportunities. It is necessary to recapture the message and metaphor of the Jewish experience and expression. As difficult as that is, we at the Institute have found that we have considerable allies. We work with some six cultural communities, over forty social action groups and several international unions in the Quebec Federation of Labor in addition to elected officials. Whenever we have asked their support on Jewish issues, on Israel issues, we have found a considerable body of support as was evidenced at the recent Israel Rally when we turned out over a dozen non-Jewish political,ethnic and labor leaders to stand with us for the first time in a massive public manifestation of unity.And they were with us before on some half-dozen representations to the Federal government on the Israel agenda.

Part of that was due to the process of education and engagement we consciously undertake in our own work on their concerns. Partly this is due to financial strength, and we should make no mistake about it ---that is a legitimate tool. Yet another weapon is guilt—never letting anyone forget that we have a moral debt from the “…none is too many…” immigration policies of the 30’s and 40’s. But an important part is due to the surprising institutional memory that many non-Jews have of the foundational contribution of the universal Jewish message of justice and equality to their own aspirations and to their own advancement. This is an important part of our heritage and one that we would be well served to re-invigorate. The historic Jewish engagement with all nations is a critical part of our patrimony and one which should be the challenge of our work going forward.

Whether it was Rousseau’s “Social Contract”, Mazzini’s “Risorgimento”,Marx and Lenin’s “…to each according to their needs,from each according to their abilities…”,
Big Bill Haywood’s “…workers of the world unite you have nothing to lose but your chains…”,anti-Hitler protestors singing “Die Gedanken Sind Frei” or Martin Luther King preaching “We Shall Overcome”,the Jewish spirit of reflexive responsibility of man to his fellow was there. We need to remember that this is our greatest credit in the bank of the human spirit. Our challenge is that memory.

It is a challenge because all too often Jewish communal political action-especially on Israel-consists of Jews talking to Jews in Jewish enclaves. Though Jews engage in the political and philosophical-as well as financial and functional- aspects of public issues, it is rare to see many,either individually or organizationally, involved directly in joint efforts with other cultural communities, or on the ground on social issues with unions and social action groups. It is true that historically, particularly in Quebec, there was not much encouragement from those groups, communities and unions. But there is now and we would be losing a historic opportunity if we did not pursue these new overtures.

Recently, we succeeded in bringing together the Jewish and Italian communities as co-sponsors for the Giuliani event . I can assure you that politically, many leaders took note that a new reality had been created, a new alliance, and one that could not be placated with the old platitudes and promises of the parochial politesse of ethnic politics. In addition to building alliances on Israel ,as mentioned above, we garnered the support of other communities on the preservation of D’Arcy McGee riding and opposition to Provincial Health Reform initiatives that threatened to destroy communal representation on hospital boards.We even succeeded in recruiting non-Jewish leaders,including Churchmen, to protect kashrut from the provisions of a new Federal animal protection act.

This engagement with other allies and agendas allows us to look forward to a dynamic new era of co-operation between all communities which will serve our agendas with added political punch both as to policies and purposes.

It is important to build on these successes-to expand relationships with other cultural communities as well as with the unions who stood with us in April.

We all have been part of something very special. Whether you have been touched to the same degree as others by the new, in Martin Buber’s words, “…way of response…” you should all know this---we stand at the threshold of a bold new era of communal co-operation. We can affect our society in the broadest sense or we can sink back into the quagmire of petty parochialism and private prejudices. Communal leadership, from all sides, has a responsibility to build on a new vision and go forward into a new era with the kind of common purpose that can bring only greater strength. We must resolve that this issue is a priority and proceed in the sure knowledge that character breeds courage, understanding brings unity and that the advocacy of alliances shall never be in vain.

Economic power is not sufficient in a democratic society where the victors on the battlegrounds of ideas are still those who can marshall the most votes.

Atmospherics: Words of Faith,Actions of Fire

It is appropriate to consider these issues at this time in the Jewish calendar, a period of reflection and reaffirmation, when we come together to consider a variety of responsibilities communally and personally. Two of those sets of responsibilities are the parallel groups of obligations known as “bein adam l’makon”—between man and G-d—and “bein adam l’chaveiro”—between man and his fellow. Of the former Jews have disputed for millennia. But of the latter, Jews of every stripe have been in the forefront of their manifestation in every aspect of life for these ordinances form the basis of man’s striving for a civil society based on social justice. Indeed, when the Jewish people’s obligation to be a “light unto the nations” is spoken of, the centrepiece, the primordial example,is the fulfillment of these obligations which are the corpus of a civil society based on social justice.

In order to be a light unto the nations one must first engage with the nations. And engage the Jewish people did. Not to proselitize for converts, but to popularize the message and civilized man’s millennia long quest to claw its way out of the forests of barbarism was guided by this Jewish map of morality and civility.And the words of faith became actions of fire. Because at the core of our message was one simple idea—decency. And decency was something that all civilized men understood becaused they all learned it not in universities or in the political arenas but at their mother’s knee. Civilized men rallied to our progressive call because they understood,viscerally, right from wrong and good from evil.

And we engaged with our bodies as well as our ideas. Hope, justice, equality and compassion were not just intellectual aspirations but were manifested in blood and bone and sweat and sinew when David Dubinsky and Jacob Potofsky stood with Bill Haywood and John L. Lewis and Walter Reuther in the labour struggles of the 30’s and 40’, and again when Rabbis Abraham Joshua Heschel and Joachim Prinz marched with the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. and the Freedom Riders in Selma.
These are our political precedents for communal action. This is our true intellectual inheritance as a people. This is the fuel that will propel our humanist experiment in this world not only to survival but to success.

We in Canada are a more conservative community. But it is time for us to begin a new direction. The Jewish agenda,with Israel at its core, is still the most vital and one that in the attainment of its goals benefits not just the Jewish community but due to the universality of the issues will benefit all Canadians. The Israel question is now being understood as vital to non-Jews as well. Canadians are beginning to understand that Israel is the frontline state of western liberal democracies.The reservoir of institutional memory among other communities and groups is strong and will allow us to make effective alliances. Let us not forget that even in Quebec, Marcel Chaput, one of the first of the Separatist ideolgues, used Israel as a model of a civil society in his outline for an independent state called “ La Guide des Patriotes”.

We must have the courage of character to allow us to make the kinds of alliances that will not only assure the survival of the Jewish agenda, but its expanded success as well.It is a time for deeds and daring. We must make new departures or we will lay at harbour facing the relentless tides of challenge with the same caution and resignation. We cannot rest on the past. We must show other communities our concern for their issues. On the ground. Let us engage with them and organize with them and march with them.I cannot tell you the benefits our organization has had from our participation in Sen.Jacques Hebert’s Committee for Justice for the Duplessis Orphans.We need a visible presence representing our community on many fronts,as an example the ground-breaking work of the “Fondation Pour la Tolerance”, and then we can leverage those new friendships and pull from the new reservoir of goodwill allies that will make the advocacy of our agenda many times more effective.

The Talmud says that we should rise when three kinds of men enter a room. The first are tzaddikim-saints.The second are talmidei chachamim-men of learning. The third,regardless of their piety or observance, are anshei ma’aseh-men of deeds. The Sages go on to say that without this third type of man the first two could not exist in this world. It is time to become daring and take the radical risks of engagement and alliance that will ensure that our agendas not only survive but thrive,remembering always that we need never make alliances out of fear but that only through building coalitions can we recapture the message and metaphor of our vision and retake the high ground in our ongoing political battles. For our people it is not just polemics,it is truly a matter of life and death.

Admonition as Afterword

We in our community have black hearts and racists as well. Secular as well as religious. These are people who would shut us away from engaging with the rest of society while demanding much from the government of that society. We must maintain a constant vigilance against this kind of exclusiveness. Our strength is based on our universal message of inclusiveness and tolerance, on a rejection, in the words of Jean-Paul Sartre, of the “…teachings of contempt…”. Our struggle is the new civil rights struggle. We invented the imagery and icons, the aspirations and alliances, of the previous one. We still have the genius to invent new departures for our own.

There is another talmudic story about a group of Sages debating when day begins. After much discussion one of the Sages tired and stood to leave but before going said “…I do not know when day begins, but I do know that when we can no longer tell the rich man from the poor one nor the white man from the brown nor the Jew from the Gentile then a new day will truly have begun…”

The struggle for the Jewish agenda with Israel at the core is still the litmus test for societal civility. We invented the language of engagement. We invented the shorthand. We have carried the burden of its expression, in the words of John Patrick Cuddihy, through centuries of the “…ordeal of civility…”.We stand now at the edge of a new era when we can engage our governments on our issues with alliances bolder and broader than we have ever dreamed of in this country. We can bring to an end our communal frustrations with governmental neglect and negligence. Let us convert our power into purpose and our character into courage so that in the words of our prophets we may see “…justice rise as the great waters and righteousness pour forth as a mighty stream…”

I wish you all a year of health and peace.

Beryl P. Wajsmann
Institute for Public Affairs

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