TORONTO — Israel’s creation has been a blessing and sometimes people on the left don’t make that explicit enough, says Peter Beinart, associate professor of journalism and political science at the City University of New York and the author of The Crisis of Zionism
“Democracy is not the whole of the Zionist dream. Israel is not and, in my opinion should not, be a secular democracy like Canada and the United States,” Beinart said at the inaugural conference of the new progressive Zionist group JSpaceCanada, held Oct. 6 at the University of Toronto.
“But if democracy is not the entirety of the Zionist dream, it is necessary to the Zionist dream.”
The controversial Beinart – who advocates what he calls a “Zionist BDS,” a boycott of goods made in the West Bank – explained that some of Israel’s policies, such as its control of the West Bank, are contrary to the democratic vision of Israel’s founders and place its democracy and security in peril.
He noted that that the portion of Israel’s budget going toward settlements has doubled during Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s time in office.
While he admitted that Palestinians must share some of the blame for the failure of the peace process, calling terrorism “unforgiveable,” he put the onus on the Israeli government, which he said is “paying Israelis to move into the West Bank.”
“It’s not enough to say Israel will get a handle on settlement growth when the Palestinians finally decide to live in peace in a two-state solution,” Beinart said. “Because by supporting settlement growth, you’re pushing Palestinians in exactly the direction we don’t want them to go.”
JSpaceCanada was launched officially in 2011, although the idea for it was conceived three years ago. The goal of its founders was to support Israel while also supporting a two-state solution for two peoples and encourage open dialogue about the state, its actions and its future.
They say they also wanted to fill a gap in the Canadian Jewish community by providing a pro-Israel, pro-peace voice that’s an alternative to the extremes often found on both sides of the debate.
“It is out of a love for Israel and our genuine concern for its long term security and survival that JSpaceCanada was founded, and why we are gathered here today,” said conference co-chair Karen Mock a former CEO of the Canadian Race Relations Foundation and a former national director of B’nai Brith Canada’s League for Human Rights.
“But we are here to reaffirm that it’s appropriate to ask difficult questions and to have the courageous conversations both within our Jewish community and between us and the wider communities.”
The conference, held at U of T’s Multi-Faith Centre, brought together a variety of provocative speakers and panelists.
The aim, Mock said, was to “broaden the conversation” about Israel and its policies and discuss what can be done to ignite activism in today’s youth and offer a voice that falls between the “extreme left” and “staunch right.”
“[It’s about] building bridges and dialogue spaces,” said Jenny Isaacs, an active member of All That’s Left, an Israeli collective devoted to “building a just society in Israel and Palestine.”
Mock said there’s a strong desire in the Canadian pro-Israel community to have a more open dialogue on Israel’s policies without fear of being labelled anti-Israel.
“JSpace is for those who love Israel and want her to thrive and survive in safety and security and peace as a Jewish homeland, with human rights and social justice for all her residents,” Mock said.
“There is a space in JSpace for everyone.”