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Liberal interim leader touts two-state solution

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Bob Rae [Sheri Shefa photo]

TORONTO — A one-state solution in Israel would be “completely unworkable,” said interim Liberal leader Bob Rae, who spoke at the First Narayever Congregation June 10 about Israel and the future of Canadian policy in the Middle East.

Rae, the Toronto-Centre MP who announced last week that he won’t seek the permanent leadership of the Liberal party, spoke to about 100 people on behalf of JSpaceCanada, a year-old progressive Zionist organization.

Rae said a one-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict wouldn’t work, because each side has a legitimate claim to the land and a one-state solution is “based on a premise that one group of people will be first-class citizens, and other group of people will be second-class citizens.

“Any solution that denies the legitimacy of the other will ultimately prove unworkable. It may last for a while… but ultimately, it will not lead to a more steady and reliable solution.”

Karen Mock, who lost her bid to become Liberal MP for Thornhill last year, introduced Rae to speak from the bimah of the downtown Toronto shul, but not before talking about the importance of an organization that lends a voice to the “progressive Zionist” narrative in Canada.

“Organizations like these often describe themselves as grassroots and non-partisan. But JSpace is multi-partisan… We need to let people know who are in government, not yet in government, in the media, that indeed there are multiple voices in the Jewish community,” said Mock, a member of the group’s co-ordinating committee.

According to JSpaceCanada’s website, the group supports a two-state solution, but opposes Israel’s Jewish settlements in the West Bank, as well as boycott, divestment or sanction campaigns that undermine Israel’s right to exist.

Rae, who has served as the Liberal’s foreign affairs critic, spoke about “a major shift of opinion within the Jewish community, which has led to the defeat of several very fine and distinguished friends. The ultimate irony is that [Liberal critic for justice and human rights] Irwin Cotler, who is probably the most articulate, knowledgeable, thoughtful, intelligent observer of human rights and Israel’s challenges of anyone in Parliament, was being described as antisemitic by the Conservative party.”

Rae was referring to the 2009 controversy in which the Conservative party distributed flyers to neighbourhoods with large Jewish populations, including Cotler’s Montreal riding, that implied the Liberal party is antisemitic and not supportive of Israel.

The flyers alleged that the Liberals “willingly participated in the overtly antisemitic Durban I,” the 2001 United Nations World Conference Against Racism in Durban, South Africa.

“There is far more diversity of opinion within Israel and far more latitude about what can be said and what can’t be said… than there is in Canada at the moment,” Rae continued.

He explained while it’s antisemitic to denounce the existence of the State of Israel, it’s not antisemitic to criticize Israel’s policies or actions.

During his recent trips to Israel, Rae said, he realized that the debate about the conflict has shifted.

“Within Israel, there is a school of thought that no longer refers to conflict resolution, but refers to conflict management… It means that you’re coping, but you’re not actually getting underneath to the real long-term prospects that were set out in [the Oslo accords] as the grand objective.”

When it comes to debate about the Middle East, it’s important not to engage in wishful thinking, Rae advised.

In the Arab world, a common mistaken belief is that “when we find a solution to the conflict between the Israelis and the Palestinians… all the other problems in the world will be resolved,” he said.

“On the other side, to think that somehow, Israel’s experience with attempting to settle and… to continue with the military occupation of certain areas, and to believe that you can carry out that activity and not be subject to the same resentments and sets of issues as every other imperial adventure has experienced in history, is wishful thinking.”

During a question-and-answer period, Rae said that Canada has lost a lot of credibility with Arabs and needs to work on regaining it.

“We’re not seen as a country that really understands or connects that well to the Arab world,” he said.

“I don’t think we need to be neutral. I think neutral is a terrible term. I think we need to have an understanding that there is more than one narrative.”

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