odie Shupac’s cover story this week (page 14) explores Israel’s critics on the left wing of the Canadian Jewish community. As she writes: “Some contest specific Israeli policies, but remain committed to Zionism and a two-state solution. Others identify as anti-Zionist, but maintain that this doesn’t make them anti-Semitic or ‘self-hating,’ nor does it preclude their close emotional ties to Judaism.”
They are represented by JSpace, the Jewish lobby which opposes Israeli settlements but also stands against the boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement, and, on the far left, by Independent Jewish Voices (IJV), a group that is anti-Israel, includes anti-Zionists, and supports BDS. Those who identify with IJV, in particular, believe the rest of the Jewish community has shunned them, and they are feeling especially isolated right now in the wake of the Israel-Hamas war. A member of the like-minded Critical Jew Network of Toronto told Shupac she feels “unsafe” talking about Israel.
There’s no denying that criticism of the IDF and the Israeli government was muted in the Jewish community during the recent conflict. But there were sound and practical reasons for that – first and foremost being that a strong majority of Canadian Jews stood firmly with Israel. Support manifested in various degrees of vocality (and bellicosity), but there is no doubt a preponderance of Canadian Jews was behind Israel this summer.
Even on the left wing, many who didn’t necessarily agree with all of Israel’s actions during the war softened their stances because they felt it wasn’t the right time to be critical – especially given the narrative promulgated by a media corps cowed into half-truths and worse by Hamas. And the rise of anti-Semitic incidents in Europe had Jews across the spectrum reconsidering whether there really is a difference between anti-Israel protesters and anti-Jewish ones.
In other words, when it comes to groups such as IJV, we’re talking about a slim minority. But does that mean we should pretend they don’t exist at all, at the risk of further alienating them from the rest of the Jewish community? That’s not a decision to be taken lightly.
From time to time, members of IJV’s leadership team have requested editorial space in The CJN to explain their point of view. We have ultimately declined, because even though we promote inclusion as a virtue, there are limits to how inclusive we’re willing to be. Abetting BDS and rejecting Israel’s future as a Jewish state crosses the line.
Still, Shupac’s story is a reminder that there are Jews in our community with radically different ideas than most (that goes for the far right as well). It’s important to be challenged by difficult ideas, even when they make us uncomfortable and angry. And besides, if we don’t engage with them in some way, there’s no chance to find some common ground.
In turn, perhaps IJV and other groups like it could accept that most Canadian Jews are pro-Israel, and so are our public voices. And if they wish to separate themselves from the bulk of Canadian Jewry when it comes to Israel, so be it. Independence has its benefits, but the comfort of community is not usually one of them. — YONI