When Daniel Patrick Moynihan fought the UN’s infamous “Zionism is racism” resolution as US ambassador, he telegrammed his boss, Henry Kissinger, saying that he hoped people in the future would say, “An issue of honour, of morality was put before us, and not all of us ran.” Once upon a time, Canada was more well known as the land of even-handed niceness and appeasement than as a bastion of courage, especially internationally. But, in the Jewish tradition of hakarat hatov, recognizing good deeds, we should salute those who are helping to change Canada’s reputation for the better.
We commend Prime Minister Stephen Harper, his foreign minister John Baird, his minister of multiculturalism Jason Kenney and others who have made it clear that Canadian decency cannot abide the indecency of the new anti-Semitism and the assault on democratic values reflected in the delegitimization of Israel.
We applaud former justice minister and current Liberal MP Irwin Cotler for a lifetime of dedication to human rights, an activist far more worthy of the Nobel Peace Prize than recent winners such as the European Union, the International Atomic Energy Agency, former U.S. vice-president Al Gore or former president Jimmy Carter, let alone former Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat.
We salute MP Maria Mourani of the Bloc Quebecois and Thomas Mulcair, leader of the NDP, among others, for standing up heroically against the absurd Parti Québécois “charter of Quebec values,” which will pervert Canadian and democratic values by discriminating against devout people.
While applauding this all-party parade of courageous role models, we should look closer to home as well, challenging ourselves and each other to stand tall for what is right. As citizens in a proud democracy, just because professional politicians have done the right thing does not absolve us from leading the way, too, not just joining them and affirming their moves. Our culture tends to encourage too much passivity, and the old saw is still true – it’s our civic duty to mobilize and fight for truth and justice.
Similarly as Jews, we need a lot more courage in our lives. It begins with activism against our enemies: anti-Semites, anti-Zionists and delegitimizers who threaten the peace process by questioning Israel’s right to exist. But we need a different kind of courage in the Jewish world today. We need the courage to embrace tradition in a world that worships change, and to champion change when the traditional ways no longer work. Too many of us are passive Jewish consumers and not active doers or change agents in the Jewish community. Jewish life is also deeply democratic. Unless we start learning more, doing more, participating more and engaging more, our souls will wither, our communal institutions will decay and our tradition will lose its spark.
Former U.S. president John F. Kennedy often quoted Dante that “the hottest places in hell are reserved for those who, in a time of great moral crisis, maintain their neutrality.”
But hot places are also reserved for those who, in a time of great opportunity to lead, grow, inspire and thrive, maintain their passivity and complacency.