MONTREAL — Israel’s 60th anniversary year provides renewed opportunity for Jews the world over – including in Quebec – to reaffirm their strong attachment to the Jewish state.
Yet despite such ongoing commitment from Jews, Israel continues to face
wary and unfriendly attitudes in the media and on campuses, said
Israel’s consul general to Montreal and eastern Canada.
Yoram Elron, LEFT, – who succeeded Marc Attali last August – said in an interview that he was “very moved and extremely excited” by the recent 60th anniversary rally organized by a coalition of Jewish organizations that drew thousands to the heart of downtown Montreal for a mass and massive expression of love and solidarity.
“I don’t think I’ve ever seen such a large concentration of Israeli flags,” he said.
Elron even danced the horah with former Canadian astronaut Marc Garneau, who will be running for the Liberal party in the next federal election.
But Elron said he was “disappointed” by local media coverage of Israel’s 60th birthday and the rally.
“Some articles were very favourable, but other media – this attempt to ‘balance’ between [presentation] of Israel’s independence and the [Palestinian] ‘nakbar’ [catastrophe] – it was very distressful to me, as if depicting two sides of the same coin.
“Some coverage was good, fair and objective, but what I saw in newspapers was unfair to some extent.”
Elron also said that “we have our work cut out for us” in regard to Israel’s image and treatment on campuses.
“It’s very complicated and very complex, when [students] hear all sorts of things second-hand, third-hand, particularly from those who advocate openly questioning the need for a Jewish state.”
Elron has spoken at Concordia University – the site of the notorious 2001 rally at which former Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu was forbidden to speak – and said he initiated contacts at the leadership level there and within Mideast studies faculties in an effort to “to see what we can do and see whether we can make headway to present our case.
“There are those who are willing to listen, and there are those who do not want to hear,” Elron said. “It’s all right to have a discussion with a divergence of views, but do it in a legitimate and honourable way.
“There’s a lot of ignorance,” Elron said, “a lot of work to be done.”
Elron also wants to have an influence on Quebec’s “moulders” of public opinion, noting that such individuals who return from initial visits to Israel inevitably have a different impression, not one of a country in a permanent state of alert, but one with a rich cultural life.
In terms of Israel’s 60th anniversary year, Elron focused on the fact that Quebec Premier Jean Charest, when speaking at a by-invitation-only cocktail reception the evening of the Montreal rally, “was very encouraging in what he had to say, the importance he attaches to reinforcing the links between Quebec and Israel.”
These include an imminent visit to Israel by Quebec Economic Development Minister Raymond Bachand to ratify a Quebec-Israel co-operation agreement, signed last December, related to science, technology, trade, health and commerce.
Elron described two “essential goals” he had as the 60th anniversary year continued and for the rest of his tenure here: to overcome ignorance about Israel in general and in terms of the Palestinian conflict, and to expose to the public facets of Israel beyond the tensions.
“Israel is often portrayed as a one-dimensional state revolving around the conflict,” Elron said, “but there is the economy, tourism, culture, sports.”
Elron said that even Israel’s involvement with hockey, such as through local figures Alan Maislin, the past chair of the Israel Ice Hockey Federation, and Jean Perron, the coach of the Israeli national hockey team, could resonate with Quebecers, who are diehard hockey fans.
As the anniversary year progresses, Elron held out hope that the peace process would ultimately bear fruit. “The issues are complicated, but there is progress,” he said, in spite of extremists continually vying to derail any tentative peace initiatives.
Despite all that, the anniversary, he said, signifies a milestone for Israel.
“In general terms, we can be very proud of what we have achieved over the 60 years, in spite of the fact that we have been in a state of war and still are.
“The dangers are still substantial, but we have managed to succeed in many areas against all odds.
Regarding the state of Zionism 60 years after the creation of the State of Israel, Elron said: “The goal and raison d’être of Israel is to serve as a haven for Jews from the four corners of the world – from here as well. We would like the Jewish people to come to Israel. This is the ancestral homeland and what Israel is all about.”