The last three weeks or so have been a trying time for the Jewish community both in and out of Israel.
An 11-day onslaught of terrorist missiles sent thousands to bomb shelters or to their building stairways while the Iron Dome took down 90% of the missiles from the sky. Some got past, however, and 11 Israelis, Jewish and not, died. The loss of innocent life – both Palestinian and Israeli – is heartbreaking.
In the Diaspora, we hoped that a tense political situation would not turn into something worse. When it did, we watched the videos of missiles launched, of buildings hit, of funerals held – and of a country protecting itself and its people.
We then braced for the public opinion backlash. While Israel defended itself from more than 4,000 missiles fired from civilian neighbourhoods into civilian neighbourhoods, we were told by news outlets and celebrities on talk shows and social media that Israel’s actions – in which it went to extreme lengths to target only terrorist assets – were unjust.
I believe that Israel has a right to defend itself. I believe that Israel has a place in the Middle East, and I see it increasingly accepted by its neighbours. I believe Israel has much to offer the world.
Zionist is not a dirty word. I am an unapologetic Zionist. I stand with Israel. I believe in our people’s history, collectivity, peoplehood and right to self-determination.
Grievances with government policy do not give licence to question Israel’s right to exist. I do not believe that anti-Israel equals pro-Palestinian; if it did, then those burning Israeli flags in the streets would be calling for peace, or for a two-state solution, not to “globalize the intifada.”
In Gaza, Hamas – a listed terrorist entity in Canada, the United Kingdom, the United States and the European Union – remains a barrier to peace. I believe Palestinians deserve better. I believe that Palestinians are entitled to equal rights and to self-determination. This is not at odds with my Zionism.
I believe that anti-Zionism, as defined by the International Legal Forum as “the prejudice against the Jewish movement for self-determination and the right of the Jewish people to a homeland in the state of Israel,” can itself be antisemitic and create a climate that allows antisemitism to fester.
Across the world, we are witnessing a horrific surge in antisemitism in connection with the conflict. In the United States, Jews have been chased down and beaten. In the United Kingdom, there were chants to “rape their [Jewish] daughters” and antisemitic incidents have risen almost 500%.
Canada is not immune. Recently, in Montreal, peaceful pro-Israel demonstrators were pelted with rocks. In May, Toronto experienced a 500% spike in antisemitic incidents compared to last year. Nazi symbols were spotted at anti-Israel demonstrations across the country, including in
aOttawa and London. In Vancouver, we saw a Jewish business owner being harassed and threatened, and an increase in hateful posters and graffiti. The recent spate of antisemitism has also spread online. There are numerous incidents of Jewish students bullied, businesses targeted, and many others harassed.
While my phone explodes with messages from family and friends asking how to respond to hateful social media posts and vicious videos and memes, it is easy to feel cornered. It is easy to assume that public opinion equals the right opinion, but a simple understanding of history reminds us that it does not.
We must speak out and push back against this rising tide of antisemitism.
We know that what starts with the Jews never ends with Jews. Combating antisemitism is not only about protecting Jews but also about protecting the very fabric of Canadian society. Thousands across Canada are joining the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs (CIJA) in calling for the federal government to convene an emergency summit on antisemitism – a forum to discuss enhancements to community security, education for youth about Jewish history, suffering and triumphs, and a Canada-wide campaign for social media literacy. Join our call to action at fightit.ca.
Neither Israel nor its supporters are perfect. Nobody is. The disproportionate criticism toward the Jewish state is unwarranted. Israel must, and will, stand by its principles, which are – not coincidentally – those same principles that gave rise to Western societies. As long as it does, I will stand with Israel, and you should, too.
Judy Zelikovitz is vice-president, university and local partner services, Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs (CIJA).