A world leader decries investigations into his possible criminal corruption as an “attempted coup” based on “fabrications and a tainted and biased investigative process.”
No, not that world leader. This time it is Binyamin Netanyahu, Israel’s prime-minister-by-a-thread. Finally indicted on graft charges after months of anticipation, he became the first Israeli prime minister ever to face charges while in office. He insists the indictment will not impact his leadership, just as the country seems on an irreversible path to a third election in a year.
In a region with a scarcity of free and fair elections, Israel can’t seem to stop having them. From that perspective, things could be worse. Whether Netanyahu’s Likud party stands with him in his time of trouble remains to be seen. The possibility of his departure from the political scene, which he has dominated for nearly a generation, would provide the most significant shakeup of the field and possibly prevent a third inconclusive outcome.
On this side of the ocean, the U.S. House of Representatives continues investigating President Donald Trump. Few people, including Republicans, are making much of an effort to refute the basic facts. Evidence piles upon itself that the U.S. president indeed asked the president of Ukraine for a dirty political favour – a bribe – in exchange for military financial aid that had already been approved by the U.S. Congress. GOP responses to this evidence range from “So?” to the only slightly more nuanced argument that the president of the United States didn’t get what he wanted and the president of Ukraine did, so no harm done.
With Trump seemingly in thrall or somehow beholden to Vladimir Putin, and his party steadfast behind him, we are treated to the spectacle of a party that 60 years ago was trampling over individual liberties based on a largely false suspicion that “the Russians” were infiltrating the country’s government and threatening its entire way of life now responding to a disturbingly similar situation, this one far more provably real, with a shrug.
While Canada, thankfully, has no such level of political intrigue or corruption at the moment, a shocking diplomatic move last week has set the official voices of the Jewish community on edge.
The day before swearing in a new cabinet, the government of just-reelected Prime Minister Justin Trudeau opted to vote at the United Nations General Assembly to condemn all Israeli settlements in the West Bank, jumping on a dogpile led by North Korea, Egypt, Nicaragua and Zimbabwe, none of whom should be arbiters of justice or human rights. To be clear, the vote means almost nothing in practical terms. But symbolism does count. And the vote was a slap in the face by Canada to Israel and those in this country who recognize it as our closest ally in the region for historical, moral and pragmatic reasons.
Some speculate that the shift in tone reflects the new minority government currying favour with the New Democratic Party, which has included some notorious Israel-bashers. That is probably a less likely reason than the campaign by Trudeau to win Canada one of the rotating seats on the United Nations Security Council. Where former prime minister Stephen Harper’s refusal to “go along to get along” in the anti-Israel hatefest that occurs annually at the UN was seen as a key reason we lost out on a seat, Trudeau seems determined to hedge his bets.
A prestigious seat on the Security Council would presumably elevate Trudeau in the eyes of the world after he frittered away the “Canada is back” optimism of four years ago by failing to meet climate targets while bhangra dancing across the world stage.
Regardless of the motive, it is a reprehensible act that could have serious implications for the political orientation of Jewish Canadians in the next few years. Coming as it does while the ink is barely dry on the results of an election in which Liberals mostly made the right noises to Jewish and pro-Israel Canadians, it seems a particularly brutish little dagger to unsheathe now.
At the JNF Negev Gala April 14, left to right: comedian Elon Gold, JNF Pacific Region president Bernice Carmeli, Ambassador Ron Prosor, JNF Pacific Region executive director Ilan Pilo and JNF Canada chief executive officer Lance Davis. (photo from JNF Pacifoc Region)
The diplomatic cold shoulder Israel has received from African, Asian and Arab countries has been thawing in recent years, and a former Israeli ambassador to the United Nations says the situation is even more encouraging under the radar screen.
Ambassador Ron Prosor, who was the Jewish state’s representative at the world body from 2011 to 2015, spoke at the Jewish National Fund of Canada’s Negev Gala Sunday night.
The UN General Assembly is a den of hypocrisy, Prosor said, citing the presence of the most oppressive countries on committees dealing with human rights. The UN Human Rights Council has been dominated by states with the world’s worst human rights records. Moreover, the council, which is supposed to be concerned with human rights abuses all over the world, has a specific article that singles out only one country for routine, ritual denunciation.
“Surprise, surprise – Israel,” Prosor said. “The structural and institutional bias against Israel is unbelievable. There is stuff that I can’t even invent. The Saudis chairing the conference on the status of women. The Iranians … they’re deputy chairs on nonproliferation and arms control.
“What is amazing is not the bad guys,” he continued. “The bad guys are easy to explain. What is really difficult to explain is the so-called like-minded countries.”
European nations and some of the other democracies that make up a minority of the countries at the General Assembly routinely side with despotic regimes against Israel. In such a situation, small victories count heavily. Prosor took heart when countries opted to abstain from votes rather than side against Israel.
He shared an anecdote about Pablo, the ambassador of Panama, an apparent reference to Pablo Antonio Thalassinós.
“‘Pablo, are you with us on this vote? Are you going to vote for us?’” Prosor recounts asking. “‘No. How can I vote? The Arabs are threatening me. What do we do?’ I look at Pablo. He looks at me. I say, ‘Pablo, I feel you’re beginning to catch the flu.’” In the story, the Panamanian begins to cough.
Prosor shared stories of similar conversations with other ambassadors, convincing them to abstain or not show up for votes, and even making him their proxy vote in these latter instances.
While a great many votes relating to Israel are still deeply lopsided, he said, ambassadors like him have helped some others understand that abstaining is better than a no vote.
“The United States of America moves the embassy to Jerusalem. The Europeans take the Americans to the General Assembly,” Prosor said. “One hundred and thirty-nine countries vote against, 32 countries vote for and 21 countries have huge navigation problems finding the General Assembly. Huge navigation problems. Not coincidental.”
Behind the scenes, Israel is not the isolated pariah it appears, he contended.
“In essence, Israel talks with everyone,” Prosor told the audience at Schara Tzedeck Synagogue. “The only ones we do not talk to, or I didn’t talk to, are the Syrian ambassador and the Iranian ambassador. We talk to countries that you guys would be amazed. First of all, most of the Arab countries, countries that we don’t have diplomatic ties with. As the Germans would say, we don’t have to kiss each other on the main road.”
For example, Prosor said, India’s relationship with Israel has grown very warm in recent years.
“The ambassador of India loves Israel,” he noted. “India votes against Israel in every committee and every subcommittee. When we hit the atomic reactor in Syria, the ambassador came to me, ‘Ron, amazing work. It’s good that you showed them.’ Then he goes over to the Security Council [and says], ‘We absolutely condemn Israel.…’ So, there is a difference between relations and voting patterns.”
Relations between Israel and the Sunni Arab world are changing dramatically, he said, due to shared concerns over the Shiite theocracy in Iran.
“I can tell you that what you see happening now in the Arab world, the Sunni world, is something that has been prepared for many years,” he said. “What you see now is not because the Sunni world – the Saudis and the others – really give a toss about the Palestinians. They fear that the rope is tightening around their necks because of Iran and they have decided they have coinciding interests with Israel. I don’t care why – this is an amazing opportunity for us to coordinate and cooperate.”
Prosor remains defiant despite the pillorying his country continues to receive at the world body.
“We have nothing to be ashamed of. They have [things] to be ashamed of,” he said of Israel’s critics. “Political structures, attitude toward women, gays … we have nothing to be ashamed of.”
Of the 193 countries at the UN, he noted, only 87 are democracies. Twenty-two are members of the Arab League, 56 are part of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation and 126 countries are part of the so-called nonaligned group. By contrast, Israel is the only country at the UN that is not a part of any regional grouping. This means Israel cannot sit on any committees or subcommittee of the body.
In such a context, he said, humour and sarcasm go a long way. Elon Gold, a comedian who followed Prosor on the bimah Sunday, remarked that the ambassador was funnier than he was. Prosor shared stories of what seem like diplomatic pranks.
“There are six [official] languages at the United Nations,” he said. “One of them is Arabic. I had, on my team, Arab speakers. I decided to tell them that they have to speak and respond in the different committees in Arabic. Suddenly, someone presses the microphone and, in Arabic, bashes the Arabs. Arabs don’t know what’s happening. Europeans are surprised. They don’t know where it’s coming from.”
Overall, the ambassador said, things that are not clearly visible bode well for the future.
“Under the radar screen, there is huge support for Israel,” he said. But, he warned of evolving tactics by Israel’s enemies to weaken it.
“The battle that we are in may be the toughest battle that we’ve been in since the beginning of the state of Israel,” he said. “They tried to take us out with military means and that didn’t work out. They tried economic boycotts. Today, they are trying to put a wedge between Israel and the Jewish communities abroad, going after the mutual values that we all respect, that we all live with. It’s lies, half-truths, Chinese torture – drop, drop, drop – and we have to be out there and call it and fight it and not look away. We have to confront it and work together.
“Inside the United Nations, I saw flags of 193 countries,” he concluded. “I saw 15 flags with a crescent on them, 25 flags with a cross on them but only one flag with the Magen David, and we should all work, every day, to make sure that this flag flies strong, high and proud in the family of nations where it belongs.”
In addition to comedian Gold (see story, jewishindependent.ca/jnf-gala-features-comic-gold), the evening featured a few speakers, including Sanford Cohen paying tribute to the philanthropic work of honourary event chairs Bob Markin and Ralph Markin at a gala dinner before the main program, and JNF Pacific Region president Bernice Carmeli offering remarks at the dinner and during the program. Schara Tzedeck’s Rabbi Andrew Rosenblatt spoke about humour in Jewish theology. Actor and writer Josh Epstein emceed. Shannon Gorski chaired the event and Shirley Hirsch was convenor. Ilan Pilo, Jerusalem emissary and executive director of JNF Pacific Region, recognized past president David Goldman.
Funds from the event will support an animal-assisted therapy centre in the city of Sderot, where children and adults live with post-traumatic stress disorder due to years of rocket and mortar attacks from nearby Gaza. The project was described to the audience by Lance Davis, chief executive director of Jewish National Fund of Canada.
בתמונה: יו”ר מפלגת השמרנים, אנדרו שייר, ביחד עם שגרירת ארה”ב לקנדה לשעבר, קלי נייט קראפט, באוטווה: ינואר 9, 2018. (Andre Forget)
השגרירה של ארצות הברית בקנדה, קלי קראפט, מונתה לפני מספר ימים לשגרירה של המדינה באומות המאוחדות. כך החליט נשיא ארה”ב, דונלד טראמפ. קראפט תחליף את השגרירה היוצאת של ארה”ב באו”ם, ניקי היילי, שהחליטה לפרוש בפתאומיות (בסוף דצמבר) לאחר כשנתיים בתפקיד.
טראמפ אמר על המינוי של קראפט לשגרירה החדשה באו”ם: “אני שמח להודיע כי קלי קראפט, שגרירתנו הנוכחית בקנדה, תמונה לשגרירת ארה”ב באו”ם. קלי עשתה עבודה יוצאת מן הכלל בייצוג ארצנו בקנדה ואין לי ספק כי היא תמשיך לייצג את האומה שלנו ברמה הגבוהה ביותר באו”ם”. שר החוץ האמריקני, מייק פומפאו והיועץ לביטחון לאומי ג’ון בולטון, תמכו במינוי החדש של קראפט לאו”ם. מנהיג הרוב של המפלגה הרפובליקנית בסנאט, מיטש מקונל, בירך אף הוא על המינוי של קראפט ואמר: “מדובר במינוי ראוי ביותר למשרה היוקרתית. יש לקרפט ניסיון עשיר בשירות המדינה ואני בטוח היא תמשיך להצטיין גם בתור השגרירה האמריקנית באו”ם”.
להערכת מקורבים לקראפט היא הייתה מעוניינת דווקא להמשיך ולעבוד באוטווה ולא לעבור לתפקיד השגרירה של האו”ם בניו יורק. המקורבים מציינים כי עתה על קראפט לעבוד ביחד עם היועצים הבכירים של טראמפ בולטון וג’ארד קושניר (המחותן של הנשיא) וזה לא דבר שהיא שמחה לעשות. אך נרמז לה שאם טראמפ מבקש שהיא תיקח על עצמה את התפקיד החדש באו”ם עליה לענות לבקשתו.
קרפאט (בת החמישים ושבע) נעימת ההליכות זכתה להוקרה מיוחדת בקנדה לאור התפקיד אותה מילאה בהצלחה גדולה, במשך שישה עשר חודש. ראש הממשלה, ג’סטין טרודו ושרת החוץ, כריסטיה פרילנד, בוודאי מצטערים על עזיבתה של קראפט שנחשבה לידידה קרובה, בעיקר כשמדובר בעידן טראמפ הכל כך עויין. קראפט עזרה בכל כוחה לקנדה במהלך המו”מ הקשה להשגת הסכם הסחר החדש של מדינות צפון אמריקה. לקראפט יש גם קשרים מצויינים בממשל האמריקני והיא עזרה לא פעם לפתור מיידית בעיות שונות בין שתי המדינות השכנות. יש לזכור שקרארפט היא ילידת קנטקי (כמו מקונל) ולמדינה זו קשרי מסחר ענפים עם קנדה. לכן השגרירה הזכירה לא פעם עד כמה חשוב לה באופן אישי כי יחתם הסכם סחר חדש בין ארה”ב לקנדה.
קראפט הגרושה פעמיים נשואה למיליארדר ג’ו קראפט, המחזיק בחברת לכריית פחם אליינס ריסורס פרטנרס. בני הזוג ידועים בתמיכתם רבת השנים במפלגה הרפובליקנית והם אף תורמים לה כספים רבים. במקביל הם תורמים כספים לפעילות צדקה. לפני כניסתה לתחום הפוליטי קראפט הייתה אשת עסקים והחזיקה בחברת שיווק וייעוץ עסקי למנהיגים ועסקים.
השגרירה בין היתר חברה עם אשתו של מקונל וכאמור יש לה קשרים ענפים עם רבים מבכירי המפלגה הרפובליקנית והממשל של טראמפ. יצויין כי בתקופת כהונתו של הנשיא, ג’ורג’ בוש הבן, נמנתה קראפט על חברי משלחת ארה”ב לאו”ם.
כשנשאלה קראפט מה דעתה על הנשיא טראמפ היא אמרה: “מיומנויות התקשורת שלו צריכות קצת להשתפר”. בזמן העבודה על הסכם הסחר החדש בין ארה”ב, קנדה ומקסיקו אמרה השגרירה: “אני לא חושבת שהוא טוב בלהביע איך אנו הולכים להשיג את התוצאות המבוקשות. זה יועיל לכולנו אם יניח לנו לעשות את עבודתנו”.
בנוגע להתחממות כדור הארץ והשינוים באקלים – נושא החשוב למוסדות האו”ם ורוב מוחלט של מדינות העולם, למעט טראמפ, אמרה קרפאט: “אני מאמינה שיש לשני הצדדים חיזוקים מדעיים מדויקים. שני הצדדים מסתמכים על מחקרים ואני מעריכה ומכבדת אותם”.
Canada’s behaviour at the United Nations last week is being analyzed and found wanting by many Canadian Zionists. Canada abstained from a vote on a resolution that condemned Israel in a one-sided manner for the recent violence at the Gaza border.
The four-page resolution denounced the “excessive, disproportionate and indiscriminate force by the Israeli forces.” The resolution passed 120-8, with 45 countries, including Canada, abstaining.
An American amendment that would have condemned Hamas for sending rockets at Israeli targets was defeated 78-58, with 26 abstentions. Canada voted in favour of the failed amendment.
According to Canadian Jewish News, Canada’s ambassador to the UN, Marc-André Blanchard, said the abstention was due to the resolution’s failure to explicitly name Hamas.
“Hamas has been oppressing Palestinians. Hamas and other terrorist groups have been inciting violence and hatred and this should be clear in the resolution. The resolution explicitly names Israel, while failing to name any other groups involved,” Blanchard said.
The question, then, is why Canada did not vote against, rather than abstain, as Shimon Koffler Fogel noted.
“Ironically, Ambassador Blanchard’s explanation of the vote made the most compelling case for why Canada should have joined with the U.S., Australia and Israel in voting against the resolution,” said Koffler Fogel, chief executive officer of the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs.
The larger issue is that the United Nations, created with such idealism and optimism after the Holocaust and the Second World War, has become beholden to ideological blocs dominated by dictatorial regimes. In a world with no shortage of humanitarian catastrophes, the General Assembly’s time and resources are wasted with obsessive attention on Israel.
Additionally sad is that the superb, irreplaceable work done by so many subsidiary agencies of the UN suffers by association with the actions of the General Assembly.
Some have suggested, in light of the UNGA silliness, that democratic countries should withdraw and form their own alternative UN-type organization. Whatever value that might have, walking away is not the right choice. Canada and other countries with common sense foreign policies should remain as a voice of reason.
Which is all the more reason why our choice to remain silent on the latest anti-Israel resolution is the wrong one. If we are going to serve as best we can in a flawed assembly, the least we can do is stand up and be counted.
Polish-Jewish lawyer Raphael Lemkin was the first to use the term “genocide.” (photo by Moidov)
The word “genocide” was conceived by Polish-Jewish lawyer Raphael Lemkin to describe the attempt of the Ottoman Empire to efface Armenians from Turkish society. He articulated the empire’s actions as a specific category of crime – one that could be named, analyzed, resisted and penalized by the global community.
Lemkin was born in 1900 on a small farm near the Polish town of Wolkowysk. As a young man, he heard that as many as 1.2 million Christian Armenians were killed by the Ottoman Empire, the population of which was mainly Muslim. He also knew of the pogroms and violence against his own people, of course, but it was the situation of the Armenians that led him to the idea of a change in international law that could address such violence.
When the German army invaded Poland, Lemkin fled Europe for safety in the United States. He began teaching at Duke University and, in 1942, he joined the war department, where he documented Nazi atrocities. This led to the 1944 book Axis Rule in Occupied Europe: Laws of Occupation, Analysis of Government, Proposals for Redress, wherein Lemkin first introduced the word “genocide.”
“By ‘genocide,’ we mean the destruction of a nation or of an ethnic group,” Lemkin wrote. “Generally speaking, genocide does not necessarily mean the immediate destruction of a nation, except when accomplished by mass killings of all members of a nation. It is intended rather to signify a coordinated plan of different actions aiming at the destruction of essential foundations of the life of national groups, with the aim of annihilating the groups themselves. Genocide is directed against the national group as an entity, and the actions involved are directed against individuals, not in their individual capacity, but as members of the national group.”
Lemkin later worked on the Nuremberg trials, where he succeeded in getting the word genocide included in the indictment. Genocide was not yet a legal term, however, and the verdict at Nuremberg set a precedent only for war crimes. While in Nuremberg, Lemkin learned of the death of his parents, who, along with 49 other family members, were killed by the Nazis.
Lemkin was determined to see genocide added to international law and, after his return to Europe, he began agitating for this at the meetings of the then newly established United Nations. His efforts to enlist the support of national delegations and influential leaders eventually bore fruit. On Dec. 9, 1948, the United Nations approved the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide. As of December 2017, 149 states, including Canada, had ratified or acceded to the treaty.
Lemkin committed the rest of his life to convincing nations to pass legislation supporting the convention. He died in 1959, “impoverished and exhausted by his efforts,” according to Lemkin House, an American sanctuary for asylum seekers named in his honour.
At the 2005 World Summit, all member states of the United Nations endorsed the Responsibility to Protect (R2P) doctrine, which Canada was instrumental in promoting – on paper, at least, it carries Lemkin’s vision forward.
“The international community,” states the doctrine, “through the United Nations, also has the responsibility to use appropriate diplomatic, humanitarian and other peaceful means … to help protect populations from genocide, war crimes, ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity … we are prepared to take collective action, in a timely and decisive manner … on a case-by-case basis and in cooperation with relevant regional organizations as appropriate, should peaceful means be inadequate and national authorities manifestly fail to protect their populations from genocide, war crimes, ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity.”
This article was being written as almost one million Rohingya refugees were preparing to celebrate Ramadan in the camps of Cox’s Bazar, in Bangladesh – 700,000 of them have fled Myanmar since August 2017, running from what several international observers have called genocide. Yet Canada, and many others, including the UN, have shied away from using Lemkin’s term to describe the situation.
Modern Turkey still denies the Armenian genocide that was instrumental in inspiring Lemkin’s efforts. And, although some countries, notably Germany and Rwanda, have made attempts to deal with their past, with the crimes committed by their governments and civilians, the fight to prevent, identify, resist and respond effectively to genocide remains relevant.
Matthew Gindinis a freelance journalist, writer and lecturer. He is Pacific correspondent for the CJN, writes regularly for the Forward, Tricycle and the Wisdom Daily, and has been published in Sojourners, Religion Dispatches and elsewhere. He can be found on Medium and Twitter.
Orit Sulitzeanu, executive director of the Association of Rape Crisis Centres in Israel. (photo from Facebook)
Orit Sulitzeanu, executive director of the Association of Rape Crisis Centres in Israel, was invited to address the United Nations on March 29 about the issue of combating sexual harassment in the workplace. She presented Israel’s precedent-setting voluntary code against sexual harassment.
“We started working on this several years before the current #MeToo campaign,” Sulitzeanu told Israel21c. “The code is an interesting idea that could be adapted and implemented in other places in the world.”
Based on the Israeli law against sexual harassment in the workplace – be it an inappropriate look, remark, touch, text message or worse – the code provides concrete details on how to implement the regulations, which Sulitzeanu compares to “a quilt with a lot of patches missing.”
For example, the law requires every business or organization with more than 10 workers to designate a special ombudsman to deal with sexual harassment complaints, but it doesn’t specify details about training and supporting this ombudsman.
The Association of Rape Crisis Centres turned to the Standards Institute of Israel four years ago to help add definitions and explanations to the laws after winning a tender from the Israeli Ministry of Economics to draft a voluntary code to give managers a more exact tool for avoiding and handling sexual harassment incidents.
With this funding and additional funding from groups including the Hadassah Foundation in the United States, Israeli labour law experts from women’s organizations worked for two years on guidelines.
“We also developed, with Dr. Zeev Lehrer from Tel Aviv University’s department of gender studies, a tailor-made intervention that enables us to specifically understand the special characteristics of sexual harassment in a specific organization and then develop a prevention program suited to the organization,” said Sulitzeanu.
The priority is to introduce the voluntary code against sexual harassment in local municipalities, businesses and organizations that the association identifies as high risk – such as the military, police, healthcare organizations, airlines, media outlets and first-response networks – because of vulnerability factors such as big gaps in age and gender (usually, older men supervising young women), nighttime working hours and frequent operations outside the office environment.
The municipality of Ra’anana was the first to adopt the voluntary code for its thousands of workers, followed by a high-tech company (EIM). Magen David Adom, Israel’s national emergency response network, will adopt it next.
A leader in this area
Sulitzeanu’s invitation to the UN has its roots in a co-sponsored resolution that Israel spearheaded in March 2017, titled “Preventing and Eliminating Sexual Harassment in the Workplace,” in light of statistics showing that up to 60% of women worldwide have experienced harassment.
The resolution condemns sexual harassment in all forms, especially against women and girls, and emphasizes the need to take measures to prevent and eliminate it, raise awareness, educate, promote research, and collect and analyze data and statistics.
“Israel succeeded in passing this resolution in the UN and that positioned Israel as a leader in this area,” said Sulitzeanu. “That’s why they called me to talk about the voluntary code.”
As far as she knows, no other country aside from Australia has any similar code of conduct to address sexual harassment in the workplace.
“Just as Israel is the start-up nation for technology and science, we are also the start-up in social initiatives,” she said.
Israel’s voluntary code also applies to situations such as child athletes traveling to competitions accompanied by adult coaches, doctors and physical therapists. Sulitzeanu saw the danger inherent in such circumstances long before this year’s revelation of sexual abuse by the U.S. Olympic gymnastics team doctor.
“It’s not enough to talk about the law in at-risk organizations,” she said. “Some have a known subculture of sexual harassment and need tailor-made interventions.”
Sulitzeanu expects employers to be eager to embrace the code in order to avoid lawsuits and the loss of productivity that comes from sexual harassment allegations due to absences, emotional stress and office gossip.
“This is a precedent-setting way to deal with the problem,” she said. “I hope the government will compel every municipality to have this code, and I hope all organizations at risk will also adopt it. It is not complicated or expensive and it makes your workplace a caring, safe place for employees.
“Once these guidelines are embedded in the DNA of the organization, they become easy to implement.”
The Standards Institute of Israel will conduct an inspection of each participating workplace every two years to determine if the standards set out in the code are being upheld.
Israel21c is a nonprofit educational foundation with a mission to focus media and public attention on the 21st-century Israel that exists beyond the conflict. For more, or to donate, visit israel21c.org.
קנדה תקלוט כאלפיים פליטים מישראל. (צילום: Wikimedia Commons)
ראש ממשלת ישראל, בנימין נתניהו, הוכיח שוב כי המדיניות שלו היא לא מדיניות באמת, וכי הוא משנה את דעתו על הזמן. וזאת בהתאם לכיוון שאליו נושבת הרוח. כך גם החלטתו האחרונה לשלוח למעלה משישה עשר אלף פליטים- מסתננים מאפריקה (ממדינות ארתיריה וסודן) שביקשו מקלט בישראל, למספר מדינות במערב. בהן לדבריו גרמניה, איטליה וקנדה. ולטענתו לאחר שכביכול הוא הגיע להסכם עם נציבות הפליטים של האו”ם בנוגע למשלוח המסתננים למדינות אלה, למרות שלהן לא היה ידוע על כך. מענין!
לפי ההסכם עם האו”ם 16,250 מבקשי מקלט מישראל יקלטו במדינות המערב. ישום ההסכם יבוצע בשלושה שלבים ויתפרש על פני חמש שנים תמימות. ובמקביל כ-16,250 מהפליטים יקבלו מעמד חוקי בישראל. הם יפוזרו באופן מאוזן ברחבי ישראל. וכן תוקם אף מינהלה מיוחדת שתעסוק בשיקום אזור דרום תל אביב הרעוע (וזאת על חשבון ההשקעה במתקן חולות לכליאת הפליטים שיסגר).
לאחר הודעתו כי הגיע להסכם ותוך שעות ספורות ביטל נתניהו בעצמו את החלטתו הקודמת, והחליט שלא לשלוח פליטים מישראל למדינות המערב. ומדוע? זאת לאור זעם במפלגות הימין בישראל שהביעו התנגדות נחרצת כי בעקבות החלטת נתניהו להעברת למעלה משישה עשר אלף הפליטים למערב, יקלטו במדינה השאר – כשמונה עשר אלף פליטים-מסתננים.
בקנדה החליטו שלא להמתין להחלטותיו התמוהות של ראש ממשלת ישראל וכיאה למדינה הקולטת כל הזמן הגירה ממדינות מצוקה, הוחלט לקלוט כאלפיים פליטים-מסתננים מישראל. וזאת במהלך עצמאי ללא בקשה של ממשלת ישראל, שהחליטה לפני מספר חודשים לגרש את הפליטים האפריקנים מישראל בחזרה לאפריקה. הארש ז’אסוול, עוזר מיוחד לשר ההגירה, הפליטים והאזרחות של הממשלה הקנדית, אחמד חוסיין, מסר את ההודעה הבאה בנושא: “הממשלה שלנו כבר הוכיחה שהיא מובילה עולמית לקבל בברכה פליטים שנמלטים ממלחמות ורדיפות. ישוב פליטים אלה הוא חלק בהמסורת ההומנטרית הגאה של קנדה. אנו מוכחים שוב כי יש לנו אחריות משותפת לסייע לאלה שנעקרו, שהם נרדפים ומרביתם זקוקים להגנה ועזרה. אנו עוקבים מקרוב אחרי המתרחש בישראל, ונמצאים בקשר ישיר עם ממשלת ישראל. הגענו להסדר עם הרשויות בישראל להשעות את גירושם ומעצרם של פליטים שהגישו בקשה לעבור לקנדה, בעזרת נותני חסויות פרטיות מקנדה – עד לשיושלם הטיפול בעניינם. אנו ממשיכים ביחד עם נותני החסויות הפרטיות שיתכן ובקשותיהם מושפעות ממה שקורה בישראל. נציגות של משרד ההגירה, הפליטים והאזרחות הקנדי בתל אביב, יספק מכתבים למבקשים בקרב הפליטים להגר לקנדה, במסגרת החסויות הפרטיות, כדי לאשר שבקשותיהם נמצאות בהליך של אישור על ידנו. הם יוכלו להציג את המכתבים האלה בפני הרשויות בישראל. נכון לשלושים ואחד בדצמבר אשתקד אנו מטפלים בקרוב לכאלפיים בקשות של פליטים אפריקנים לעבור מישראל לקנדה, כאמור במסגרת נותני חסויות פרטיות מקנדה. וללא קשר במקביל, אנו ממשיכים בהתאם להכרזת ממשלת קנדה, בקליטת כארבעת אלפים פליטים מאריתריה, עד לסוף הנה הנוכחית”.
לדברי סוכנות האו”ם לפליטים השוכנת באוטווה, יש הסכם שקנדה תקלוט השנה לא פחות מכעשרת אלפים פליטים. באופן כללי יתכן שחלקם של פליטים אלה יגיעו אפילו מישראל.
במרכז לענייני ישראל והיהודים בקנדה הזדרזו לברך את שר ההגירה, הפליטים והאזרחות הקנדי, אחמד חוסיין, על הסכמתו כביכול לקלוט פליטים מישראל. במרכז אמרו והוסיפו עוד כי: “ישובם מחדש של מבקשי מקלט מישראל, הוא אתגר בינלאומי המצריך פתרון בינלאומי. ואכן קנדה נטלה על עצמה תפקיד מוביל בנשיאה באחריות הבינלאומית לישובם מחדש”.
Maung Zarni, right, with a 67-year-old Rohingya man from Maungdaw, who had been a leader at a township level in former prime minister Ne Win’s early days, when Rohingyas were recognized as an ethnic community with full citizenship rights. (photo from Maung Zarni)
Calls are mounting to recognize Myanmar’s violent campaign against the Rohingya as genocide. At the United Nations’ Human Rights Council in Geneva on March 12, Yanghee Lee, special rapporteur on the human rights situation in Myanmar, said she is “becoming more and more convinced that the crimes committed … bear the hallmarks of genocide and call[s] in the strongest terms for accountability.”
Nearly 800,000 Rohingya have fled state-sanctioned and -organized violence in Myanmar (Burma) since August 2017, after the government – blaming an alleged attack on Myanmar’s security forces by Rohingya militants – initiated a brutal campaign of arson, murder and systematic rape and torture against the civilian Rohingya population in Rakhine state. The violence follows decades of oppressive measures against the Rohingya, which, in recent years, have included restrictions on education and medical care, deliberate starvation, state-imposed birth control, property seizure, and removal of citizenship and civil rights.
“These human rights violations constitute nothing less than a slow-burning genocide,” human rights activist Maung Zarni, founder of the Free Burma Coalition, told the Jewish Independent.
With respect to the situation in Myanmar, for months terms like “atrocities,” “military crackdown” or “state-sanctioned violence” have been used to describe it, instead of using the word “genocide.” The UN has previously called what is happening in Myanmar, a majority Buddhist country, whose dominant ethnic group is Bamar, “ethnic cleansing.”
There have been some exceptions to the hesitancy to call the government’s actions genocide. For example, French President Emmanuel Macron called it that last September. And independent tribunals and experts like the International State Crime Initiative and the Permanent Peoples’ Tribunal have also called it genocide. But the media and other international organizations have generally not been using the word.
“There is a high barrier for the use of the term genocide, and I think this is correct,” said Rainer Schulze, professor of modern European history at the University of Essex and founder of The Holocaust in History and Memory journal, speaking at the Berlin Conference on Myanmar Genocide Feb. 26, which the Jewish Independent attended. “We should not use the term genocide lightly. Not every human rights violation, ethnic cleansing or forced resettlement is a genocide. The Genocide Convention gives us a very clear definition, but, with regards to the Rohingya, it is appropriate and must be used.”
Gianni Tognoni, general secretary of the Permanent Peoples’ Tribunal in Rome, agreed. “The UN has been playing with names,” he said at the conference. “To declare something as genocide is to declare it as something intolerable for the international community. Instead, this is delayed.”
“Governments, in general, are very reluctant to use the term genocide for fear that it could damage diplomatic initiatives to secure peace or damage bilateral relationships,” Kyle Matthews, executive director of the Montreal Institute for Genocide and Human Rights Studies at Concordia University, said in conversation with the Independent. “In some cases, governments have refused to label atrocity crimes as a genocide for fear it would force them to take a stronger response, such as intervening militarily.”
The Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide adopted by the UN in 1948 obliges signatories to take concrete steps to respond to genocide. As of December 2017, 149 states had ratified or acceded to the treaty, including Canada. In 2005, all member states of the UN endorsed the Responsibility to Protect (R2P) doctrine, a doctrine Canada was instrumental in promoting. The Canadian government continues to avoid the term genocide, however – although it has taken some steps towards addressing the situation.
“I would say the Canadian government has been one of the most responsible and thoughtful governments in trying to find a solution to protect the Rohingya minority in Myanmar and in neighbouring countries,” said Matthews. “Ottawa has appointed Bob Rae as special envoy to the prime minister to help identify different policy options and strategies for engaging the government of Myanmar. Ottawa also recently imposed economic sanctions on leading figures in Myanmar’s military.”
On Feb. 16, the federal government imposed sanctions, under Canada’s new foreign human rights legislation, against Maung Maung Soe, a high-ranking member of the Myanmar military. “What has been done to the Rohingya is ethnic cleansing,” Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland told CBC in a statement that did not use the word genocide. “This is a crime against humanity.”
The sanctions impose a “dealings prohibition,” which freezes an individual’s assets in Canada and renders them inadmissible to enter Canada under the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act.
Matthews said there is much more that we could be doing. Speaking at the Berlin conference, he said, “Broader economic sanctions have to be done immediately. We should look at travel restrictions. We need to demand humanitarian access to Rakhine state [where the remaining Rohingya live, access that is currently denied by Myanmar]. We need to do more economic naming and shaming of who is associating with the regime. Myanmar embassies around the world should be protested.” The government should issue a travel advisory, he said, warning “you are going to a state that is now committing genocide.”
Matthew Gindinis a freelance journalist, writer and lecturer. He writes regularly for the Forward and All That Is Interesting, and has been published in Religion Dispatches, Situate Magazine, Tikkun and elsewhere. He can be found on Medium and Twitter.
Richmond Jewish Day School vice-principal Lisa Romalis addresses a delegation of United Nations ambassador on Nov. 13.(photo from RJDS)
India Cultural Centre of Canada / Gurdwara Nanak Niwas in Richmond hosted 11 United Nations ambassadors on Nov. 13. These diplomats represented Finland, Ghana, Guatemala, Jordan, Mali, Mauritania, Peru, United Republic of Tanzania, Uruguay, Vietnam and Canada. And they took time to meet with local residents, including representatives from Richmond Jewish Day School.
The ambassadors were in Vancouver for the Peacekeeping Defence Ministerial summit. While here, they met with the Gurdwara Management Committee (GMC) and members of the Highway to Heaven Association (HHA). Richmond’s Highway to Heaven is home to more than 20 places of worship, representing many different faiths, including Sikhism, Islam, Buddhism, Judaism, Christianity, Hinduism and others.
An outstanding feature of this event was when two educators – Sukaina Jaffer, vice-principal of Az-Zahraa Islamic Academy, and Lisa Romalis, vice-principal of RJDS, stood up, holding hands, and spoke about their students’ common activities.
The UN ambassadors, led by Marc-André Blanchard, ambassador of Canada to the UN, were keen to learn about the multiplicity of religious groups represented on this small stretch of No. 5 Road and their concerted efforts in promoting harmony and unity in diversity. They were impressed with the concept of the HHA, where people from different ethnic and religious groups come together to practise their faith and live as peaceful neighbours.
The UN ambassadors commended members of the HHA and GMC and, on behalf of cultural centre chair Asa Singh Johal, Balwant Sanghera, a member of the GMC and chair of the HHA, thanked the ambassadors for taking the time to meet.
The human consequences of implementing the recent United Nations resolution about Israel would be devastating, say American representatives of Israeli schools, synagogues and other institutions in parts of Jerusalem that Israel captured in 1967.
UN Security Council Resolution 2334, adopted Dec. 23 with the United States abstaining, asserted that all “Israeli settlement activities” in “the occupied Palestinian territory, including East Jerusalem” are “a flagrant violation of international law.” It stated that Israel must “immediately and completely cease” such activities and also take action to “reverse negative trends on the ground.”
A number of major Jerusalem neighbourhoods are situated in what the UN calls “East Jerusalem,” which is the area that Jordan occupied following the 1948 Arab-Israeli war. Nineteen years later, those sections of the city were reunited with the rest of Jerusalem as a result of the 1967 Six Day War.
One of those neighbourhoods is French Hill, a major urban area located in the northeastern part of the city. “I live in French Hill,” award-winning Israeli author Yossi Klein Halevi told JNS.org. “So the recent UN resolution has criminalized me and my family as occupiers.”
“I’m not illegal, and I’m not a ‘settler,’” said historian Maurice Roumani, a professor emeritus at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev, who resides in Armon HaNetziv (East Talpiot), a neighbourhood in eastern Jerusalem with a population of 14,000. “These artificial definitions by the UN do not reflect reality.”
The institutions that could be adversely affected if the UN resolution leads to international boycotts or other actions include the Ilan Residential Home for Handicapped Young Adults and the Beit Or Home for Young Autistic Adults, both of which are located in the Gilo neighbourhood; forests and housing projects sponsored in and around Jerusalem by the Jewish National Fund (JNF); and portions of the Hebrew University campus. Even the ancient Jewish cemetery on the Mount of Olives might be affected.
“My grandparents, great-grandparents and great-great-grandparents, going back seven generations, are buried on the Mount of Olives,” Washington, D.C.-based attorney Alyza Lewin told JNS.org. “Does the UN propose to ban Jews from using the oldest and largest Jewish cemetery in the world? The notion that Israel is violating international law by burying its dead on this sacred spot is unthinkable.”
Could members of the British family find themselves accused of fostering the “illegal occupation” of eastern Jerusalem? Princess Alice of Battenberg, a great-granddaughter of Queen Victoria, is buried in a small Christian cemetery at the foot of the Mount of Olives. A number of British royals have visited her gravesite over the years, including Prince Charles during his trip to Israel last October.
There also are Arab residents in a number of across-the-line Jerusalem neighbourhoods, including Givat HaMatos, Gilo and Neve Yaakov. “Some of my neighbours [in French Hill] are Arab Israelis,” Halevi noted. “Are they occupiers, too, or is it only the Jewish Israelis? Now that I am officially outside of the law according to the UN, I imagine that anything can happen.”
Possible international action against those sections of Jerusalem would cut across Jewish denominational lines, affecting Orthodox and non-Orthodox institutions alike.
The Masorti movement – the Israeli branch of Conservative Judaism – sponsors a school and synagogue in French Hill, a school in Gilo and synagogues in the Ramot neighbourhood and the Jerusalem satellite community of Ma’ale Adumim. “The UN resolution is indiscriminate and historically obtuse,” said Rabbi David Wolpe of Sinai Temple in Los Angeles, who is one of the most prominent Conservative rabbis in the United States.