“Is it really possible for a faith system to endorse democracy?” was the question posed in the April 12 edition of the Ottawa Citizen to the panel of interfaith religious leaders who respond to the questions raised in the paper’s weekly Ask the Religion Experts column.
I was particularly interested in the response from Rabbi Reuven Bulka of Congregation Machzikei Hadas, who provides the Jewish perspective to the panel.
“We have learned throughout history that the marriage of religion and politics is quite toxic. A country run on strict religious principles does not compromise on those principles, does not allow free choice of alternate religions and will not entertain any voting system that would jeopardize its hold on the population. … Try to think of any theocratic state that has welcomed the free expression of ideas rather than its suppression,” he wrote.
Not many days after that particular column appeared in the Citizen, the latest U.S.-brokered efforts in the Middle East peace process appeared to collapse because Palestinian Authority (PA) President Mahmoud Abbas – who is now in the 10th year of his four-year term – threw the talks into jeopardy by announcing a reconciliation agreement with Hamas, the theocratic Islamist group that has governed Gaza since violently taking control there away from the PA in 2007.
Hamas – a terrorist organization and recognized as such by Israel, Canada, the United States and the European Union, among others – has governed Gaza with exactly the kind of fundamentalist toxicity that Rabbi Bulka described.
Abbas knew that reconciliation with Hamas – which has since reiterated it would never recognize Israel and which regards all of Israel as occupied Palestinian territory – would make it all but impossible for the talks to continue.
And that would seem to be his strategy with the move: to force the talks into failure.
Of course, there have been three other reconciliation agreements between the PA and Hamas since 2007, and none of them have succeeded. It’s not a stretch to imagine this one meeting the same fate.
We were deeply saddened when the Right Honourable Herb Gray passed away on April 21, a few days after our last issue went to press. Although he represented a riding in his hometown of Windsor, Ontario, for almost 40 years, he chose to live in Ottawa after his retirement from politics and was a most valued member of Ottawa’s Jewish community.
Herb Gray’s legacy in government service remains one of the most significant of modern times. He was first elected to Parliament in the 1962 election and was re-elected another 12 times. When prime minister Pierre Elliot Trudeau appointed him to cabinet in 1969 – two years after Canada’s centennial – he became just the first Jewish cabinet minister in our country’s history.
He would go on to a distinguished career in cabinet, holding numerous portfolios in the governments of prime ministers Trudeau, John Turner and Jean Chrétien – finally serving as Chrétien’s deputy prime minister and deputy leader of the Liberal Party from 1997 to 2002. He also served as Opposition leader for most of 1990, following the resignation of Turner and until the selection of Chrétien as Liberal leader.
Quite remarkably, Herb Gray was one of the rare – and increasingly rare, it seems – politicians who, despite fierce partisanship, commanded universal respect from all political quarters. When he retired from Parliament in 2002, then-governor general Adrienne Clarkson granted him the title of Right Honourable – a designation usually reserved for Canadian prime ministers, governors general and chief justices of the Supreme Court.
On behalf of the Ottawa Jewish Bulletin, I extend our condolences to his wife, Sharon Sholzberg-Gray, and to their children and grandchildren.