What will Israel look like at 150? Key takeaways from recent summit

On May 16, close to 200 people gathered at the Sir John A MacDonald building on Parliament Hill to talk about all things Israel at the Second Annual Canadian Summit on Israeli-Jewish Affairs, sponsored by the Embassy of Israel in Canada, Israel Bonds, and the Jewish National Fund. The theme was “Towards the Next 75 Years” and addressed issues from the geo-political situation to campus antisemitism with experts from across Canada, the United States, and Israel.

To help share with the community, the Jewish Federation of Ottawa’s advocacy specialists Jodi Green and David Sachs share their top take-home messages from the summit’s panels:

1)    There is a deep, positive shift in Arab attitudes to Israel
Paul Hirschson, Consul General of Israel in Montreal, spoke extensively about his work in the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia, and other Gulf states. He proudly stated that 51% of the Arab world now has diplomatic relations with Israel. He believes this will have a huge impact on the Israeli-Palestinian peace talks as it is his belief that only other Arab countries can bring the Palestinians to the negotiation table and work toward a two-state solution and peace. The changes in attitude towards Jews and Israelis in the Gulf Arab states is real.

2)    Universities are for deep discussion about issues, while governments set the limits on hate speech to give parameters to those discussions.
The question was posed, “Is Anti-Zionism the new Antisemitism?” The conversation focused on life on university campuses and the answer was: Anti-Zionism is Antisemitism. They are one and the same, explained, Dr. Ayelet Kuper, MD and professor at the University of Toronto, who shared her experiences as a Jewish person on campus. She deals with antisemitism whenever she undertakes any pro-Israel activity. The campus has a good relationship with Hebrew University but keeps it quiet and U of T failed to acknowledge Jewish Heritage Month.

Richard Marceau, VP External Affairs, CIJA said, “We need concrete steps to enact IHRA [the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s definition of antisemitism] now that it has been accepted by the Federal government and the Province of Ontario.” These governmental actions will reduce racism towards Jews on campus and in the community.

3)    We need to bring all political sides together for peace. It won’t happen if everyone is not engaged.
Ya’ara Saks, Member of Parliament for York Centre and the first Canadian Israeli in Parliament, stated that Twitter diplomacy is not diplomacy. (Twitter diplomacy refers to the use of Twitter, a social media platform, for diplomatic functions and even international relations.) Real diplomacy is needed to create true conversations. Saks added that it’s hard to hold the middle and build relationships, but it’s important, adding that her place as a Canadian Israeli in Parliament, makes it hard for critics to deny Israel as a country.

Meanwhile, Saks presented a different perspective on IHRA and argued it was not government’s job to enforce it since it’s been adopted. Saks argued that it’s up to each university or organization to decide how it will impact their policies.

All the Members of Parliament present were in alignment that there is a great coalition of Parliamentarians fighting for Israel to be treated fairly within their parties.

4)    The Jewish world has let Palestinian propaganda win over minds in the West, because we are too 'nice' about their lies, and we don't stand firm enough to insist on the truth being told.
One panel had four representatives from different age demographics discussing their experiences with Israel. Alan Kessel, ADM Legal Affairs, Global Affairs Canada, was born just a few years before the founding of the State of Israel and stated that it is a privilege to have grown up always knowing that there is an Israel. Younger people don’t understand the fear and trepidation felt by older generations who did not have an Israel to stand up for them.

However, younger members of the panel stated that truth is optional these days and the Jewish communal response to lies perpetuated on social media seems slow to be posted. The lies circulate much faster than the truth. They understood that the Jewish community cares about the truth and takes the time to fact check before posting. This leaves us looking like we are not responding when, in reality, we are making sure our responses are well thought out.
We are much more likely to be “called out” if there is a fact error than the people spreading the lies to begin with.

In conclusion, this final takeaway brings the message of the Summit to the foreground:

5)    The best defense against antisemitism is Jewish pride and love of Jewish culture.
This simple one-liner stated during a panel by CIJA’s Richard Marceau, clearly resonated with the room as the thread that held all the discussions together. As Jews, our pride and identification with our Jewishness determines how we, and our children, will stand up against Jewish hate. However, antisemitism is a non-Jewish problem that Jews alone cannot resolve, but Jewish pride is something we can control and harness to fight the hate. Facing antisemitism as individuals, or as a community, we are emotionally and psychologically healthier when our Jewishness is strong enough to act as a shield to that hate. For centuries, when antisemitism in the world around us was a given, that pride kept us alive as a people. Ultimately, it is what sustains us.