Shabbat Candlelighting 9:02 p.m.                                                Friday, June 18, 2010/6 Tammuz 5770

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Thank You, Libby Davies
In the almost three weeks since the flotilla incident the controversy continues to bubble and spin off sidebar propaganda battles. It is getting tougher and tougher to weed through the noise, and to sort out the ideological and political motivations various players carry with them. So I want to thank Libby Davies for her contributions to clarifying the issues at play.

The campaign to delegitimize Israel among the family of nations gained significant ground in the past decade, beginning with the 2001 World Conference against Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and Related Intolerance held in Durban, South Africa. The agenda of the Durban Conference was hijacked by anti-Israel activists. There has been a concerted effort since on many fronts to paint Israel as racist and apartheid, as the crux of all problems in the Middle East, and as the greatest threat to world peace. At some point, intellectually honest people have to ask themselves why it is that the only Jewish nation in the world is singled out for the level of hysteria and attention that Israel attracts. The best quick read this week on this point is the excellent opinion piece published in The Times of London by Jose Maria Aznar, former prime minister of Spain.

The flap over Libby Davies’ recently recorded statements on the blockade and Israel is a wonderful crystallization of all this. Davies, NDP Member of Parliament for Vancouver East since 1997, attended a rally protesting Israel’s blockade and the incident on the Mavi Marmara on June 5th. She gave a taped interview describing Israel’s occupation as beginning in 1948 (Oops – Israel was established in 1948 in fulfillment of a partition plan developed and approved by the United Nations. So, if you say the occupation dates to 1948, then you are saying Israel has no right to exist.) and went on to discuss her support for the “BDS movement.” I encourage you to watch the YouTube clip and judge for yourself. It is worth listening all the way through to hear her comments on the “BDS movement”, which she is excited to see gaining traction.

Pro-Israel advocates are all over this. And why not - it is no secret that Libby Davies’ sympathies lie with the Palestinians, and she rarely has passed up an opportunity to criticize Israel. Fair enough – she’s entitled to her opinion. Predictably, friends of Israel within the Conservative and Liberal parties are all over this, too. Some see it as a political opportunity to embarrass the NDP, and so the political statements and demands for Jack Layton, head of the NDP, to dump Davies from her NDP leadership post started flying.

The response from Davies’ defenders? They wonder what difference it makes if she got some dates wrong. For them the issue is that it is impossible to criticize Israel, and they ask, “Whatever happened to free speech?” Excuse me, but it seems to me the whole world has just had a feeding frenzy on Israel. The one thing you can’t say after the past few weeks is that it is politically dangerous or somehow socially unacceptable to criticize Israel. In fact, the politically correct thing today is to criticize Israel.

Davies’ defenders have missed the point. Of course she has every right to attend pro-Palestinian rallies and say whatever she wants. But Davies isn’t just an NDP back bencher – she’s the Deputy Leader of the NDP and the party’s House Leader. She’s in the top ranks of NDP leadership. So when she goes out into the public arena and gets basic facts wrong on an issue she has been so public about for so long, it really makes you wonder on what information she’s based her strongly held convictions. And when promoting the concept of the BDS movement, she should reasonably expect to be held accountable for such statements, and others might reasonably wonder if she’s representing her party’s policy.

But here’s what I think the real issue is – her comments on BDS. BDS stands for “Boycott, Divestiture and Sanctions” and it is the title that has been given to the overarching effort to delegitimize Israel. The initiatives are extensive: university faculties around the world attempting to boycott Israeli academics, Israel Apartheid Weeks on university campuses across North America, flash demonstrations at Trader Joe’s and other supermarkets that carry Israeli grocery products, boycotts of Israeli wines and Ahava beauty products, and countless UN resolutions focused on Israel’s actions. These are not just isolated incidents – this is an orchestrated political movement.

Libby Davies is excited to see that the BDS movement is gaining traction. She thinks it’s a good thing. She subsequently apologized for getting the dates of Israel’s occupation wrong, and made clear her support for a two-state solution. But, her apology doesn’t address her comments about the “Boycott, Divestiture and Sanctions” movement. For the record and to his credit, NDP Party Leader Jack Layton has disassociated himself and the party from these remarks, and from a policy of boycotting Israel. But, on that issue Davies has remained silent, and so I assume her comments on BDS stand.

Now, go back and read former prime minister of Spain, Jose Maria Aznar’s statement, which I referred to earlier, and think about what is really going on in our world. Thank you, Libby Davies, for making it that much clearer for people to see.

Parashat Chukat
In this week's parasha the Israelites are deep into their 40-year journey in the desert, and are again complaining to Moses and Aaron about the lack of water. Moses is commanded to speak to a rock to bring forth water, but instead strikes the rock. The people's thirst is relieved, but Moses and Aaron are punished, being told they will not enter the Land of Israel.

Commentators through the ages have widely divergent views on why Moses and Aaron are punished so severely for what appears to be a minor infraction. Rabbi Morris Adler suggests that the Torah is deliberately vague on why Moses and Aaron are punished. For him, the teaching is that the sins of leaders are often not clear or blatant. Rather, because leaders sometimes seek approval by bending the truth, or sacrificing their independence to gain political or financial support, they ultimately compromise themselves. For Adler, it is the accumulation of small corrosions that prevent them from entering the Promised Land.

Food for thought in today's political climate.

Shabbat Shalom!

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