April 16, 2002
Israel’s right to exist within defined and secure borders has been a foundation of both Canadian foreign policy and the democratic tradition for nearly 60 years. It is not just that Canada voted in favour of Israel’s admission to the United Nations in 1948. It is the deep bond of friendship and family ties that have strengthened the labour and human rights communities in both our countries, that have changed the lives and hopes of thousands of young people, and that have built a growing economic relationship as well. Of course Canadian Jews have been at the heart of this relationship, but Canada’s support for the idea of Israel and its affirmation of human values has found deep resonance across religious faiths and party lines.
Svend Robinson, the federal New Democrat spokesperson for foreign affairs, has gone to Ramallah to show solidarity with Yasser Arafat. In a recent interview, Mr. Robinson described Israel as a terrorist state and proudly declared that he had "taken sides."
Mr. Robinson’s views are apparently now the official stand of the federal New Democratic Party.
They are not mine. Let me explain why.
In December of 1993 I hosted a reception at Queen’s Park for members of the Jewish and Palestinian communities. Following the famous handshake between Yasser Arafat and Yitzhak Rabin, the spirit of Oslo pointed to the deep changes that needed to happen to make peace, starting with the most basic exercise in human interaction: the acceptance of the other.
Israel and Palestine need borders. They also need something more fundamental — a willingness to accept that the mutual quest for sovereignty and recognition means the complete abandonment of the dogmas of the past. Instead, we have leaders who have rejected both the spirit and the intent of the Oslo Accords.
What has been so disheartening since Arafat’s rejection of Israel’s last offer at Camp David in 2000, and his subsequent decision to return to the intifada, with its culmination in a horrendous wave of suicide murders, is how far we have moved from that basic step. Arafat’s grand refusal and Arafat’s war led to Ariel Sharon’s election. A vicious anti-Semitism has re-emerged throughout the Arab world that continues to indulge the awful fantasy that the real answer is to make the whole Middle East Judenrein. There are no Arab leaders really prepared to lead the way politically and publicly against this hatred. The region needs a Mandela. Arafat is certainly not that: He does not have the will to make a lasting deal.
Israel’s military response to the horrendous assaults on its civilian population has prompted a wave of reaction from all quarters. No one can watch what is happening without the most profound sense of anguish and concern.
America’s disengagement in the post-Clinton era is now, fortunately, over. U.S. President George W. Bush has endorsed the creation of the autonomous state of Palestine, the immediate withdrawal of Israeli troops from the West Bank, and a commitment to end terror from Arafat. All these are obviously critical to the achievement of peace and stability. The Canadian government is, quite rightly, supporting this initiative. It is the best that can be done in a tragic situation.
Yet Svend Robinson’s outburst reflects nothing of this tension, nothing of this mutuality. Where is his solidarity with the families of the victims of the massacre on Passover? Where is his humanitarian outrage over the children killed while dancing in a discotheque or eating in a pizzeria? Even those who argue that the answer is an Israeli withdrawal from the territories or a dismantlement of most of the settlements on the West Bank miss the point that these steps, as necessary as they are, were already offered and rejected and will only produce the desired result if they are matched by a willingness on the part of others to end the practice of terrorism and to recognize the permanence of the state of Israel.
If Svend Robinson’s foray had been a solitary event, it might have been possible to brush it off as yet another escapade from a histrionic crank. But he is the foreign affairs critic of the New Democratic Party. The NDP criticizes the Third Way, opposes the World Trade Organization, sits on its hands when Tony Blair praises the advantages of markets, and denounces any military action against terrorism whether by the United States, Canada or Israel. This is not a vision of social democracy worthy of support.