In the Knesset Monday, Prime Minister Stephen Harper celebrated Canada and Israel as “the greatest of friends and the most natural of allies.” At a time when President Barack Obama’s support for Israel often feels provisional and pinched, Harper’s backing is hearty and heartening.  In an era when a UNESCO exhibition documenting the Jewish people’s long relationship with the land of Israel is vetoed because it might prove Israel’s legitimacy, this reaffirmation is timely. And with Canadians debating the Quebec government’s latest lunacy, a reminder of the different ways these sister democracies understand nationalism is most welcome.
 
Israel does not need to justify its existence. Yet, bullied by the Arab propaganda campaign questioning Israel’s legitimacy, the world does need reminding that, as Harper said, “Israel’s right to exist as a Jewish state is absolute and non-negotiable.”  The latest skirmish resulted from a planned UNESCO show to be exhibited in Paris, “People, Book, Land – The 3,500 Year Relationship of the Jewish People to the Holy Land.”  Only three countries co-sponsored the show with the Simon Wiesenthal Center: Montenegro, Israel, and – of course -- Canada.  
 
The US refused to co-sponsor, due to this “sensitive juncture in the ongoing Middle East peace process.” The Arab League’s UNESCO representative protested the exhibition, using a similar excuse of “endangering the peace process.” Just before its scheduled opening on January 20, UNESCO caved.
 
America’s insulting inaction, this aggressive Arab protest, and UNESCO’s cowardly cowing, failed to realize that, precisely at this “sensitive juncture,” recognizing Israel’s Jewishness is essential. Delegitimizing Israel undermines the peace process. It reduces Israeli trust in the Palestinians – who demand huge material concessions while only offering weak promises in return. It also again illustrates that Israel feels compelled to demand specific recognition as a Jewish state because the Palestinians and their allies reject Israel’s basic rights.
 
Stephen Harper’s visit, thus, again reaffirms the Jewish people’s ancient ties to the land of Israel while hailing modern Israel as “a free, democratic and distinctively Jewish state.” But in the spirit of mutuality and “shared values” animating this friendship, visiting Israel can also help Canadians assess their own national bonds, just as Quebecois separatists threaten Canadian peace of mind by stirring ugly debates about national and religious identity.
 
Last week, hearings began on Bill 60 in the Quebec National Assembly, regarding the Quebec Charter of Values, a “Charter affirming the values of State secularism and religious neutrality.” The most controversial – and revealing – provision bans state employees from wearing “conspicuous” religious symbolism. In a move better suited to a Jon Stewart skit than serious legislation, the separatist Parti Quebecois (PQ) pushing this bill drew cartoon images showing symbols it would consider acceptable such as small rings, earrings, and chains, as opposed to the conspicuous signs it abhors, including men wearing turbans or yarmulkes and women wearing veils or hijabs. Somehow, the Quebec National Assembly’s large crucifix would be exempt – it’s a “cultural” not religious symbol, they claim.
 
Clearly, anti-immigrant, anti-Muslim, and anti-Semitic bias animates this legislation which has already riled hooligans who, inflamed by their leaders’ demagoguery, have harassed women in hijabs. This ugly, petty law reflects “negative nationalism” rather than “positive nationalism.” Understanding humans as communal creatures who like banding together, positive nationalism encourages constructive alliances based on common values, common experiences, common histories, common destinies. Negative nationalism spends more time determining who does not belong or who must betray essential parts of themselves to join a particular nation.
 
Thus, Canadian nationalism, based on “peace, order and good government,” or American nationalism, bonding over “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness,” both express positive nationalism. On a spectrum of nationalisms, from civic to ethnic, from the most open based on common values and destinies to the more tribal based on common experiences and histories, American and Canadian nationalisms are particularly open. Academics call this “civic nationalism,” with Canada’s federal formulation more multicultural than America’s, and America’s even more based on common ideals. Most forms of nationalism, with the Frenchness of the French, the Germanness of Germans, with the religious symbols that stir British hearts in the cross-laden Crown Jewels, with the crosses and crescents adorning so many flags, are more tribal and seemingly exclusive – although democratic liberal nationalism  tempers this “ethnic nationalism” with expansive civil rights for all individuals.
 
Zionism, meaning Jewish nationalism, is an interesting anomaly. Israel’s Declaration of Independence starts with the Bible and the Jewish story, reflecting ethnic nationalism. But in promising rights to all the land’s “inhabitants,” the Declaration also embraces what Harper called “the ideals of freedom, democracy and the rule of law.” Israeli nationalism is also consciously constructive – laws and national customs usually promote the majority Jewish culture in the public square, without degenerating into the PQ’s negativity. Quebecois could learn from Israeli Jews about promoting their nationalism, their national culture, their special symbols. But with Arabs – however they dress – serving on the Supreme Court, teaching in universities, and represented in the Knesset --even free to heckle visiting prime ministers -- the Israeli state avoids the kind of negative nationalism Quebec separatists have unleashed. I wish I could celebrate Israel as bigotry-free – but no society is. However, Prime Minister Harper will enjoy experiencing Israel’s positive but ethnic-based nationalism – to sharpen his government’s arguments against Quebec’s slide toward negative nationalism, exclusionary rhetoric, and prejudicial demagoguery.
 
Prime Minister Harper and the huge delegation accompanying him have been celebrating Israel’s and Canada’s economic, diplomatic, cultural, and intellectual ties to “our mutual benefit,” he said. These ideological exchanges also deliver a win-win. They broaden the Canadian conversation, while inviting Israel’s leaders to perform their own gut checks and confirm that Israel is indeed living up to these ideals of positive not negative nationalism.
 
In the Knesset Monday, Prime Minister Stephen Harper celebrated Canada and Israel as “the greatest of friends and the most natural of allies.” At a time when President Barack Obama’s support for Israel often feels provisional and pinched, Harper’s backing is hearty and heartening.  In an era when a UNESCO exhibition documenting the Jewish people’s long relationship with the land of Israel is vetoed because it might prove Israel’s legitimacy, this reaffirmation is timely. And with Canadians debating the Quebec government’s latest lunacy, a reminder of the different ways these sister democracies understand nationalism is most welcome.
 
Israel does not need to justify its existence. Yet, bullied by the Arab propaganda campaign questioning Israel’s legitimacy, the world does need reminding that, as Harper said, “Israel’s right to exist as a Jewish state is absolute and non-negotiable.”  The latest skirmish resulted from a planned UNESCO show to be exhibited in Paris, “People, Book, Land – The 3,500 Year Relationship of the Jewish People to the Holy Land.”  Only three countries co-sponsored the show with the Simon Wiesenthal Center: Montenegro, Israel, and – of course -- Canada.  
The US refused to co-sponsor, due to this “sensitive juncture in the ongoing Middle East peace process.” The Arab League’s UNESCO representative protested the exhibition, using a similar excuse of “endangering the peace process.” Just before its scheduled opening on January 20, UNESCO caved.
 
America’s insulting inaction, this aggressive Arab protest, and UNESCO’s cowardly cowing, failed to realize that, precisely at this “sensitive juncture,” recognizing Israel’s Jewishness is essential. Delegitimizing Israel undermines the peace process. It reduces Israeli trust in the Palestinians – who demand huge material concessions while only offering weak promises in return. It also again illustrates that Israel feels compelled to demand specific recognition as a Jewish state because the Palestinians and their allies reject Israel’s basic rights.
Stephen Harper’s visit, thus, again reaffirms the Jewish people’s ancient ties to the land of Israel while hailing modern Israel as “a free, democratic and distinctively Jewish state.” But in the spirit of mutuality and “shared values” animating this friendship, visiting Israel can also help Canadians assess their own national bonds, just as Quebecois separatists threaten Canadian peace of mind by stirring ugly debates about national and religious identity.
                                                 
Last week, hearings began on Bill 60 in the Quebec National Assembly, regarding the Quebec Charter of Values, a “Charter affirming the values of State secularism and religious neutrality.” The most controversial – and revealing – provision bans state employees from wearing “conspicuous” religious symbolism. In a move better suited to a Jon Stewart skit than serious legislation, the separatist Parti Quebecois (PQ) pushing this bill drew cartoon images showing symbols it would consider acceptable such as small rings, earrings, and chains, as opposed to the conspicuous signs it abhors, including men wearing turbans or yarmulkes and women wearing veils or hijabs. Somehow, the Quebec National Assembly’s large crucifix would be exempt – it’s a “cultural” not religious symbol, they claim.
 
   
 The images above show the acceptable religious expressions
 The ones below show the religious symbols deemed too "ostentatious and unacceptable 
 
Clearly, anti-immigrant, anti-Muslim, and anti-Semitic bias animates this legislation which has already riled hooligans who, inflamed by their leaders’ demagoguery, have harassed women in hijabs. This ugly, petty law reflects “negative nationalism” rather than “positive nationalism.” Understanding humans as communal creatures who like banding together, positive nationalism encourages constructive alliances based on common values, common experiences, common histories, common destinies. Negative nationalism spends more time determining who does not belong or who must betray essential parts of themselves to join a particular nation.
 
Thus, Canadian nationalism, based on “peace, order and good government,” or American nationalism, bonding over “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness,” both express positive nationalism. On a spectrum of nationalisms, from civic to ethnic, from the most open based on common values and destinies to the more tribal based on common experiences and histories, American and Canadian nationalisms are particularly open. Academics call this “civic nationalism,” with Canada’s federal formulation more multicultural than America’s, and America’s even more based on common ideals. Most forms of nationalism, with the Frenchness of the French, the Germanness of Germans, with the religious symbols that stir British hearts in the cross-laden Crown Jewels, with the crosses and crescents adorning so many flags, are more tribal and seemingly exclusive – although democratic liberal nationalism  tempers this “ethnic nationalism” with expansive civil rights for all individuals.
 
Zionism, meaning Jewish nationalism, is an interesting anomaly. Israel’s Declaration of Independence starts with the Bible and the Jewish story, reflecting ethnic nationalism. But in promising rights to all the land’s “inhabitants,” the Declaration also embraces what Harper called “the ideals of freedom, democracy and the rule of law.” Israeli nationalism is also consciously constructive – laws and national customs usually promote the majority Jewish culture in the public square, without degenerating into the PQ’s negativity. Quebecois could learn from Israeli Jews about promoting their nationalism, their national culture, their special symbols. But with Arabs – however they dress – serving on the Supreme Court, teaching in universities, and represented in the Knesset --even free to heckle visiting prime ministers -- the Israeli state avoids the kind of negative nationalism Quebec separatists have unleashed. I wish I could celebrate Israel as bigotry-free – but no society is. However, Prime Minister Harper will enjoy experiencing Israel’s positive but ethnic-based nationalism – to sharpen his government’s arguments against Quebec’s slide toward negative nationalism, exclusionary rhetoric, and prejudicial demagoguery.
 
Prime Minister Harper and the huge delegation accompanying him have been celebrating Israel’s and Canada’s economic, diplomatic, cultural, and intellectual ties to “our mutual benefit,” he said. These ideological exchanges also deliver a win-win. They broaden the Canadian conversation, while inviting Israel’s leaders to perform their own gut checks and confirm that Israel is indeed living up to these ideals of positive not negative nationalism.
 
Gil Troy is Professor of History at McGill University and the author of eight books on US history, including, most recently, Moynihan''s Moment: America''s Fight Against Zionism as Racism, published by Oxford University Press.     Watch the new Moynihan''s Moment video!
 
 
 

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