Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat praised a recent Canada-Israel solidarity gathering as “the first big mission since [former New York] mayor Michael Bloomberg,” which according to the mayor, demonstrated “who the best friend of Israel is.”
Several hundred Canadians: Some living and some visiting in Israel; some who boarded a plane at a moment’s notice to “Stand with Israel” (in the words of the evening’s title); and some parliamentarians already in Israel on a fact-finding mission; came together on Wednesday in a fervent display of dual-nationalism.
Lest there be any doubt about that fervor and the sympathies of the Ottawa government, Canadian Ambassador Vivian Bercovici admonished the crowd declaring, “Canadians have certainly demonstrated where they stand: Canada stands with Israel.”
Indeed, the administration certainly does. The loudest cheer of the evening came at the mention of Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper.
Six Canadian MPs who were in Israel on a 48-hour solidarity mission organized by the Center for Israel and Jewish Affairs (CIJA) provided bipartisan representation from Parliament.
But the evening’s event was in reality an unexpected result of the American Federal Aviation Administration’s recent ban on US flag carriers flying into and out of Israel’s primary gateway, Ben-Gurion Airport. When he saw Bloomberg’s arrival in Tel Aviv, community leader and former Canadian senator Jerry Grafstein was infuriated that Washington had singled out Israel while “the Pakistan and Kiev airports were not closed down” in the face of far worse danger.
Grafstein told The Media Line that his immediate reaction was to enlist the help of CIJA, the Jewish National Fund and Beth Tzedec Congregation Rabbi Baruch Frydman-Kohl to get the message out to mobilize the Canadian Jewish community.
“Within 48-hours, 60,000 people were notified that we would not hold a rally in Jerusalem in support of the people of Israel to show they are not alone nor isolated. We want peace, but peace with dignity,” said Grafstein.
The result was the Canada-Israel Solidarity Rally at the David Citadel Hotel on Wednesday.
The event itself was more reserved than one might expect of a rally, in large part because of mounting Israeli losses and as many expressed, concern for “the suffering of the people of Gaza,” a point reiterated by the legislators.
Ted Opitz, MP and an army veteran, told The Media Line that, “The problem that strikes me right now is that Hamas doesn’t recognize Israel....The first few lines in its charter says the reason for its existence is the destruction of Israel. That makes it very, very difficult to have a conversation and a negotiation on a settlement.”
Opitz criticized Hamas for using its constituents as human shields and remarked that providing humanitarian aid for Gazans must be a priority.
MP David Sweet was “deeply troubled about human loss of life no matter who they may be.”
He told The Media Line that he and his colleagues came to the region “to see with our eyes without a media filter what was going on.”
The legislators visited the southern town of Sderot, a community that has been a favorite target for Gaza-based racketeers since 2001; and visited hospitals and the widow of a soldier killed during the fighting.
Asked whether he differentiates between the people of Gaza and Hamas, Sweet replied, “Absolutely.”
He said, “We see what Israel has to deal with; what Hamas has brought on the Palestinian and Israeli people. I think what is happening here is a military action due to what Hamas brought on the Palestinian people by taking concrete which should have been used for peaceful purposes to build hospitals, schools and city halls. Instead it was used for tunnels.”
Opitz agreed, “Palestinian people are suffering because their leadership is leading them to this catastrophe. It’s Hamas that put rockets under schools, hospitals... everywhere that’s supposed to be neutral and safe... weaponized building materials.”
MP Carolyn Bennett added her perspective as both a lawmaker and physician, suggesting that any solution to the ongoing war must be found by the parties themselves.
“As a physician,” she told The Media Line, “I know when not to prescribe.”
For Canada, she said, “we will do everything we can to foster and not hinder peace,” adding a comment she heard from a soldier: “We use missiles to protect our citizens; they use citizens to protect their missiles.”
Part of the legislative delegation visited Ramallah before returning to Canada.