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(photo credit: UJC/ Robert A. Cumins)
As Canadians prepare for what looks to be a winter election, the 74th annual General Assembly of the United Jewish Communities convenes here this week.
The GA is the meeting par excellence of the umbrella organization representing 155 Jewish federations and 400 independent Jewish communities across North America. It plays host to past, present and future leadership of the Jewish community. Delegates gather from around the world to hear speeches and engage in discussion to pave a way for a strong future for the Jewish community both in the Diaspora and in Israel.
Canadian Justice Minister Irwin Cotler set the tone of the GA in a pre-session discussion on "Jewish Values, Human Rights and Public Policy."
Cotler called on world Jewry to action in the fight for human rights and equality.
He reminded the delegates of the power speech possesses to incite hate and violence. "The Holocaust did not begin in the gas chambers; it began with words," he said.
He then criticized Iran for President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's "genocidal" comment that Israel should be wiped off the map. His words, he said, "were backed by Iran's continued efforts to possess nuclear weapons" and a parade of missiles capable of reaching Israel.
Cotler said that Canada was one of the first countries to condemn Iran and he pledged that Canada would put pressure on the international community to take action.
His remarks were echoed by Prime Minister Paul Martin during his speech at the opening ceremony. "Canada will not tolerate Iran's reprehensible posturing," he said. "This threat to Israel is a matter the world cannot ignore. Free nations of the world will not tolerate it."
He also acknowledged the culture of "anti-Israel" sentiment at the UN. "We will continue to press for the kinds of reforms that will eliminate the politicization of the United Nations and its agencies, and in particular the annual ritual of politicized anti-Israel resolutions," he said.
In response to Martin's speech, Consul-General Ya'acov Brosh said that Israel is very satisfied with Canada's position, both at the UN General Assembly and in its Parliament immediately after Ahmadinejad's "miserable remarks."
In his address, Martin also said that "Israel's values are Canada's values, shared values: democracy, the rule of law and the protection of human rights. These same values are reflected in Israel's understanding of the obligations nations have to one another."
He praised Prime Minister Ariel Sharon for his leadership with regard to disengagement from the Gaza Strip, which he said was only a "first step of many" toward peace with the Palestinians.
He said that Canada is hopeful about the election of Mahmoud Abbas and hopes to continue to work with Palestinians toward a better future.
Others who spoke included lawyer, author, actor and comedian Ben Stein, best known for his role in the Hollywood hit, Ferris Bueller's Day Off, and Arye Oz, a Holocaust survivor who became an Israel Air Force pilot. He related he flew the first plane to land on a dark runway in Entebbe, and later became the chief pilot for El Al and participated in Operation Solomon, during which he flew more than 1,100 Ethiopian Jews to Israel on one plane.