The view from the 49th Parallel

 The media frenzy surrounding Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s speech to the US Congress reached a fever pitch early this week; typical of mainstream media reaction was the Toronto Star’s Tony Burman, who castigated Netanyahu’s “Israeli hubris” before the Prime Minister even spoke in Washington. In response to the Toronto Star’s usual dismissal of Netanyahu’s justified alarm over Iran’s anti-Israel threats, I wrote to the Star:

“Mr. Burman refers to Prime Minister Netanyahu’s speech as "a farce" even before hearing it.  Mr. Burman is joining the war against free speech by slandering, defaming and humiliating the prime minister even before he takes center stage.  May we remind him that he no longer works for Quatari based Al Jazeera?  Freedom of expression is sacrosanct to journalists and to all Canadians.  The only farce here is this article.” 

Interestingly, the media seems to have missed what I believe is the key point in the ongoing dissection of Netanyahu’s visit to Congress: Obama created this rift by excluding one of the most important players in the Middle East. Netanyahu was not invited to the negotiations over Iran, yet Israel arguably has one of the greatest stakes in their outcome. Every successful leader knows the importance of stakeholder consultation; Obama could easily have avoided this deep division between the two countries by ensuring Israel’s buy-in, and including Israel as a valued partner at the outset of negotiations.

In fact, Netanyahu’s warnings about Iran have been strongly supported by another vital American Ally in the Middle East: Saudi Arabia.  It was not coincidental that Secretary of State John Kerry was called to Riyadh immediately following the Netanyahu speech to meet with Prince Saud al-Faisal, the Saudi foreign minister.  Al-Faisal echoed Netanyahu’s concerns and warned Kerry about the White House’s overtures toward Tehran.

In other international news this week, Friends of Simon Wiesenthal Center (FSWC) expressed support

for the demands of the family and the ex-wife of the late Alberto Nisman, the Argentinean Special Prosecutor who was found dead the night before a Congressional hearing into the 1994 bombing of the AMIA Jewish Community Center in Buenos Aires. Nisman was expected to show evidence of an alleged cover-up of the Iranian suspects by the Argentine government, and his family has requested an investigation into his death, which has been ruled by judicial experts as “neither an accident, nor a suicide.”

The hypothesis of murder now becomes paramount in view of Nisman’s obvious enemies, beginning with Iran, accused by the late Prosecutor as the perpetrator of the AMIA blast which killed 85 people and injured hundreds of others. Knowing what happened to Nisman may provide help investigators learn who was behind the AMIA bombing.

Closer to home, I was pleased to participate this week in a Roundtable convened by Minister of Public Safety Steven Blaney on the subject of terrorism in Canada. The meeting included a number of leaders from the Christian, Jewish and Muslim communities discussing Bill C-51 and the terror threats to Canada.

We understand many of the privacy issues raised by critics of Bill C-51, including the most recent critique by Canada’s Privacy Commissioner, Daniel Therrin.  It is true that there must be safeguards in place to disallow abusive behaviour of innocent civilians by authorities.  However, most “ivory-tower” critics are not themselves victimized nor are they on the front lines. They fail to see the severity of the increasing threat to Canada and especially, toward the Jewish community.

In addition to voicing my support for the Bill, specifically because it strengthens Canada’s ability to respond to terrorism by giving the intelligence community greater deterrent capabilities, I raised a number of points at the Roundtable. Firstly, I emphasized the importance of notifying Jewish community leadership about impending threats, and working collaboratively with the community to react to these threats.

Secondly, I recommended the government include extremist groups and rallies, such as the annual Iranian-sponsored al Quds Day event at Queens Park, in terror-prevention guidelines.

Finally, I urged the Minister to take greater notice of the increasingly disturbing situation at Canadian university campuses, which are in danger of becoming hotbeds of radical recruitment. I recently spoke with a York University undergraduate who told me he was approached by a fellow student who stopped him on campus with the question “Do you want to go to paradise?” What began as an anti-Israel campus crusade may soon become a pro-Jihadi recruitment campaign in Canada.

In a curious turn of events, this week saw the beginnings of a peculiar propaganda war between the Canadian government and the Russian embassy over Nazi war criminal Vladimir Katriuk, - with FSWC caught in the middle.

In April of 2012 an FSWC delegation asked the government to re-open the files on Katriuk, who is alive and well and living in Quebec. New information about his wartime activities had recently come to light and I believe he should be deported immediately.  Katriuk is Ukrainian. The Russian embassy has also registered its displeasure with Canada for harbouring a Ukrainian Nazi.

While FSWC refuses to get in caught in the middle of an offensive campaign concerning the Holocaust, we remain disappointed that almost three years after our visit to Ottawa, neither Katriuk nor Oberlander, another Nazi war criminal living in Ontario, has been deported.

Who knows? Perhaps the Russian push will be decisive. However, it should not require a foreign rebuke to realize permitting Nazis to use Canada as a safe haven is absolutely wrong.

I will continue to follow this story and share any developments with you.

Shabbat Shalom.

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