Trudeau, Auschwitz and Black Lives Matter

A classic Buddhist aphorism says that everything is connected to everything else. Our challenge, then, is to identify connections and their meaning as we try to live discerning lives, both as individuals and as citizens.

In this post I want to connect the recent visit of Prime Minister Trudeau to Auschwitz with the tragedies of racism and violence affecting our neighbours to the south. The connections are there, but are invisible to most people.

Last week, Mr Trudeau visited Auschwitz, and was moved to the point of tears. I take a moment here to commend him for not being embarrassed to show emotion. I didn’t myself weep when I went to Auschwitz: somehow my experience was one of being numbed by the horror of the place rather than being moved to tears. However, about a week later, when I visited Anne Frank House in Amsterdam, I burst into tears immediately. I was experiencing the truth of the comment made by Stalin (not someone I frequently quote), to the effect that the deaths of millions are statistics; the death of an individual is a tragedy.

Mr Trudeau was accompanied on this visit by Rabbi Adam Sheier of Congregation Shaar Hashomayim in Montreal, and by David J. Cape, chair of CIJA–the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs. CIJA claims to speak for all Canadian Jews, but as the existence of IJV–Independent Jewish Voices–demonstrates, it does not. The fact, however, that its representatives accompanied the PM on his visit is a clear signal that CIJA has his ear on the subject of Israel-Palestine. This further suggests that there is no immediate hope of a change in Canadian policy from the positions taken by the Harper government. In essence, this was and remains one of unquestioning support for the government of Israel, with no support to the Palestinians suffering under Israel’s brutal occupation.

I move on now to my second concern, the misery affecting Americans, black and white, exemplified both by the shooting of  black men–Alton Sterling, Philando Castile, others–by white police officers, and by the shooting of five white officers–Brent Thompson, Patrick Zamarripa, Michael Krol, Lorne Ahrens and Michael Smith–by a black sniper in Dallas. Misery of this kind continues to be inflicted on both white and black by the deeply-rooted racism which the United States has to this point failed to uproot. I quickly add that I have been glad to learn that there now exists in the US a national task group including both black and white police officers which is tackling the encultured racism of police. We can only wish them speedy success.

There is in fact a direct connection between the suffering of Palestinians and the racial violence of the United States. Here is a word about that from Dr Mazin Qumsiyeh, professor of biology at Bethlehem University, whom I heard speak in Portland last year.

“The militarization of the US police has been driven largely by Israel touting the need for ‘counter-terrorism training.’ That training in which hundreds (perhaps thousands so far) of senior US police officers travel to our country (Palestine, now under the
regime called “Israel”) to train in the same methods used to quell the
native Palestinians. Those “methods” are not too complicated. They rely on
two elements: brutality and racism. Jewish soldiers and “police” learn and
teach that rights are only for the chosen people and the natives have no
rights. So shoot first; then if need be, you can ask questions later.  The US
officers trained by Israeli regime officers go back to the USA and train
yet more white officers to be racist. . . . The US public needs to be told the truth about
what is going on here. The militarization of the US police forces must end
and be reversed now. Police should become community policing and reflective
of the diversity of the communities they serve. The Israel lobby should be
at least registered as a foreign lobby and curbed when it undermines US
interests. This is the only way to end the precipitous decline of the US.” (group email, July 11, 2016).

What Dr Qumsiyeh calls “the militarization of the US police forces” is also fostered by the Pentagon, which sells off military surplus, including tanks, to local police forces at bargain prices. When war-level weaponry is combined with racism, and with the stress of police work, the mixture is a deadly one.

Americans are addressing this issue, and we must wish them well in their efforts. But I am writing this as a Canadian, and my chief concern is the continuing blindness of our own government to the brutal occupation of Palestine, now of 68 years (!) duration. I am aware that this blindness arises from post-Holocaust fear on the part of many Israelis, which, cruelly, their government encourages and keeps alive, and the hesitation of so many who are not Jewish to speak critically of Israel lest it be heard as anti-semitism. It seems to be necessary to keep repeating what is in fact the case: that criticism of the Israeli government is *not* anti-semitism, any more than the criticism of our own government is anti-Canadianism. Peter Larson, whose web-based column “Canada Talks Israel-Palestine” offers regular and thoughtful analyses of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and from whose e-mailing of July 13 I took the information about Trudeau’s visit to Auschwitz, says, incisively, that he is ready to criticize any government, anywhere in the world, which does what the Israeli government to the people whose territory it occupies.

Trudeau and Auschwitz, Dallas and Israel: connections of which we need to be aware. My thanks to Peter Larson and Mazin Qumsiyeh for helping us become more discerning citizens at a very challenging historical moment.

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