Avi's VERSION

Jul 09

Human rights activists overlook worst offenders

By Avi Benlolo, Calgary HeraldJuly 8, 2012

 
 

At no other time in history have people around the world cared so much about one another. The interconnectivity of humanity today, mainly through the Internet, has permeated our lives and drawn more people to caring about others and to giving and supporting charities. That is the good news.

Because choosing your cause requires financial commitment, time and energy, it must speak to your heart and soul. More often than not, people become involved in causes they personally have a vested interest in from a historical context, or because of altruistic values they were raised with to help others and do the right thing to make our world a better place.

Unfortunately, we all have limited time and resources on our hands. For those of us interested in improvement of the condition of humanity - human rights, in other words - there are an infinite number of local and global social issues to choose from, most of which are worthy.

On a local basis, for instance, there is poverty, homelessness, crime, illness and disease, racism and intolerance, education, the environment, science and research, interfaith dialogue and religious institutions. Globally, one can apply the same issues and add to them conflict, genocide, war (or the threat of nuclear war), terrorism, famine, epidemics, national development, catastrophic emergencies (for example, Haiti or Japan), and so on.

At the same time, human rights activism has become complicated, and in many instances, individuals and institutions have found that some groups that preach human rights have questionable practices and links. There are plenty of organizations that run public programs such as food bank fundraisers, interfaith dialogues and community events, while privately demonstrating intolerance for others. These groups are simply cover operations that continue to be exposed by organizations that specifically monitor these issues, the media and government.

There is also the matter of upside-down human rights activism, often tied to an agenda counter to democratic values and sometimes bred from sheer ignorance or a myopic view of the world. Navi Pillay, the UN high commissioner for human rights, was recently criticized by Canadians across the country for her critique of Quebec’s handling of the student protests - arguing that Canadian laws were too restrictive.

Pillay conveniently left out real human rights abusers like China and Cuba, which do not provide their citizens with freedom, democracy and human rights, let alone the right to protest these systemic abuses.

This nasty trend set out by the world’s ostensibly top human rights organization has watered down our understanding of human rights in an effort to turn civil society’s focus away from real abusers and toward criticism of western democracies.

Many institutional human rights organizations justify this disregard for real abusers such as Syria, Iran and Saudi Arabia by stating they must hold democracies to a higher standard - a twisted concept that explains how Syria’s Bashar al-Assad continues his slaughter of more than 13,000 people with relative impunity. This double standard is furthermore racist because it presupposes that it is beyond the ability of oppressive nations to practice human rights.

In truth, democracies are easier to pick on and elicit a reaction from than are repressive nations - they also have posh five-star hotels, and are safe and secure locations for activists to visit and not get shot at. Groups like the United Church of Canada, CUPE Ontario, Queers Against Israeli Apartheid and others easily disregard really oppressive societies and self-select condemnation of westernized societies such as Canada or Israel, thereby undermining them and providing cover for truly abusive people and nations.

My recommendation to those involved or wanting to be involved in human rights activism: define human rights for yourself; ask yourself if western democratic rights and values are central to your being; look for double standards and political agendas and thoroughly research and investigate the cause.

In today’s environment of transnational ties, it is an absolute must for anyone willing and wishing to become an activist to feel 100 per cent certain the organization is truly concerned about advancing human rights.

As Irish filmmaker Nicky Larkin recently realized upon investigating the antiIsrael Irish attitude, “sometimes the left can be right - as in, right wing.”

The lines between right and left have blurred in recent years and society is quickly moving toward a values-based approach.

What are your core values?

Avi Benlolo is president and CEO of the Friends of Simon Wiesenthal Center for Holocaust Studies in Toronto.



Read more: http://www.calgaryherald.com/life/Human+rights+activists+overlook+worst+offenders/6900877/story.html#ixzz208SzVxqu

Jun 21

Mess With Israel and You’re Messing With Canada

Huffington Post June 21, 2012

Peter MacKay does Canada proud

In a chaotic world where conflict and war is increasing, it is vital that allies who share the same
values and belief systems stand shoulder to shoulder in mutual support. Nations rely on this
system of friendship, an ideal which is often lost in the realpolitik of everyday governance.

Wednesday’s revelation of Peter MacKay’s supportfor the state of Israel demonstrates the strength of this principle of friendship among nations. His statement to Israel’s top military commander that a threat to Israel is a threat to Canada was a powerful declaration to a friend — and to the world — that Canada can be counted on.

Critics of Canada’s policy to stand by Israel may have lost sight of the meaning of friendship.
On a micro-level friends are people who support one another, have each other’s back, care about one another and stand together in good times and in bad. Mackay is therefore doing exactly what is expected of a friend, particularly in the case of another western democracy that shares the same ideals and values as Canada.

Like Canada, Israel is a multicultural nation that is vibrant, democratic and striving to improve life for all its citizens. It is a nation that is productive in the spheres of economics, science, technology, agriculture and medicine, and whose humanitarian relief efforts are second to none in the world.

Canada’s support for Israel and, in turn, Israel’s support for Canada, is a natural consequence of these shared beliefs and has led to a mutually beneficial friendship. At a time when the Middle East is ablaze with the ongoing Arab storm, the horrific slaughter in Syria, the political strife in Egypt, terrorist activity in Gaza, the friction and fragility of the peace in Lebanon and the overarching threat of nuclear annihilation of Israel by Iran, Canada and its government refuses to be a passive bystander.

Through a show of support for the Jewish state — including meetings by leaders of both countries at the highest levels, Canada has asserted itself as a mature nation that is willing to stand up and take the lead against hate and intolerance, as it did with the passage of the Ottawa Protocols against Antisemitism.

As a Canadian I am proud to see that we are standing by our friends, particularly those who value freedom and democracy as much as Canada does. Importantly, if democratic nations don’t band together in mutual support to send a strong message to those who seek to destroy our values and impose their own, what will the consequences for our own freedom and that of future generations be? If western civilization is to survive, we must protect it — here at home and wherever it is threatened.

As a Canadian I expect all parties, no matter who is in government, to uphold Canadian
principles; if we cannot support our friends and allies and people who share our values, who
are we as a country? This is not an issue of right or left wing politics, but a matter of standing
by our friends and the people who share our world view and want to preserve it. At some point
individuals and nations must stand up for their most cherished beliefs, and we found out
that Minister MacKay has done just that. All Canadians should feel proud.

 

 

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Mar 19

The Anti-Semitic Shooting is Our Problem, Too

Huff Post,

The Anti-Semitic Shooting is Our Problem, Too

Posted: 03/19/2012 2:01 pm
The murder of Rabbi Jonathan Sandler and his three and six-year-old sons, Gabriel and Arieh, and the headmaster’s ten-year-old daughter Miriam at a Jewish school in Toulouse, France must be condemned and the perpetrator/s found and brought to justice. “All the House of Israel mourns the antisemitic murders of a Jewish teacher, his two small children, and another ten-year-old child who were gunned down outside of a Jewish day school in Toulouse, France this morning,” said Rabbi Marvin Hier, founder and dean of the Simon Wiesenthal Center.

Is it too early to judge? No. Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called the murders a despicable attack motivated by antisemitism. In another report Meir Habib, Deputy Chairman of the Council of French Jewish Institutions, said, “We have no doubt that the attack was antisemitic — It is certain. Killing children from close range just because they are Jewish is an unimaginable horror. These are innocent children.” Israel’s opposition leader Tzipi Livni also responded: “The attack on the French Jewish school is shocking and painful. Israel and the Jewish people are partners in the struggle against antisemitism and hate crimes.”

It was an attack on the heart and soul of the Jewish community in France reverberating around the world. For every mother and father who kisses their children goodbye every morning at the school drop-off and understands the vulnerability of that situation, it is heart wrenching to imagine how a place of innocence, safety, and love could be transformed in a moment by a cold-blooded killer.

Thousands of Jewish parents — like other faith-based parents — choose to send their children to religious schools. For Jewish parents who send their little ones to a Jewish school, there is a related and disproportionate measure of risk and vulnerability. There is continuous anxiety about the safety of their children — is the school protected enough? Should additional measures be taken considering recent incidents in the Middle East?

That vulnerability is especially true of societies that have an exceptional number of antisemitic groups intent on intimidating Jews on the one hand and defaming the State of Israel on the other. Jews who are fighting antisemitism are combating not only a clash of civilizations, but a clash of antisemitism. The modern antisemites have fused together historic antisemitism comprised of antisemitic canards like ‘“Jews make Matzah out of Christian blood” or “Jews control the world” with the new antisemitism, including the depiction of Jews as colonizers of their ancestral land — Israel — or equating Israel to an apartheid state.

As antisemitism once again rears its ugly head like an age old evil that has resurfaced from the shadowy depths of history, Jews and those who care about them will continue to stand strong and fight.

Antisemitism in France has been a serious problem since “the beginning of the 2000s,” says Ron Azogui, the Chief Executive of the Service de Protection de las Communaute Juive (SPCJ) — the private French agency responsible for the protection of the Jewish community. Tragically, antisemitism has become such a threat in France that its Jewish community has implemented measures to combat the growing trend by forming its own protection service.

According to Azogui, “The SPCJ observes the existence of a sustained high structural level of close to 500 antisemitic events per year…in spite of effective action by police departments and the justice system in pursuing perpetrators.” In his 2011 letter to me, he observed that: “It is crucial that preventive policies be intensified to counter this trend in the long run. Developing programs to educate and raise awareness of antisemitism among the youngest populations constitutes the second necessary facet of a sustained and effective approach to eliminate expressions of antisemitism.”

To his credit, France’s President Nicholas Sarkozy cancelled his schedule and flew to Toulouse as a show of solidarity with the Jewish community. Giving a speech in front of Ozar Hatorah Hebrew School, he condemned the attack and promised to find the perpetrator.

Although Jews are its primary victim, it must be understood that antisemitism is not a Jewish problem to be treated only by Jews and their institutions. Antisemitism is a problem that must be treated and acted upon by governments, universities, and civil society.

Often times, institutions are not adequately aware or prepared to engage in their own complicity in fomenting antisemitism. It only takes one individual to be inspired to commit an antisemitic act like the one committed in Toulouse. Today’s slaughter should be a wake-up call for all individuals and institutions who have yet to take modern expressions of antisemitism seriously.

Added Notation: Dr. Shimon Samuels, Simon Wiesenthal Center Director for International Relations, who is based in Paris, is closely monitoring developments in France as authorities strive to identify the perpetrator and apprehend all those involved in this heinous crime. Rabbi Marvin Hier is urging that all Jewish institutions review their security procedures in conjunction with local law enforcement.

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Feb 02

The Jihad Next Door

One would have anticipated a calming of the hysterical anti-Israel rhetoric and often antisemitic activities on university campuses following the scathing Canadian Parliamentary Coalition to Combat Antisemitism report condemning the hate and intolerance on university campuses. The report was followed by the Ottawa Protocol on Combating Antisemitism to reinforce Canada’s commitment to confront antisemitism here at home and around the world. We should all be satisfied.

Nothing could be further from the truth. Rather than heed the warnings of our parliamentarians and the government, it appears universities have entrenched their position, resulting in an increased assault on tolerance, justice, and human rights. The universities profess to be the guardians of free speech and, in so doing, are aiding and abetting the increasingly toxic environment on campuses by providing public space to speakers who are divisive and hateful.

Of course, we are all advocates of unfettered speech. It is one of the cornerstones of a free and democratic society. But when one group is consistently targeted by hate campaigns, something is clearly wrong.

The trend of anti-Israeli activism on campus, writes the President of Scholars for Peace in the Middle East Dr. Richard Cravatts “…has become a convenient way for antisemites to mask their true prejudice against Jews by claiming that their problem is only with the policies of Israel, not with the Jews themselves…they single out the world’s only Jewish state for condemnation and hold it to a higher standard than any other nation.” They do not call out for boycott, divestment, and sanctions against tyrannies like Iran, Syria, Hamas, North Korea, and others. Nor do they complain about gender apartheid, honour killings, and suicide bombers in places like Iraq and Pakistan.

Instead, they focus their hate on the one democracy in the Middle East. Let’s look at some recent examples of accommodation of hate propagandists on campus:

This fall, the University of Toronto took great pains to protect Dr. Hakim Quick’s right to speak on campus for 18 weeks at the invitation of the Muslim Students Association. According to Maclean’s On Campus, Quick’s controversial comments include one about “purifying” an Islamic shrine from the “filth of Christians and Jews.” According to the same article, he described homosexuals as “one of the most dangerous groups coming to the surface.” The university was well aware of Quick’s controversial beliefs, having acknowledged the public pressure that led him to “publicly distance himself from some of his earlier offensive commentary.” In giving its blessing for him to speak, the administration was not only insensitive to the concerns of groups Quick had targeted in the past, but complicit in giving a platform to hatred.

Another instance was the January 2012 tour de hate by Norman Finkelstein. A disciple of disgraced Neo-Nazi and Holocaust denier David Irving, Finkelstein recently spoke at five Canadian universities, including York — a hotbed of antisemitism over the years. Among Finkelstein’s horrific assertions he says, “Given the nonsense churned out daily by the Holocaust industry, the wonder is that there are so few sceptics.” York University’s reaction to the protests against his visit was standard university operating procedure — defence of free speech, open debate, and not wanting to take “political positions.” Sadly— but not unexpectedly — the university administration provided little sensitivity, compassion or leadership against this hatemonger, not dissimilar to its support of the visit by Hezbollah supporter George Galloway in 2010.

On January 25th, University of Western Ontario faculty member David Heap spoke on his home campus about his participation helping Hamas on the “Canadian” flotilla. As Jonathan Kay of the National Post eloquently put it, upon Heap’s return, “Heap and his friends set their compass for a confrontation with the Israeli Defense Forces, the most humane and professional military in the Middle East. And their only real punishment for trying to bring material goods to a terrorist-controlled regime in Gaza is to spend a few days in climate-controlled, Internet-equipped Israeli jails complaining about their ordeal to journalist pals back home”.

The very next day, an organization calling itself “The Coalition to Stop the War” sponsored a talk at McMaster University by a rabidly anti-Israel speaker named Zafar Bangash. Despite repeatedly issuing calls for the 'liberation of Palestine' and advising Israelis to ‘go back where they came from,’ McMaster asserted the presentation by Bangash would be respectful. However, his words were clearly hateful, inflammatory, and laced with veiled threats against Jews; Friends of Simon Wiesenthal Center has turned the matter over to the police and is evaluating liability options against the university.

And on it goes. In February, a University of Toronto professor who has in the past brought anti-Israel speakers to campus will himself take the opportunity to speak in support of those who would destroy Israel, while Simon Fraser University in Vancouver is importing their anti-Israel rhetoric via a feminist speaker from Syracuse University in New York. A pro-Palestinian Norwegian doctor is currently on a four-university Israel-bashing tour, and a slick video just posted on YouTube by the “Students Against Israeli Apartheid” at Carleton university labels (and falsely libels) Israel an “apartheid state” and encourages other students to join them in an Israel divestment campaign of Carleton’s pension fund.

It’s time to admit the truth of what is happening across the country: The hate is rapidly proliferating. These speakers and those who support and fund them are the tip of the iceberg of the antisemitism and intolerance toward Israel and the Jewish community which is being sown on Canadian university campuses and beyond. The obsessive pattern of abuse of speech and the marginalization and discrimination of a targeted minority group — Jews — is heavily defended by universities under the banner of “free speech.” The Jihad next door has become intolerable and unacceptable. The organized pattern of hate and intolerance on university campuses has risen to epidemic proportions and, left unchecked, will continue to grow.

Despite our best efforts to respond to this trend by offering alternative presentations with a different, more inclusive message (and we will continue to do so despite what I am about to say), and the heroic efforts of students and community leaders, it is no longer sufficient to simply counter events with ever more events on campuses. Events diminish the university’s responsibility by creating a false perception of a balance of opinion — which the university seeks to justify inaction. Jewish communities should not have to suffer double-victimization by having to prove Israel is not an apartheid state and that the infamous ancient antisemitic libels against the Jewish people are not true. Neither truth nor logic is a match for deep-seated ideologies.

In recent months, it appears universities have undertaken an aggressive posture; it is surely no coincidence that divisive speakers continue to enjoy an open-door policy, with no fear of being called out for spouting even the most outrageous accusations and lies. This will ultimately be a costly position for all Canadians because, as history demonstrates time and again, bullies are never content to stop at the weakest kid in the schoolyard.

 

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Jan 10

Lemire’s Right to Free Speech Vs. Ours

Lemire’s Right to Free Speech Vs. Ours

Posted: 1/10/12 01:39 PM ET

The Huffington Post

The question of Section 13 of Canada’s Human Rights Act (CHRA) dealing with hate speech has come to a head over the case of Marc Lemire, who was the last president of the neo-Nazi white supremacist group, Heritage Front, and is now a webmaster of a controversial site created in the name of free speech. Lemire is currently challenging the constitutionality of Section 13 after he was vindicated on an earlier Section 13 complaint regarding his website. Undoubtedly, Lemire wants to free cyberspace from restrictions posed by Section 13 to allow him to post freely any and all information.

Clearly there are problems with the operation of Section 13 that deals with intolerable expressions and protects against specific forms of hate speech. In its own words, Section 13 empowers the Canadian Human Rights Commission “to deal with complaints regarding the communication of hate messages by telephone or on the Internet.”

13. (1) Section 13 of CHRA states, “It is a discriminatory practice for a person or a group of persons acting in concert to communicate telephonically or to cause to be so communicated, repeatedly, in whole or in part by means of the facilities of a telecommunication undertaking within the legislative authority of Parliament, any matter that is likely to expose a person or persons to hatred or contempt by reason of the fact that person or those persons are identifiable on the basis of a prohibited ground of discrimination.”

Interpretation

(2) “For greater certainty, subsection (1) applies in respect of a matter that is communicated by means of a computer or a group of interconnected or related computers, including the Internet, or any similar means of communication, but does not apply in respect of a matter that is communicated in whole or in part by means of the facilities of a broadcasting undertaking”.

Glaring problems arose over Section 13 in the high profile case of Ezra Levant vs. Alberta’s Human Rights Commission. Levant was dragged in by the Commission after Calgary Imam Syed Soharwardy launched a complaint against him for publishing the Danish newspaper cartoons of the Muslim prophet Mohammed. Incidentally, the same Soharwardy compared Canada to Nazi Germany in December over the banning of face veils at citizenship ceremonies. As hurtful as the unrepentant Soharwardy’s comment was to the Jewish community, my organization (FSWC) did not refer the matter to the Canadian Human Rights Commission.

Levant recently wrote, “The Alberta government, using its provincial version of Section 13, prosecuted me for 900 days, with no fewer than 15 government bureaucrats and lawyers. It spent $500,000 prosecuting me, before dropping the case — and leaving me with my $100,000 legal bill.

And herein lays one of the most tragic fallacies of the human rights tribunals: Anyone can launch a complaint without incurring personal cost. On the other hand, defendants must always pay their legal bills— win or lose. This structure presents opportunity for abusive plaintiffs to “punish” defendants at will or even to “disrupt” a person or an organization.

An episode at Maclean’s magazine illustrates the problem of Section 13-related abuse: “Following a 2006 cover story by columnist Mark Steyn titled ‘Why the future belongs to Islam,’ we were visited by a group of law students from the Canadian Islamic Congress. We were given the option of handing over editorial control of our pages for a rebuttal to Steyn’s piece or face a series of human rights complaints. As the first option was anathema to our obligations to our readers, the students launched their complaints.” In the end, the complaint was dismissed by the British Columbia Human Rights Tribunal.

Friends of Simon Wiesenthal Center (FSWC) and other organizations, including B’nai Brith Canada, hold “Interested Party Status” in the case; it is our position that Section 13 is constitutional. From FSWC’s perspective, jihadi recruitment and white supremacist hate sites have proliferated over the internet in recent years to incite young people to hate and intolerance or, even worse — to violence. In theory, that proliferation can be curtailed with tools like Section 13. In fact, we have been able to pull down hate sites in Canada by merely raising the matter with ISP providers and referring them to Section 13 as needed. Thus, it has been useful as a guide post.

A recent example concerns a website called “Filthy Jewish Terrorists” launched by expelled York University student Salmon Hossain, in which he called for the genocide of the Jewish people and attacks on Canadian and American soldiers. Although he has fled to South Asia, Hossain has been criminally charged with wilfully promoting hatred and would certainly, under Section 13, be barred from operating such a website in Canada.

However, concern over the misuse of human rights commissions has apparently motivated the Canadian government to reconsider Section 13. In fact, a Private Members Bill (C-304) introduced by MP Brian Storseth was read for the second time in parliament on November 22nd. The Bill asks parliament “to amend the Canadian Human Rights Act by deleting sections 13 and 54 to ensure there is no infringement on freedom of expression… “

The Canadian government has extricated itself from the Lemire case, an indication of its rethinking of Section 13. Indeed, Minister of Justice Rob Nicholson has stated “our government believes Section 13 is not an appropriate or effective means of combating hate propaganda."

The government’s view appears to be consistent with University of Windsor law professor Richard Moon, who reviewed Section 13 on behalf of the CHRC and in 2008 recommended it be repealed so that online hate speech is purely a criminal matter. In response, CHRC’s Chief Commissioner Jennifer Lynch said the Moon report is “one step in a comprehensive review…we can envision Section 13 being retained with some amendments.”

MP Irwin Cotler, the former Minister of Justice and internationally recognized human rights lawyer and advocate, believes the act should be revised rather than deleted—or should, at the very least, await the Supreme Court decision (and I would add the outcome of the Lemire case). Some of Cotler’s recommendations for revision include requiring the consent of the Attorney General of Canada for launching a prosecution; a statutory definition of hate; allowing commissions to award costs and the removal of anonymous submissions. There is also a large consensus for an increase in standard of proof based on objectivity and evidence (as in the court system) as opposed to convictions to the satisfaction of interest groups.

Nearly every western nation has statutory laws in place against hate speech. For example, in 1981 and 1995 Belgium passed its Anti-Racism Law and its Holocaust Denial Law respectfully. Brazil cracked down on several hate-related websites in 2006 as part of its 1988 Constitution which bans race-related hate speech. Similarly, France prohibits public and private communication which is defamatory or incites discrimination, hatred, or violence. Germany’s Section 130 makes it a crime to publicly incite hatred against parts of the population or violate their human dignity. Having learned from mainly European history and ongoing social friction, Western nations take their hate laws quite seriously.

In the end, the debate over Section 13 is healthy and evolving. The law must strike a balance between preventing the abuse of the Internet and protecting individual rights to privacy and free speech. In as much we all believe in absolute freedom, our freedom is in reality protected by laws and social safeguards that help shield us against harm from each other and from civil disobedience. Without guiding posts or red lines that protect us against hateful behaviour, inequity would result leading to a loss of freedom and tolerance for all.

Nov 15

What Stops the World From Taking Out Assad?

November 15, 2011 


Avi Benlolo

What Stops the World From Taking Out Assad?

Posted: 11/15/11 01:36 PM ET Huffington Post

Where is the international outrage against Syria? Where are the so-called activists who readily boycott Israel on university campuses or the hypocrites who mislabel it an apartheid state? Where are the fake humanitarian flotillas to Damascus? Neither a peep nor a whisper — only a whimper.

The Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s days are numbered. As he continues to kill his own people, the pressure to bring him to justice will increase; his ruthless actions have even convinced the violence-tolerant Arab League to fire a few warning shots across his bow by suspending him from their midst. In an ominous sign of his growing isolation, Turkey and Jordan have also jumped on the anti-Assad bandwagon and are offering their own criticism and advice. But for now, he continues to rule Syria with an iron fist and a bloodied conscience.

As Western countries congratulate themselves on their role in helping to end the intractable and rapacious Gaddafi dictatorship (and keep their fingers crossed that whoever follows will not be worse), many wonder why we don’t employ the same Right to Protect (R2P) reasoning used to end Libya’s nightmare to help the Syrians as well.

Right to Protect (R2P) is a brilliant policy of the West that arose from the ashes of the Holocaust. Alongside many other human rights initiatives including the establishment of the United Nations (UN) and its Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the more recent Rome Statute which led to the creation of the International Criminal Court (ICC) — itself an echo of the trials at Nuremberg and subsequent Nazi war crimes trials—these efforts were designed to help nations around the world take action to avert future slaughter. But the ICC picks and chooses its battles carefully — some of which seem to be politically inspired.

R2P allows nation states — primarily the western alliance through NATO — to take unilateral action to protect civilians against tyrants. With genocidal maniacs running amok, it is seen as absolutely necessary to police the world in order to advance human rights and protect the innocent. However, the world’s action against some atrocities (most of which are not genocides) must move beyond politics and national interest. The differing global reaction to Libya and Syria is a good case in point.

The international response to Muammar Gaddafi and the most recent atrocities he committed, including attacking civilians inside their homes, repressing demonstrations with live ammunition, using heavy artillery against funeral processions and strategically placing snipers to inflict maximum injury on those leaving Mosque, moved quickly and efficiently on all fronts; ultimately, one of the world’s most arrogant, vain and vicious dictators went down to a cowardly and cowering defeat.

Without exception, it is believed that the atrocities committed by Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and his regime are far worse. The UN estimates more than 3,500 people have been murdered; tens of thousands have vanished and are believed to be incarcerated, while thousands more have fled their villages to the Turkish border as refugees. There is documented evidence and video of tanks shelling civilian areas and shooting at protestors as well as numerous media reports of the abduction of children and rape of women, humiliation and beatings.

Since Syrian crimes can be classified as ‘crimes against humanity’ especially because they are state policy, systematic and directed, why has R2P not been invoked by the international community nor has reasonable action been undertaken by the Security Council and the ICC? The answer is simple: politics and personal interest.

No one sympathized with Gaddafi. He managed to isolate himself from the Arab League by criticising it; he was linked to terrorism and the Pan American bombing over Lockerbie and was widely seen as a bumbling fool given his largely incoherent rant at the UN last year. On the other hand, “Dr.” al-Assad, an ophthalmologist by training, has been perceived as a Western-educated young reformer who wants to advance his nation. But, as Prof. Fouad Ajami recently wrote in the Wall Street Journal, massacre is a family tradition for the al-Assads.

In addition, Russia is a heavy supplier of arms to Syria and has a strategic military foothold in the Middle East through Syria. Along with China, it has already rejected resolutions at the UN condemning the Syrian atrocities. More recently, Russia criticised the Arab League’s decision to expel Syria, and continues to oppose any sanctions against its trading partner. Syria is moreover Russia’s foothold into the Mediterranean housing its naval base in Tartus.

And so, despite the actions of the Arab League and a growing chorus of anti-Assad voices around the world, the bloody Syrian crackdown continues and the death toll continues to climb. Like Gaddafi, Assad will rule to the bitter and dishonourable end.

Assad is like the scorpion in the famous fable, “The Scorpion and the Frog.” After promising the frog he would not sting her if she carries him across the river, the scorpion does indeed sting her dooming them both. When asked why, the scorpion explains it’s in his nature.

Despite his desperation, war is the Assad regime’s nature. Rumours are that his trendy embarrassingly Vogue-profiled wife Asma read the writing on the wall long ago and fled back home to London with the kids.

But the single most important question on everyone’s mind is who will take over after al-Assad? Perhaps and unfortunately, no one is rushing in to clear the way as the Arab Spring has yet to yield a flower.

 http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/avi-benlolo/assad-murders_b_1093904.html?ref=canada

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Nov 07

Remembrance Day: Standing on Guard for Freedom

Avi Benlolo

Posted: 11/6/11 11:56 PM ET

On Nov. 11, Canadians will once again turn their attention to our fallen soldiers on Remembrance Day. Remembrance is one of the most sacred acts of humanity. Not only does it sanctify the dead, it also provides moral nourishment to the living. If the saying that those who forget the past are destined to repeat it is true, remembrance is integral to ensuring a better, more peaceful world for future generations.

In this day and age, when morality is defined by self need; when hypocrisy in the name of human rights has turned the world upside down, when individualism has overtaken community, and when the underpinnings of freedom and democracy have been eroded, Remembrance Day is an annual reminder of who we are and what we ought to stand for.

Forgetting or not fully understanding past action and intervention is horribly dangerous. Thousands of Canadian soldiers gave their lives so that we can live in a society defined by liberty and democracy. In the face of evil and intolerance, they chose not to be bystanders, but to join the fight and defend democratic freedom for the benefit of us all.

The 158 Canadian soldiers who have died in our most recent conflict in Afghanistan sacrificed their own lives to bring freedom and democracy to that land — but also to prevent further terrorism against the West. After 9/11, most democratic nations realized it’s better to fight evil in its own domain rather than have it knock down your front door.

Yes — ‘evil’. It’s important to recognize it when it stares you in the face. And to heck with moral relativism. Anyone who executes women by shooting them in the head at a sporting event in a stadium in front of thousands of cheering fans (e.g. the Taliban) is evil. The bystanders observing from the sidelines are just as complicit in the crime.

Remembrance Day is also about defending freedom and promoting human rights. Canadians should be especially proud of their active role in liberating Europe in the Second World War. Canadian soldiers died on the shores of Dieppe and Normandy in an effort to stop the Nazis. By doing so, they helped bring the Holocaust to an end — although the effort to stop Hitler’s ‘Final Solution’ should have been done much, much sooner.

A short time ago, a man came into my office carrying a box of photos his uncle, a Canadian soldier, left in the attic. They were horrific pictures of piles of dead bodies splayed in grotesque positions — photos of Jews slaughtered at the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp.

The soldier’s name was Robert Robinson. His family told us he was caring and compassionate and disliked conflict. Thank you Robert — we remember you and the precious gift you gave all Canadians.

Simon Wiesenthal was right when he said, “Freedom is not a gift from heaven, we must fight for it each and every day of our lives.” After all, the concept of freedom and liberal democracy is a social construct that was created by humans as a result of centuries of oppression, slavery, war and conflict. Despite its numerous imperfections, it is still the best social system in history. It is responsible for the advancement of health, science, education and technology, and offers a way of life desired by so many around the world who yearn for, and in many cases are fighting for, the freedom we take for granted.

Let us remember the fallen Canadian soldiers who gave their lives so that we may be free. But freedom is never absolute, nor is it permanent. Let us also remember that we must always “stand on guard for thee.”

 http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/avi-benlolo/remembrance-day_b_1075948.html?ref=canada

 

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Oct 18

Israel Shakes Hands With the Devil


Avi Benlolo

Avi Benlolo

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Israel Shakes Hands With the Devil

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Most Israelis are anxiously awaiting the release of Gilad Shalit, the young Israeli prisoner of war captured on June 25, 2006 by Hamas in a cross-border raid near the Kerem Shalom crossing (in Israel). Shalit has been held in Gaza as a bargaining chip for five years and for the Hamas leadership, it’s finally pay day.

The group effectively ransomed Shalit for 1,027 Palestinian prisoners held in Israeli jails — many of them with blood on their hands. For instance, three members of the Hamas cell who in 2005 abducted and murdered Sasson Nuriel — Ali Mohammed Ali Qadi, Abdullah Nasser Arar and Said Ibrahim Shalaldeh — are reportedly on the list of prisoners to be freed.

Israeli families who have suffered from the loss of their loved ones are suffering yet again. Arnold and Frimet Roth are begging the Israeli government not to release Ahlam Tamimi, the woman who aided and abetted the Sbaro suicide bomber who killed 15 people including their 15-year-old-daughter Malka.

But nothing is what it seems in the Middle East. Until Shalit is home with his family, a million more things can happen to derail his freedom — a freedom which he desperately deserves and is long overdue.

Israel’s attempt to negotiate his release has been torpedoed on several occasions including in 2008 when, it is believed, the Palestinian Authority lobbied Israel and the U.S. against the move. The PA believed the release of Palestinian prisoners due to Hamas’ effort would further degrade popular support for the PA — and therefore, their ability to negotiate with Israel.

Al Jazeera reports that on May 20, 2008 a PA delegation led by Hisham Abd el Razek met in Jerusalem with an Israeli delegation headed by Tzipi Livni. El Razek argued against negotiating with Hamas: “What will this bring you? It will strengthen Hamas and not Abu Mazen (Abbas). It will send a message that violence works. There are prisoners that have been sitting in prison for more than 20 years… Hamas will release them and not the peace process?”

Even the PA knows Israel has made a deal with the devil. But as Livni explained to the PA delegation in 2008, “We wanted to talk with Abu Mazen but he cannot release Gilad Shalit.” As it turns out, on Aug. 25, 2008 Israel did release 198 Palestinian prisoners to boost the PA — but Shalit was not freed in return. Perhaps it was Abbas’s unpleasant rant at the UN last month that spurred Israel on to negotiate with Hamas.

Negotiate with someone calling for your own demise? If the devil visited you at night and asked you for your soul in return for the life of your child, would you sell your soul to him? You bet you would. Upholding the central Jewish tenet of mutual responsibility, Israel made the only humane choice it could. As one writer put it well from a Jewish perspective, “The mitzva of pidyon shvuim — the obligation we have to ransom captives — that was traditionally regarded by Jews as a priority. It reflects the humanity and concern for one another that has personified the Jewish people over years of persecution and isolation.”

Even Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah realized this weakness and famously once said, “We have discovered how to hit the Jews where they are most vulnerable. The Jews love life, so that is what we shall take away from them. We are going to win because they love life and we love death.”

We have to believe that Nasrallah is wrong. That all people prefer life over death. That no one is born to hate and through education and tolerance, humanity can be lifted to new heights.

Who can forget the over 2,000 innocent Israeli lives lost at the hands of Palestinian suicide bombers who indiscriminately killed Jews in pizzerias, in night clubs, in restaurants, in bus stations and during holiday celebrations. Who could forget the searing images burned into our brains of bodies of people who were on their way to work dangling from buses? And the injured who had ball bearings sprayed into their bodies and limbs blown off, bolts wedged into their head and psychological trauma. Who could forget the orphaned children and the parents who were left childless?

And what about the more than 8,000 rockets launched from Gaza by Hamas and other terrorist groups that have devastated communities and left lasting psychological scars like that of the child who continues to wet his bed at night or the elderly person whose blood pressure races every time the school bell next door rings out.

Many Israelis are asking themselves how they could release so many Palestinians who carried out or were involved in violent terrorist activities. Would they return with a renewed vengeance? Will the release of one Israeli soldier result in future Israeli civilian and military casualties? Will more Israeli soldiers be kidnapped?

You bet. Ezzedeen Al Qassam Brigades, the military wing of the Islamic Resistance Movement — Hamas — has already said on the organization’s official website that “the Zionist soldier Gilad Shalit would not be the last….” And in another press release on the Hamas website, Nael al-Barghouthi stated, “After 30 years of captivity, we are just soldiers returning to their bases.”

Historical evidence suggests that negotiating with terrorists will most certainly bring about more terrorism and less peace. Yet, Israelis have knowingly accepted this reality for the freedom of Gilad Shalit.

Why? Because there is always hope. Maybe everyone will simply agree that peace is always better than war. That tolerance is better than hate. As former Israeli prime minister Golda Meir once said, “Pessimism is a luxury that a Jew can never allow himself.” Maybe the two sides can start a new chapter that leads to freedom for everyone from the bondage of hate and despair.

Let’s be optimistic.

 

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Oct 10

Jewish Resolve: Drawing Strength from Yom Kippur

October 10, 2011

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As on Yom Kippur of 1973, Jewish communities around the world — and Israel in particular, are facing an external threat of historic proportion.

It was 38 years ago that a consortium of Arab states launched a surprise attack on Israel on Yom Kippur (the Day of Atonement), the holiest and most solemn day of the year for the Jewish people. It was a sadistic attack, timed to happen when Jews in Israel would have their guard down — in synagogue, with all communications closed (no electricity or fire is permissible) and likely weak and tired from fasting.

But Jewish resolve and the need for survival was greater than the hatred unleashed on the tiny state by Egypt, Syria, Jordan and Iraq with troops and aid from Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Lebanon, Libya, Pakistan, Sudan, Morocco, Cuba and Yasser Arafat’s Palestine Liberation Organization. Many nations further participated in attempting to destroy Israel by funding and supplying this war effort — including the former Soviet Union through its alliance with Egypt and Arab states.

Israel was victorious and for many Jews today, Yom Kippur is more than just a day of private reflection and atonement. It is a day of Jewish pride and strength, and an expression of our resolve and effort to survive in our ancestral homeland despite the incredible suffering our people have endured throughout the ages.

And because Yom Kippur is a holiday that brings Jews together and fills synagogues around the world to the rafters, it is a holiday that unifies us and recommits us and strengthens us for the coming year. This re-strengthening of our commitment to Israel and our culture and religion was indeed the secret weapon the Arabs missed in 1973 when they launched their attack.

The enemies of Israel and the Jewish people should know that our resolve today is greater than it was even on Yom Kippur in 1973. When we say that never again will there be a Holocaust and the gathering of millions of Jews into concentration camps where they will be gassed — or annihilated by Gazan bombs or a nuclear Iran, we are serious. Israel does not stand alone — not among Diaspora Jews and not among Western nations like Canada who rightly understand that Israel is the defender of freedom and democracy in the Middle East.

For today, we bear witness to a ‘gang up on Israel and the Jewish people’ mentality heretofore unseen in history — for there has never before been such a convergence of technology and communication combined with such a seething hatred for the Jewish people under the guise of anti-Zionism. It is unconscionable and immoral that any religious minority on this planet — and there are only 13 million of us — is continuously attacked by a consortium of 52 Islamic Conference states at the United Nations. The Iranian president regularly and publicly calls for Israel’s destruction; Hamas continues to shoot rockets at Israel even as the Palestinians demand a state — but not peace, while the wanna-be leader of a new Islamic caliphate — Turkey, is complicit in sending a flotilla to break the Gaza blockade (and subsequently demanding an apology from Israel for daring to defend itself).

Like Yom Kippur of 1973, we are in an emergency situation — one that we must not leave again to chance and illusion. While Israel’s enemies continue to plan war against the state or fund terrorism from a distance, others are warring against Israel from across continents. In Canada, for example, money was raised to fund a flotilla to Gaza this summer; at the end of August, an Arab group commemorating ‘al-Quds Day’ at Queens Park (Ontario’s legislature) turned the celebration into a venom-laced protest by referring to Israel as a “cancer,” and asserting that all troubles in the world are the fault of Jews. A woman presented by protest organizers as a representative of the United Church of Canada was there in support of this monstrous hate speech.

You may wonder how this could be allowed to happen — not in Palestinian town of Ramallah, but in Toronto. The truth is that anti-Semitism (disguised as anti-Israelism) has become permissible on our university campuses, at gay pride weeks and in large unions like the Canadian Union of Public Employees — Ontario and the Canadian Union of Postal Workers. When the world’s oldest mental illness (anti-Semitism) entrenches itself in institutions, it becomes acceptable in the public sphere as well.

The examples of Israel and Jewish hatred are numerous and slowly seeping into mainstream narrative. Statements questioning Israel’s right to exist are routinely given a pass — most recently in a CBC Radio interview when a Palestinian representative was permitted to state — unchallenged, that Israel has been occupying Palestinian land since 1948. Anti-Israel activists like George Galloway, who speaks of Hezbollah terrorist Hassan Nasrallah (whose hatred of Jews could rival Hitler’s) in glowing terms, is given a hero’s welcome on university campuses across the country, while the Boycott Israel movement has filtered down to your local public library: Vancouver just hosted a meeting at one such publicly funded facility designed to encourage literacy, not hate. And just this past weekend, a group called for a boycott of the Jerusalem String Quartet’s performance in Vancouver.

The Ottawa Protocol against Anti-Semitism just signed last month is evidence enough of how serious and concerning this issue is in Canada and around the world. Why else would a government and individual parliamentarians (who volunteered their time) spend more than two years studying and reporting on the assault on Canadian Jews? Canadians should be thankful to each and every parliamentarian involved from the three leading parties for recognizing this growing menace, acting upon it and providing a precedent for other nations to follow.

Yet despite these challenges, Israel will continue to grow and blossom as a Jewish state. We have learned to stand up to those who wish we would disappear and to those who would do their utmost to make that happen. We are a people that has stood the test of time. Having just marked the year 5772 calendar year on Rosh Hashanah (the Jewish New Year), we are one of the oldest living religions known to humanity. And once again, this Saturday we will be renewing our commitment, our pride and our strength to our legacy.

 

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Sep 25

Abbas Misses Another Opportunity

Huffington Post Posted: 9/23/11 04:58 PM ET

Speaking at the United Nations today, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas missed an opportunity to gain the confidence of Israel and international Jewry by recognizing Israel as a Jewish state. Barack Obama understands this and in his UN speech earlier this week, tried to smooth his often tense relationship with Israel by reaffirming an observable fact: “The Jewish people have forged a successful state in their historic homeland.”

Instead, Abbas achieved the exact opposite. His speech to the General Assembly was a slanderous assault on Israel rather than a warm and gentle handshake with his only possible peace partner. Finding it hard to speak of Israel by its name, Abbas referred to the Jewish state as “the occupying power”, thereby denying its very existence.

Abbas took every opportunity to defame Israel and label it a criminal state on the world stage. He accused Israel of “ethnic cleansing,” of “apartheid,” of “racism,” of “colonialism” and even of setting “dogs” and “settlers” on the Palestinians. Yet, at the same time, he claimed to be extending a hand to the Israeli people while maintaining Palestinian efforts are not designed to delegitimize Israel.

Really? And all this time, we thought he was playing nice.

Those of us with a clear grasp of history watched in astonishment as Abbas reminded the General Assembly of Yasser Arafat’s 1974 UN speech in which he extended his hand of peace in the form of an olive branch (while wearing a gun holster). Arafat a peace maker? How ludicrous! Arafat was at the top of his terrorism game in the 1970s.

Let’s see. Does anyone remember the 1972 Munich massacre or PLO terrorism in Kiryat Shimona, Ma’alot and Beit She’an in 1974? Or how about the PLO’s 1974 rejection of Security Council Resolution 242 which calls for Israel’s “right to live in peace within secure and recognized boundaries free from threats or acts of force?” How many plane hijackings was Arafat involved in?

Abbas tried to sound like a statesman and he would have done himself and the Palestinians greater good if only he took an honest look in the mirror and declared the imperfections honestly. He failed to discuss the elephant in the room which is Hamas and Gaza. What happens to them? Are they included in the Palestinian UN bid to be recognized as a full state? If so, many Western nations, including the United States are not permitted by law to fund Hamas, which is deemed a terrorist organization. So what happens? How will he control Hamas’ war with Israel?

Abbas could have reached into the heart of Israel by announcing that he has freed Gilad Shalit as a gesture of good will. He could have renounced the anti-Semitism that prevails on Palestinian television and in school curricula. He could have candidly and genuinely invited Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to have open and honest negotiations leading to a Palestinian state.

By refusing to accept Israel as the Jewish homeland — nevermind his reluctance to even mention it respectfully by name, Abbas gave the impression that he is refusing to accept the Jewish state — end of story. As Netanyahu reminded the General Assembly this afternoon, Abbas did not have the courtesy to reply to Ehud Olmert’s sweeping offer two years ago. If Abbas is serious about peace, he should take Netanyahu up on his offer and immediately meet with him in New York to make peace.

Another missed opportunity for both Palestinians and Israelis would be a shame. What is he waiting for?