Jewish Heterogeneity on Israel

Sometimes it feels like the Middle East conflict is ever-present.  Just as I return home to Vancouver to spend time with family and friends over the Jewish High Holidays, the public transportation company in the city of my birth releases a divisive series of ads (above) about Israel and Palestine.  This is hardly news in itself, but because this is the Jewish community that I still feel most connected to, I wanted to understand what the ads, commissioned by the Palestine Awareness Coalition, depicted.

As you can see, both on the PAC’s website and on the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs’ breakdown of the ads, the visual ads show a map of Israel/Palestine where the land allotted to the Palestinians has continued to shrink over the past 66 years.  This is obviously critical of the State of Israel, and a nuanced debate is desperately needed in the mainstream Jewish community on this issue.  However, what I was struck by first, before I could even assess the ads themselves, was how a major Vancouver newspaper covered the ads.

The Vancouver Sun published an article by Farid Rohani arguing that the ads should be taken down because they discriminate against Jews, leaving us feeling like an unsafe minority as we commute around our city.  The thrust of his argument is that TransLink violated its own policies of avoiding the publication of divisive ads, which is hard to argue with.  However, while the ads should not have been displayed on public buses, they point to a real need to have a discussion that too many parties to the Middle East conflict seem committed to stifling.

The sentence of the Sun article that struck me — a concerned Jew from Vancouver wishing to understand this latest iteration of Israel-related news — the most was when Rohani stated: “[w]ithout giving undeserved profile to the warped message of the ads, I can say that I certainly understand why members of the local Jewish community are upset.”  I was definitely looking for opinion pieces about the appropriateness of the ads, but I also wanted to be able to judge for myself how appropriate they were.  The sense that Rohani knew what was best for his readers was seemingly reinforced when he stated: “[w]hile I’m neither Jewish nor Israeli, I have no interest in seeing the Middle East conflict imported into my morning commute.”  To me, this underlying message of objectivity is meant to tell the reader that this author does not have a stake in the issue, and therefore his opinion ought to be trusted.

I find offensive the claim that, as a non-Jewish, non-Israeli, the author has some objective perch on which to stand regarding the Middle East conflict.  Even more offensive is the notion that everyone will understand that the ads are too “warped” to even have a discussion about them.  No doubt, those that agreed with Rohani before reading the article do not need to see the ads.  But by not including the ads in the article, in an age where any image publicly available is only a click away, the author seems to be saying that there is no reason to try to reach a conclusion about the merit of the argument that PAC is making.

I hope that events like these stimulate discussion, not render us mute.  How we speak about a country speaking for us, as Jews, matters too much to not develop an international discussion among the world’s Jews, rather than leaving it to politicians and other mainstream leaders.  We need to cultivate a space in each and every Jewish community where one can share one’s narrative as it relates to the State of Israel and Palestine without fear of ridicule or scorn, but with the hope that respect and concern will be shared.

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