Hub contributors react: How should Canada respond to the Israel-Hamas war?

Guilt by association will get us nowhere
Members of the National Assembly stand in a minute of silence for the victims after a motion to condemn  the situation in Israel and Gaza, at the legislature in Quebec City, Tuesday, Oct. 17, 2023. Jacques Boissinot/The Canadian Press.

On October 7th, Hamas’s coordinated attacks caught Israel unprepared and set off a chain of events that led to a ground invasion of Gaza by the Israel Defense Force last week. As a country with many affected diaspora communities, and as a global partner seeking a stable and lasting resolution to the war, Canada is not untouched by this conflict. So how should we respond? How should our politicians communicate about the events unfolding in the Middle East and on our own streets? How should the news media report on these issues? And how should Canadians with sympathies for those caught up in the violence best channel their efforts? We’ve gathered a group of The Hub’s regulator contributors to bring their perspectives to bear on how our country should approach this war.

Protests are allowed—but they must be lawful

By Ian Brodie, University of Calgary political science professor and former chief of staff to Rt. Hon. Stephen Harper

The Hamas attack of October 7 and Israel’s response have provoked statements and demonstrations in many Canadian cities. Canadians have long enjoyed the constitutionally protected right to freedom of expression (at least since the Alberta Press Case of 1938). In 1982, the Charter of Rights also recognized the right to assemble peacefully. However, as the lawyers remind us, none of these rights is unlimited. Some of the protests we have seen might cross the line into criminal conduct. Provincial governments have options for responding to such protests.

First, protests outside of Jewish community centres are a particular concern. This is particularly so when a community centre houses a school or a daycare. In some provinces, abortion clinics are protected against protests and even public prayers that could be seen or heard by anyone entering or leaving the clinics under provincial law. The Morgentaler Clinic in Toronto is protected by a private injunction. These “bubble zones” are well-accepted by the province’s courts and prosecutors and carefully enforced. To protect children and others, provincial attorneys-general should apply for and enforce similar injunctions to establish bubble zones around Jewish community centres. In this way, protests could still be held but not in places where children and others might be alarmed.

Harsher criminal measures are also available for more damaging behaviour. The Criminal Code outlaws willfully promoting hatred against an identifiable group. Protesters who chant “Kill the Jews” or “Death to the Jews” might be violating that law. In Canada, it is also a crime to advocate genocide. Chanting or displaying placards advocating that Palestine be free “from the [Jordan] River to the [Mediterranean] Sea” is, arguably, advocating genocide against the Israelis. Any of these actions might also constitute willfully promoting antisemitism by condoning, denying, or downplaying the Holocaust. That crime was added to the Criminal Code only a year ago in government legislation that responded to a bill drafted by Conservative MP Kevin Waugh.

Such prosecutions require the personal approval of a provincial attorney general. Would a provincial attorney general refuse to prosecute if police hate crimes investigators recommend it?

Measured, accurate reporting is more important than ever

By Amal Attar-Guzman, The Hub’s content editor

With the Israeli-Hamas conflict set to intensify, we have seen various perspectives on the war across Canada similarly heating up. Excluding radical, fringe sentiments on both sides, there have been people greatly concerned about Israel’s ability for self-defence, the ongoing hostage crisis, and Hamas’ possible retaliation. Others have been greatly concerned about the ongoing Israeli airstrikes against Gaza and the grave, humanitarian conditions that Palestinians have been under as a consequence.

One thing is certain. Canadians from the Israeli and Palestinian diasporas are mourning for all those who have been killed and are worried and scared about further escalating violence. Religious–Jewish, Muslim and Christian–communities in general and Middle Eastern ones in particular are concerned about how this conflict may incite religious, ethnic, and racial hatred and its potential to greatly expand and worsen not only in the Middle East but even here at home.

Keeping all of this in mind, the one thing that Canadian politicians, and even those of us in the media, need to do when talking about this conflict and developing or supporting future policy decisions is to keep in mind the impacted communities from this conflict, especially its children.

Israeli-Canadian and Palestinian-Canadian children have been living an absolute nightmare. At home, they are listening to the worries and fears of their parents and relatives who are currently in Israel, Gaza, and the West Bank. These children have likely personally mourned family and friends who have been killed in the last few weeks.

And when they want to escape into the online world, they can’t. On social media, not only are they seeing ongoing coverage of the conflict, but they’re seeing heightened anti-Israeli and anti-Palestinian rhetoric on top of antisemitic, Islamophobic, and even anti-Arab sentiments. I know this for a fact because I have come across such content as I’ve sought to stay on the conflict’s latest developments. And God knows what they have been hearing at school.

They’re scared and feel a heavy weight on their shoulders every day as this conflict rages on. As such, Canadian news media and politicians need to make sure that our messaging and coverage of the conflict is clear and as accurate as possible, without inciting ignorant, divisive, and even dangerous rhetoric. Now, I know this is a tall order since war reporting and information constantly change as new developments arise. We also all have our biases. But we all can take the extra step in asking critical questions to ensure that information has been properly verified and biases have been mitigated. Being in a position of power and influence is a great privilege and with it comes great responsibility that we are accountable for.

In doing our work, we need to be conscious of the fact that if Israeli and Palestinian diaspora communities are listening to what we’re saying, their children are most definitely listening.

Guilt by association will get us nowhere

By Sean Speer, The Hub’s editor at large

One of the major imperatives for Canadian politicians is the need to (1) condemn Hamas’s terrorist attacks and those in Canada and elsewhere that support them and (2) signal to Arab and Muslim Canadians that they aren’t covered by such condemnation merely due to their ethnicity or religion. There are nearly 2 million Muslims in Canada. There’s no reason to believe that most or all of them support the October 7 attacks against Israel.

For politicians seeking to strike this balance, it may seem a bit counterintuitive but Pierre Poilievre’s message during last year’s Freedom Convoy is instructive. Readers may recall that during the protests he was frequently asked to condemn the protestors in overall terms due to various perceived transgressions, including racism, Nazism, and so on. His answer: he supported peace and law-abiding protestors while condemning any individuals who “broke laws or behaved badly.”

Poilievre’s basic point was that we must be prepared to distinguish between individuals and groups. Individuals think and act. Groups do not.

The same insight applies to the reaction to Hamas’s attacks. Rallies in support of them in Canadian cities are painful to Jewish Canadians and an affront to Canadian values. To the extent that individuals involved have broken laws, they should be prosecuted. Full stop.

There’s also plenty of scope to disagree with individuals whose ideas and words may be wrong but aren’t illegal. Pluralism doesn’t mean that just because we accept differences in our society, we’re precluded from contesting them. One of the takeaways for me from recent weeks is that we need to restore a sense of principled pluralism, by which I mean while we must maintain room for individuals to have different lifestyles and viewpoints, we should also be prepared to say that certain ones are better than others. Pluralism in other words isn’t a synonym for a collective nihilism.

But it’s also important that political leaders signal to Muslim Canadians that they aren’t being subjected to guilt by association or persecution for minority views. As Canadian citizens, they’re guaranteed the same rights and freedoms as other members of our society—including ultimately the right to be judged according to their own character or merit rather than immutable characteristics such as where they’re from, what their skin colour is, or what God they worship, or the transgressions of people who live, look or worship like them.

That was the right message during the Freedom Convoy. And it’s the right message today.

Canada needs its own national values

By Andrew Evans, Master’s student at Columbia University and former adviser to the Ford government

Since he became prime minister and proclaimed Canada a “post-national state” in a 2015 interview, Justin Trudeau’s vision of a post-national Canada has found expression. We have seen in recent weeks the implications thereof. Whether the extraordinary reaction in the streets—including what amount to pro-Hamas rallies—doom the idea of a post-national state is unclear. What is clear though is that Canada needs to redefine a set of national values beyond the malleable notions of “empathy, compassion and harmony”, in the recent words of Olivia Chow. Something beyond this is required.

The answer lies in a more assertive yet benign Canadian set of values to help us not only understand ourselves and each other but our place in the world as well. Without this, Canadian culture and priorities will drift listlessly on the winds of each fresh political upheaval, with nothing to anchor us in place. In a world rapidly becoming more fractured, this cannot be our future if we are to remain united, strong, and free.

Every level of government, and every political party, has benefited from effectively ceding this ground to the altar of multiculturalism, allowing them to sidestep uncomfortable political conversations. We no longer have this luxury. Although many would prefer to avoid it, a new national conversation about what constitutes a unifying set of Canadian values is the necessary first step to bringing a greater sense of shared citizenship and purpose. Canada need not define a rigid set of values that brook no interference, but rather that the values that define Canadian society should enable greater collective self-confidence.

With good fortune and the lens of hindsight, this may all turn out to be a transitory political moment in which the elusive Canadian self-image searches for a new set of priorities and values in place of the past shibboleths.

We can’t let the logic of war weaken our moral resolve

By Sam Routley, PhD student in political science at the University of Western

The tragic reality of war is that its greatest costs are always paid by those who deserve it the least. And war, as perhaps best shown by Picasso’s “Guernica,” always generates its own warped and surrealistic logic: people cease to be people, despite the fact that this is supposedly who we fight for.

A large part of what makes Hamas’s attack on Israel so horrifying is its selfishness. Hamas has not only slaughtered Israelis, but it has also drawn their fellow Palestinians and Muslims, long weary of conflict, into more violence. This, it seems, is what they have wanted. By provoking an Israel prepared to defend itself, they are prepared to engage in a quasi-fascistic celebration of power and brute force. Children, whether beheaded or buried in rubble, serve as the foundation of their purified Middle East.

But what is also short-sighted is the fact that many Muslims in Canada, who have no sympathy for Hamas’s attacks, now find themselves at the centre of heightened social tensions; while appalled at the attack on Israel, they are also wary of the adverse impacts that sustained conflict can have those whose homes are in the Gaza strip.

As many of The Hub’s contributors have powerfully argued, there is no moral equivalency between Israel and Hamas, and to insist otherwise evades what really matters here. We should also avoid evaluating the ongoing situation exclusively through our narrow political predispositions or policy goals; what is really at stake are regular people—people who simply want security and safety.

The goal of political leaders, instead, ought to be the careful and further isolation of Hamas as a uniquely malignant force, inconsistent with any idea of a “Free Palestine”. But this, I think, is not a matter of mere rhetorical strategy (as important as it will be). It also calls for a greater realization and application of the national values we claim to have—why we know Hamas to be evil.

Canada has always enjoyed the benefits of liberal pluralism, namely its tolerance, stability, and peace. But, at the same time, it’s an example of its ongoing impasse: deference, atomization, and an incapacity to articulate a sense of the common good. But the world is getting darker, and we need to know where to search for the light.

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