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‘A refugee crisis is brewing’: The Hub reacts to the Israel-Hamas war

Commentary

Israel announced a “total blockade” of the Gaza Strip in response to the devastating surprise attack by Hamas on the weekend that left more than 1,200 Israeli civilians dead.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and other world leaders condemned the attacks and Israel has launched a retaliatory assault that aimed to root out Hamas and its infrastructure from Gaza.

Here at The Hub, we’ve assembled our contributors for their instant reactions to the ongoing conflict and their best analysis on what happens next.

CUPE chooses Hamas over workers

By Rahim Mohamed

As the first horrifying images from Hamas’ pogrom in southern Israel surfaced on Friday, CUPE Local 3906, a union representing more than 3,000 academic workers at McMaster University, tweeted: “Palestine is rising, long live the resistance????” The tweet was later deleted, but not before a meme pairing these words with an image of half-naked female hostage (identified as German national Shani Louk) lying prone in the back of a Hamas pick-up truck made its rounds on social media. (As of Tuesday afternoon, no retraction has been issued). 

It would soon become clear that this sentiment was shared widely within the organization, extending all the way to its leadership. CUPE Ontario President Fred Hahn himself unleashed a torrent of incendiary tweets targeting Israel over the long weekend, perhaps most egregiously using the pro-Palestinian #resistance hashtag twice in a Thanksgiving message to his 11,300 followers on X. A belated and half-hearted statement issued by CUPE National on Tuesday did nothing to reverse this perception.

This, to put it mildly, is not a great look for an organization that over 700,000 workers are counting on to fight for their best interests. As The Hub‘s Trevor Tombe has noted, the return of inflation has made collective bargaining an especially high-stakes game, with workers relying on CUPE and other major unions to deliver substantial wage and benefit hikes. It will be of paramount importance, in the months to come, for labour unions to maintain a favourable image with the Canadian public—the recent social media outbursts may well come back to haunt CUPE at the bargaining table. 

Fred Hahn and other CUPE leaders have done a disservice to the organization’s members by needlessly taking sides in a foreign conflict. 

Israel’s tragedy is ours, too

By Sean Speer

Among the insights in Adam Smith’s 1759 book, The Theory of Moral Sentiments, is that human nature limits our ability to empathize with the pain and suffering of strangers far away from us—especially in comparison to threats to our own health and well-being. In particular, he compares our hypothetical reaction to an earthquake in China and the prospect of losing our little finger. As he put it:

The most frivolous disaster which could befall himself would occasion a more real disturbance. If he was to lose his little finger to-morrow, he would not sleep to-night; but, provided he never saw them [the earthquake victims], he will snore with the most profound security over the ruin of a hundred millions of his brethren, and the destruction of that immense multitude seems plainly an
object less interesting to him, than this paltry misfortune of his own.

Although I’m reluctant to disagree with the father of economics, his judgment here failed in hindsight to account for two factors: (1) technology that makes it impossible not to “see them” and (2) parenthood.

Recent days have forced everyone around the world to confront the images of Hamas’ barbarity. Its murders, rapes, and other violence have been broadcast live via social media. Hamas terrorists have often themselves been the ones broadcasting it. There’s been no option therefore to snore away in our own security. We’ve been forced to watch the brutal reality in horror.

Smith who himself was childless also underestimated the empathy that one derives from the shared responsibility of parenthood. The stories of parents who were killed trying to protect their kids or of babies and children who have been brutally murdered are enough to overwhelm any parent. Our minds instinctively go to our own children and the unbearable thought of us and them in such awful circumstances. The face of an innocent child closes great distance.

The events of recent days in short have unproven Smith’s theory. Israel’s tragic misfortune is not its alone. We’ve felt their pain and suffering. And we’ll not forget.

A refugee crisis is brewing

By Amal Attar-Guzman

Hamas’ invasion of Israel has been a global shock. At least 1000 people have been killed by Hamas and 150 people have been taken hostage, including IDF army officers and the elderly, women, and children. Sexual violence has been reported and there are videos of the desecration of the dead circulating on social media.

In response, Israel declared war on Hamas and launched waves of airstrikes, and is preparing a ground-operation into Gaza. So far, at least 830 have been killed and 4,250 have been injured.

The numbers of those killed and injured will only rise for days to come.

In the last few days, there has been a lot of talk about geopolitical strategy, such as, how will this conflict impact the region? Is Iran involved? How does Russia and China benefit? How did Israeli and allies’ security apparatuses fail to predict Hamas’ attack? How will neighbouring Arab nations respond? 

While we can come up with many theories of how the war will play out, there is one irrefutable fact no one can deny: a refugee crisis is about to explode.

Israel’s citizens have been killed, taken hostage, or missing. Many evacuated from their towns and communities near the Palestinian border. Fears of further Hamas’ attacks are still alive and well and ongoing internal displacement will cause further stresses in the country. While many Israeli reservists abroad are trying to go back and fight, if the Israeli government does not retrieve hostages or improve the situation quickly, it would not be surprising for Israelis and their families to contemplate leaving the country to find a safe haven elsewhere.

Gaza and the West Bank are extremely dense and have poor infrastructure and resources. Hence, specifically in Gaza’s case, despite airstrike warnings from Israel, Palestinians are having a tough time finding safe haven within Gaza and many will likely die as a result. It will not be surprising that some will flee and head towards neighbouring countries such as Jordan, Syria, or Lebanon for safety. The creation of new refugee camps or joining already overrun refugee camps will only cause further security and socio-economic stresses in the region. 

Canada will need to be ready for this reality. Despite current domestic challenges, it will not be surprising to hear calls from the Israeli and Palestinian diasporas to take in refugees from their respective communities as the conflict rages on. Canada will need to prepare on how to deal with this and strictly walk the line to ensure that their actions do not further inflame already deeply-wounded grievances in either community.

Morally critiquing the Hamas attacks on Israel

By Karamveer Lalh

When I was sitting around the Thanksgiving table with my family this weekend, my mind immediately turned to the horrible attacks on Israel by Hamas. The petty political bickering we have in Canada seems small in comparison to the real violence and real fear those in Israel and, indeed, the Jewish community broadly must be feeling. Speaking only on domestic issues here, over the course of the weekend, a few things in particular stood out to me.

Following along on social media, I found it concerning that there appeared to be an instinct among many prominent people to either equivocate or even support the bad things they saw or read about. The instinctive idea to place bad actions within a broader intersectional context, while likely rooted in the noblest of intentions, degrades our ability to form moral judgments.

Without the ability to form moral judgments, we become disconnected from our ability to define bad acts as bad acts and instead focus on the actor or the actor’s identity instead of the act itself. This is a pervasive trend in all aspects of our political life. I would like to see conversations about whether this is indeed the correct way to orient ourselves, particularly in a judicial and political context.

Even a casual familiarity with history will tell you that many evils have been conducted in the name of revenge. Israel is justified in wanting to eliminate the threat of Hamas but that does not mean that the collateral that they will inevitably incur as a result of that is at all good.

Domestically, people are rightfully angered at what they see as their fellow Canadians marching in support of terrorist groups. I suggest that the correct way to respond to those actions is to march with the counterprotests and remind everyone that freedom of expression, with a bright line exception of inciting violence, is a fundamental political right.

There is no tranquility when one group wants the other exterminated

By Brian Dijkema

While Hamas does not have the same strength as the Nazis during WW2, there is, nonetheless a moral analogy: they wish the Jewish people to be exterminated; they intentionally, deliberately, and willfully, target non-combatants; they torture and humiliate Jewish people. They kill indiscriminately. They desecrate the dead.

No amount of whataboutism justifies this. It is unadulterated evil. That Hamas rejoices in this evil only makes their actions more heinous. It is completely inexcusable and Israel is justified in responding with arms and with force. 

I care a great deal about peace. Peace is, as one of our theologians says, “more than the absence of war. It is the tranquility of order.” There can be no tranquility when one group wants the other exterminated. There can be no order, nor tranquility, when one side kidnaps children, and elderly people, even Holocaust victims. How can there be peace in such conditions? The Jewish people—Israelis of all sorts—cannot live in tranquility when such things can happen out of the blue. I repeat: the state of Israel is justified in responding with arms to such actions by Hamas.

The moral conditions of just war theory note that just wars can be conducted unjustly. It’s possible Israel will violate principles of jus in bello; it’s fine to critique that. But that does not negate the jus ad bellum. Those who call out for jus in bello without condemning Hamas are engaging in moral equivocation. It’s wrong.

There is a path to peace, but it must begin with Hamas recognizing Israel and putting down arms. Successful movements for political recognition have, in the past, done this: Gandhi, MLK Jr. Peace must be begun by peace; even if you believe you are weaker; even if you are ill-treated. There is a path. But this is the only one that can lead to durable peace. As our Cardus paper shows, Jewish people are the primary target for religiously motivated hate crimes. It’s not even close. They are targeted more than all other groups combined.

The importance of our common humanity

By Kelden Formosa

Anti-colonialism was the theme of many of the tweets and statements justifying the rape and murder of Israeli civilians this weekend. Ordinary Israelis living within the 1967 borders were called “settlers,” even if they were born and lived their whole lives in the same place, and their “settler” status is what made them a legitimate target of attack. Even children were seen as guilty.

Looking out at my beautifully diverse class of six- and seven-year-olds, I thought today of how important it is that I teach my students to see each other first and foremost as fellow human beings, each one unique but all endowed with the same dignity and worth.

They are not “settlers” or avatars of a particular race or religion. In an education system that increasingly wants children to think of themselves that way—or worse, as oppressors or oppressed—I want my students to learn first their common humanity. All other problems are easier to fix when our children are taught to see their classmates as brothers and sisters in the human family, not inheritors of historic grievances and ancient hatreds.

Joanna Baron: Pro-Hamas demonstrations may be despicable, but they are still legal—And that’s a good thing

Commentary

Like so many others, I spent my Thanksgiving weekend in limbic shock as the magnitude of what happened in Israel set in. 

The shock was instinctual: I still have not gotten the image of that hapless four-year-old boy, the same age as my littlest niece, being poked by a stick and taunted with the Hebrew word for “mommy” out of my head.

It was ancestral: watching the images of babies in cages and body bags felt as though there were iPhones in full technicolour around in 1944 when my paternal grandmother’s entire family was forced from their village in Hungary and murdered at Auschwitz.

It was familial: I heard from relatives across Israel who were terrified in bomb shelters and I prayed for my cousin, a Tel Aviv cardiologist and newlywed, who has been called up for reserve duty as an army medic.

And it was intellectual. As I watched as colleagues on Twitter, including Canadian law professors, attempt to spin the worst massacre of innocent Jews since the Holocaust as “legitimate resistance” I thought about how to use my legal training to fight back.

But I couldn’t do much this weekend. By Monday around 5 p.m., I was exhausted, upset and overstimulated so I decided to shut down my laptop, lie down on my couch, and close my eyes. A few moments later, I heard chants outside my window on Bloor Street in Toronto; first inchoate, then clear: “Occupation is a crime! Free, free Palestine!”

I clambered up to see, in horror, that a few hundred of my fellow Torontonians had shown up on my doorstep to march in approval of this unspeakable massacre. For those who claim this was just a march in favour of Palestinian civilians, please give your head a shake. An Instagram post advertising the rally held earlier in the day at Nathan Phillips Square called the terrorists “heroic” and celebrated the “over 30 Zionist hostages captured.”

I remain utterly disturbed by the chants of “Allahu Akbar” that rang out in nearby Mississauga on Saturday night, and the countless individuals on social media who have shown themselves to so lack basic moral architecture that they are celebrating one of the most unambiguous acts of human cruelty in history.

And yet, I would not yield to the various calls over the weekend to suppress these demonstrations. For example, Toronto City Councillors Brad Bradford and James Pasternak wrote to Toronto Mayor Olivia Chow to urge her to “do what is necessary prevent an unlawful pro-Hamas rally” held at Nathan Phillips Square including by not allowing a permit for public space. Bradford and Pasternak pointed to a city-produced event manual that suggests permits will not be issued for events that endorse views that are “likely to promote discrimination, contempt or hatred.”

While the desire to shut down this hateful rally is understandable, what these councillors don’t appear to understand is that freedom of peaceful assembly is a constitutional right that belongs to everyone—even the vilest among us. As the Toronto Police have correctly noted, the Constitution including section 2(c) of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms is the supreme law of Canada and supersedes any municipal policy requiring a permit to gather.

Several legal intellectuals have mused that such demonstrations might reach the rare threshold of “counselling terrorist acts,” a crime under s. 83(01) of the Criminal Code, and thus should be forbidden. I’m skeptical of this claim. It’s true that “counselling terrorist acts” applies to such acts whether in Canada or abroad. However, there is scant case law on what “counselling” consists of. While no doubt images of crowds in London, Sydney, Toronto, and New York praising Hamas are broadly useful to the terror group’s purposes, simply attending a rally and chanting “Free, free Palestine” seems quite remote from actual terrorism. 

 Although anyone who lends their voice and body to support a movement that committed such atrocities is morally broken or at best extremely naïve, the protesters likely were not all terrorists. Judging from news coverage, they seemed to be an admixture of those praising Palestinian resistance and statehood, those condemning what they see as Zionist oppression, and even more repugnant elements who chant things like “Death to Jews”. It’s impossible to separate out the merely morally broken and duped from the murderous terrorists in any street protest, and the criminal law, which imposes the state’s most draconian restriction on liberty— imprisonment— requires clarity and precision.

This does not mean there shouldn’t be arrests. Although peaceful protest is a protected activity under the Charter rights to free expression and free assembly, unlawful acts may be committed in the course of exercising these rights. Police have the right to arrest people for breaches of the peace (s. 31(1) of the Criminal Code), mischief (s. 430), and taking part in a riot (s. 65). A man loudly confronting a small pro-Hamas rally in Calgary this weekend, for example, was charged under the broad police power to prevent breaches of the peace. 

Finally, hate speech—speech which rises to the standard of encouraging “intense detestation, vilification, and calumny” against a specified group, is, for good or for ill, also criminalized in Canada (unlike the United States) under section 319 of the Criminal Code. Given the notorious subjectivity entailed in recognizing when the threshold of hate speech has been crossed, most municipal police forces in Canadian cities have specialized hate crime units that have been deployed at the protests to make or to gather evidence that could lead to arrests later on. It would not surprise me to see arrests related to the pro-Hamas rallies in the coming days after Arabic-speaking officers review some of the footage.

But let’s be clear: acknowledging the rights of Hamas sympathizers to gather and protest does not mean we should lessen our vigilance in denouncing and tracking them. Quite the contrary. As a Jewish person who was imbued from birth with the knowledge that anti-Semitism is the most ancient form of hatred that has always lurked amongst humanity and always will, I see value in allowing these rallies to go ahead. First, it allows me to know who and how many of my fellow Canadians chose to spend their holiday weekend jubilantly celebrating atrocities committed against vulnerable and innocent Jewish civilians. I want to see their faces in full daylight and condemn their depravity with a full throat, not use the criminal law to suppress them and drive them to fester underground. 

Second, if some of these individuals progress from peaceful protesters to aiding and abetting hate crimes or even terrorist acts abroad, allowing them to march in public could create valuable circumstantial evidence that could be used to prevent them from gaining citizenship, or to prosecute them if they commit, conspire or attempt to commit terrorism abroad. I hope CSIS also attended Nathan Phillips Square on Monday.

Third, I agree with Sean Speer who trenchantly wrote earlier this week: “There are perspectives that should rightly be denounced, marginalized, and precluded from receiving public dollars.” I am in favour of publicly naming and shaming every academic who is going into class this week after spending the weekend arguing for the rightfulness of murdering the Israeli relatives of their Jewish students, and every local business owner and union leader who has supported Hamas’s brutality. A free society has other powerful and enduring responses to moral depravity at its disposal besides suppression and criminalization and now is the time to wield them.