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The decision about where to stand on the Israel-Hamas war is an obvious one

Commentary

It’s been two full weeks since Hamas’s horrific terrorist attacks in Israel that roused our moral outrage and precipitated the prospects of another major conflict in the Middle East.

The Hub has been active on these developments ever since we awoke that fateful morning. Readers may have noticed that most of our commentary has reflected a particular point of view. We’ve condemned Hamas, criticized those who’ve sought to justify or rationalize the attacks, and supported Israel’s right to defend itself. Some have asked about our editorial position and what has caused us to take such a strong and unequivocal stance—particularly in a moment when too many others have equivocated in the face of evil.

We thought that we’d aim to answer these questions here. Not that it matters but we don’t have any Jews among our small staff. Nor are we overly zealous Zionists. Our position isn’t even merely about Israel, or Hamas, or the Middle East for that matter. It speaks to something more fundamental—even civilizational—that we view as core to The Hub’s mission and values.

We’ve condemned the attacks and supported Israel because we believe that the events of the past two weeks represent competing conceptions of the proper aspirations for individuals, society, and the practice of politics.

Israel is a liberal democracy with the rule of law, democratic institutions, a market economy, and even within its unique context, a genuine commitment to pluralism. Its civic life is underpinned by an understanding of individual dignity and freedom that’s proven itself conducive to prosperity, stability, and ultimately human flourishing. These ideas and institutions have enabled Israel to create one of the world’s most dynamic and successful countries in just 75 years.

Hamas, which was designated a terrorist organization by the Canadian government in 2002, is the antithesis of these impulses and traits. It defines itself solely in opposition to Israel. Its ends are Israel’s destruction and its means are indiscriminate violence. Its vision for its own people is marked by an authoritarian and illiberal form of Sharia law that has involved discontinuing elections, arresting and killing its opponents, and severely constraining individual rights and freedoms—particularly for women.

These stark differences manifest themselves on multiple levels. At the individual level, they represent diametrical views about the universality of human dignity and essence of human freedom. At the level of society, they’re a contest between a free and open society versus a closed society—one closed to free expression or exchange. And at the level of politics, they stand as rival visions for the protection of human rights and the practice of pluralism.

Understood in these terms, the decision on where to stand on such a conflict is rather straightforward. We’re firmly on the side of what former Prime Minister Stephen Harper called in his 2014 speech to the Knesset “the only country in the Middle East to anchor itself to ideals of freedom, democracy, and the rule of law.”

The events of the past two weeks have done nothing to change our minds. Time hasn’t lapsed so much that we should forget that the only reason we’re even discussing these questions is because in the early hours of October 7, Hamas terrorists crossed into Southern Israel and murdered, raped, and tortured Israelis at a music festival and in their homes and ultimately took more than 200 of them (including 30 children) back to Gaza as hostages. Israelis sleeping in their beds that morning weren’t in search of war. It was thrust onto them by the brutality and destruction of their attackers.

It’s been impossible for us to empathize with those—including in our own country—who’ve sought to justify, rationalize, or even celebrate these horrific attacks. But it’s also been challenging to understand those who may have condemned them in the moment but have since returned to targeting Israel with unreasonable criticism in search of so-called “balance.”

The reaction to the explosion at a Gazan hospital this week has exposed the latter group. The instinct on the part of many journalists and politicians to attribute responsibility to Israel seemed to reflect motivated reasoning. There was an intense need to either rebalance their “scoring” of the conflict or to return to the “oppressor/oppressed” frame that has become so prevalent in progressive circles.

The Trudeau government has fallen into this trap. Its reaction to the events of the past two weeks has been frankly schizophrenic. It started off more equivocal than we would have liked in the immediate aftermath of the attacks. But it then stiffened its spine including the prime minister’s strong words alongside Conservative leader Pierre Poilievre at events in Ottawa. It now ends the week in the untenable position of granting equal credibility to the conclusions of the U.S. intelligence agencies that Israel wasn’t responsible for the explosion and Hamas who claims it was.

One can merely speculate about what would cause the government to entertain such a position. We’ll refrain from commenting here. But it strikes us as an intellectual and moral failing to hold Israel, whose institutions and values match our own, to the same standard as a designated terrorist organization. It reflects a category error based on the failure to reckon with the fundamental differences between the two.

It reminds us of a somewhat apocryphal story from the Cuban Missile Crisis. Apparently when U.S. President John Kennedy offered to show French President Charles de Gaulle intelligence that proved the presence of Soviet missiles in Cuba, he replied: “No. The word of the President of the United States is good enough for me.” 

De Gaulle’s point was that the U.S. and France shared certain institutions and values that distinguished them from those with different political cultures and systems and therefore created an inherent presumption of trust. The same presumption should be extended today to Israel based on its institutions, values, and record of trustworthiness.

This of course doesn’t mean that support for Israel should be unthinking or uncritical. One may agree or disagree with or support or oppose the current Israeli government. One might even be critical of Israel’s policy towards Gaza. These are issues about which people of good faith can (and should) have spirited debates.

But as fellows in the community of liberal democratic nations, we should start with a predisposition to Israel which has built itself into a beacon of freedom, democracy, and pluralism in the Middle East’s inhospitable soil. This outlook has guided The Hub’s news and commentary over the past two weeks.

The coming weeks and months will necessarily involve tragedy and hardship for those in Israel and Gaza. There will be a need for dispassion and judgement to assess the latest developments and seek out a path to peace.

But there will also be an ongoing need for moral clarity in order to recognize the difference between a war of necessity and a war of choice, between one side that rejects international norms about warfare and the other that subjects itself to them, and between a side that targets women and children and another that aim to avoid them.

We wrote in The Hub‘s founding essay that we believe that our choices extend beyond the current moment. They not only signal to posterity something about us, but they’re ultimately what shape and drive the future. We see in the impending war between Israel and Hamas a stark contrast, and a clear choice. We choose in favour of Israel and our shared ideas and values.

‘Forge a new approach in this increasingly volatile world’: The best comments from Hub Forum this week

Commentary

The ongoing Israel-Hamas war was still the main focus at The Hub this week, with Hub writers taking the media to task, exploring the reaction in our country to the war and analyzing the best path forward for Canada on foreign policy.

The goal of Hub Forum is to bring the impressive knowledge and experience of The Hub community into one place and with that in mind, here are some of the most interesting comments this week.

Sign up for our daily Hub Forum email newsletter today.

The media’s reporting on the war risks going from bad to worse

Monday, Oct. 16, 2023

Just as it is “important to report how civilians are impacted when a state takes action against terrorists” it is equally important for that same media to be truthful. Calling Hamas “militants” is a gross misrepresentation of what they truly are: terrorists. Reporting part of the story is as much a lie as reporting untruths. This is where our MSM fails us all. I find more and more that the same media editorialize and report their insight. Report the news and leave your personal opinions out of it.

— Greg K

“The intermingling, and often misleading use of terms like Arab, Israeli, Palestinian, Jew, Muslim, Colonizer, Indigenous, and Settler, contribute to the confusion and help create the animosity both in the region and across the western world. A Jewish refuge who emigrated to Israel in the 1950s to escape persecution in Iran could be called an Arab Jew Israeli settler colonizing the region once referred to as Palestine! Many of the Jewish and most of the Muslim people living in the region in 1946 had indigenous roots in Palestine. The Jews became Israelis in 1947 and Muslims living in Gaza and the West Bank became Palestinians in 1964 when Ahmad Shuqayrī helped launch the Palestine Liberation Organization.

No world body has ever acknowledged a state of Palestine, it was simply a name accorded to the region derived from the Philistines (think Goliath) – a people and culture that flourished three millennia ago and died out around 700BCE. Nearly 60 years of referring to the situation as the Arab-Israeli conflict has ingrained that false dichotomy. In reality it a Jewish-Muslim conflict.” 

Lorne Matheson

Our reaction to terror in Israel shows Canada isn’t that divided

Tuesday, Oct. 17, 2023

“The MSM news broadcasts that I saw – CTV Toronto and CP24 – and the same stories reported on my local CBC Radio One station didn’t show the same story you talked about. They focused on what they called those ‘supporting Hamas militants’ doing their flag-waving and generally disrupting traffic at a major intersection in Toronto. I didn’t see anything about the PM and our leader of the opposition or Ms. Chow and Mr. Singh denouncing anything about Hamas. I saw nothing of the media calling Hamas what it is – TERRORISTS. So if we don’t insist on truth and fairness in reporting the news, how will we ever know?”

Greg K.

‘Urban warfare is absolute hell’: The Takeaway: Three key insights from Robert D. Kaplan’s Hub Dialogue

Wednesday, Oct. 18, 2023

“Open warfare should be an anachronism. Urban combat is a chaotic nightmare for the combatants and more so for the hapless civilians caught in the crossfire. The geopolitical fallout, assessment of the ‘winner and losers’, and identifying new negative global risks from this tragedy may be immediately relevant in each of the world’s nation’s various ‘state departments’, but the unacceptable human cost of this should be the primary focus, despite our near powerlessness, of every other feeling human being.”

— Rob Tyrrell

“The IDF will not win a conventional military victory in Gaza. A protracted invasion will only foment the conditions to bolster the ranks of Hamas.”

— Michael F.

As rates rise, old people are doing better and young people are doing worse

Thursday, Oct. 19, 2023

“In total, the youngest households paid nearly $1 billion more per month in interest. And net of higher interest earnings, those under 45 collectively paid over $1.6 billion more. Those over 65, meanwhile, received $1.6 billion per month more.”

This perfectly encapsulates the way of interest rates tend to younger demographics vs. how older demographics are not feeling the pinch as much, if at all. It also further encapsulates the divide between demographics, especially when older demographics just blatantly claim that younger demographics are “just lazy and want everything handed to them” or “eating too much avocado toast,” not fully realizing that the current economic conditions we’re in are so drastically different when they were our age or younger.”

Amal Attar-Guzman (Content Editor, The Hub)

“Young people are being unfairly squeezed, are justifiably unhappy about it, and this feeling is dangerous if permitted to fester, especially if nothing happens to address the situation after a likely federal government change.”

— Rob Tyrrell

Canada needs to pick its lanes in an increasingly turbulent world

Friday, Oct. 20, 2023

“I agree with the priorities set in this article with the exception of defense spending. I think what we need to do is find better ways of creating and maintaining peace, better to spend money on foreign aid which will build the ability of a people to fend for themselves than on arms to destroy. If the amount of money used for arms was put into development, if only a fraction was put into development, the cause of peace would be much further ahead. I know some people will say this is a Pollyanna view of life but without dreams, nothing is accomplished.”

— A. Chezzi

“Lloyd Axworthy’s adoption of ‘soft power’ as the foundation for Canada’s foreign policy in the 1990’s has led us to the state we find ourselves in today on the world stage. With little to offer other than words – and even less of substance with which to back them up – it should come as no surprise that our allies are now moving on or working around us to achieve their goals, and our adversaries seek to weaken us by exploiting our institutions.

Kim Richard Nossal accurately summed up soft power in 1998 by saying “it… encourages the view that we can do foreign policy on the cheap,” but when we are “confronted by those who damage Canadian interests in a narrower sense… in such circumstances, a squishy notion such as soft power is next to useless.” Time to cast off that whimsical concept and forge a new approach in this increasingly volatile world around us.”

— RJKWells

“We need to increase our defense spending to at least 2%, immediately. Given the timelines for acquisition of military equipment, those purchases should come on line just about the same time the Arctic waters completely thaw and we face the rude awakening that Russia is our neighbour, and they can reach us.”

Bill