Recently, two Holocaust survivors and human rights activists died; both having lived long and fruitful lives. Over the course of his life, the writer Elie Wiesel received many prizes and much praise for his activism, including speaking out for the beleaguered peoples of Bosnia and Rwanda. Hedy Epstein was no less passionate an advocate; at the age of 90, she was arrested for protesting the fatal shooting of unarmed black teenager Michael Brown by police in Ferguson Missouri.
But it was the conflict in the Middle East that flamed Ms. Epstein’s social justice passions the most, using her pulpit as a survivor of the atrocities committed against the Jews in World War II to encourage people to help stop the sufferings of Palestinians caused by Israel’s occupation.
As a Jew committed to tikkun olam, the ideals of social justice that I learned from my parents, I follow the Hedy Epstein school of Holocaust lessons: two wrongs do not make a right.
It is why I decided to submit a resolution to the Green Party to revoke Revenue Canada’s charitable status of the Jewish National Fund of Canada, and why I co-sponsored the resolution calling for the boycott, divestment, and sanctioning of Israel until they end their occupation of Palestine. While both resolutions have been roundly condemned by some as anti-Semitic and anti-Israeli, including the former president of the Green Party, Paul Estrin, in this newspaper, I have chosen to heed the words of Ms. Epstein, “Remember the past, don’t hate, but don’t be a bystander.”
The policies of the JNF are well documented. Both the UN Committee for Economic, Social and Cultural Rights and the U.S. State Department have called the JNF discriminatory because of its practice of selling or leasing land only to Jews. But even more important, the Attorney General of Israel—in a 2005 ruling against the JNF—stated that their practice of refusing to sell or lease their lands to non-Jewish citizens of Israel amounts to discrimination.
In Canada, the JNF has raised money for its project in Israel, Canada Park. A beautiful 80,000 acre of lush greenery, this oasis of rest and recreation also happens to sit atop the ruins of the Palestinian villages of Deir Ayyub, Imwas, and Yalu. The residents of the latter two villages along with those of neighbouring village, Beit Nuba, were forcibly expelled from their homes and the villages deliberately destroyed during the 1967 war. The villagers played no role in the fighting and held aloft white flags when Israeli soldiers entered their communities.
Under the guise of ‘greening’ the area, the seized land was then given to the JNF which conveniently built Canada Park a few years later. This contravenes Canadian government policy, which does not recognize permanent Israeli control over lands occupied since 1967, as well as international law.
CBC’s Fifth Estate produced a documentary about the forced expulsion, the deliberate destruction of the villages, and the establishment of the park. In the words of former Israeli parliamentarian, Uri Avnery, “By putting that park there and calling it ‘Canada Park’, you give a Canadian cover-up to a war crime.” (CBC TV, “Canada Park: A Park with no Peace,” 1991).
To this day, there has never been any acknowledgement or recognition of the actions by the Israeli government or compensation given to the nearly 10,000 people who were forced out of their homes, and who have not been granted the right to return, as stipulated under international law, while Canada Park physically prevents any return from taking place. Yet, because of JNF’s charitable status, the park continues to be subsidized by the Canadian taxpayer.
It is not easy to move forward in the face of such sustained, yet patently false, attacks. I am proud of my Jewish heritage and traditions. My actions do not make me anti-Semitic or anti-Israel. Neither are the Green Party and its leader anti-Semitic or anti-Israel. The Green Party and its leader are absolutely not anti-Semitic or anti-Israel. But as a party that emphasizes our commitment to the environment, neither should the party stand idly by while grave human rights abuses are done in the name of environmentalism, particularly when such abuses are subsidized by our taxpayer dollars.
I like to think that Hedy Epstein, whose memoir was titled, “Remembering Is Not Enough,” would have been proud of the action I am taking.
The Hill Times
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