Roughly a thousand people turned up at the sprawling Schara Tzedeck Synagogue on Oak St. in Vancouver on Thursday evening to a high security – no purse or back pack got through the door unexamined -- “Community Solidarity Gathering for Israel”. Some in the overflow crowd at the rally organized by the Jewish Federation of Greater Vancouver were turned away. There was simply no more room. Even the balcony was jam-packed.
“There is a battle for truth,” speaker Dr. James Lunney, Member of Parliament and Chair of the Canada-Israel Interparliamentary Committee, told the crowd.
“Hamas fired more than 450 rockets into Israel in the week leading up to Israel’s response”, Lunney said. The Canadian government sees the conflict this way: “Hamas is responsible for the current crisis.”
You won’t find the current Conservative Canadian government in the middle of the road on the Israeli-Gaza conflict, Lunney explained. Being the MP for Nanaimo-Alberni on Vancouver Island, he used a forestry industry analogy: If you’re driving along the road and you turn a corner and see a logging truck coming toward you, the last place you want to be is in the middle of the road. Laughter. On the Israeli-Hamas conflict, Lunney said, “The middle of the road is neither a right place or a safe place.”
Yet the middle of the road is exactly where past Canadian governments have been, Lunney said. They have taken a “moral equivalence” approach to the two sides in Israeli-Palestinian tensions, “condemning neither, supporting neither”. That’s over. “The Canadian government sees no moral equivalence between Israel, a vibrant if imperfect democracy, and Hamas…”, Lunney said. He described Hamas as “terrorists who use military aggression…using their neighbors, including women and children as shields.”
Like Lunney, grade 12 student Igal Raich sees the Israel-Hamas conflict as a battle for truth. There was one lie Raich was particularly eager to set the record straight on when he took the podium: “Israel does not intentionally kill women and children but attacks rocket launchers. But they [Hamas] are using women and children as human shields.”
Raich, who announced that he will be joining the Israel Defense Forces when he graduates this year, is a product of the David Project at King David school in Vancouver. “The David project empowers us to confront and respond to anti-Israel bias”, he said. In the Project, students are taught “historical accuracy, moral decision-making, and activism.”
Raich went to the anti-Israel demonstration in downtown Vancouver on Dec. 29th. “I didn’t go to cheer them on”, he said. “I went to protest against the continual bombardment of Southern Israel by Hamas.”
A giant video screen at the front of the room allowed the crowd to see speakers, including Anglican Reverend Dr. Richard Leggett who said they had been told to "keep it short".
Setting the record straight was also a goal of Dr. Michael Elterman, Chair of the Pacific Region Canada Israel Committee. Claims made about Israel in the media, he said, are too often “ill-informed and intellectually lazy”. He saw the claim that Israel is contributing to a “cycle of violence” as a prime example. “It confuses the pyromaniac with the firefighter.”
Another on the long list of claims Elterman challenged was that Israel is using “disproportionate force”. “Israel under reacted for 8 years,” he said, “which only acted to encourage Hamas.”
The dearth of balanced reporting on the Israel-Hamas conflict was a problem that Elterman saw as extending to anti-Israel protesters – including the fifteen or so standing on the sidewalk outside. As Israel supporters entered the rally, protesters had stood on the sidewalk loudly chanting, “Hey, hey, Israel! How many people have you killed today!” Elterman asked the crowd, “Where were the protesters outside tonight when Israeli civilians were being terrorized and rocketed for eight years?” When you leave tonight, he urged, “Ask them.”
The Vancouver rally was one of several held in major cities across Canada on Thursday evening. Israeli Prime Minister Ehud spoke to the rally via a pre-taped video. He explained that in response to Hamas “firing rockets, missiles, and mortar shells directly into population centers”, Israel was pressed to act to ensure the “security and safety” of it’s citizens. “This is what Canada would have done for the people living in Toronto”.
After the rally, which ended with a “Song of Peace”, the anti-Israel protesters were nowhere to be seen outside. But uniformed police were everywhere.
To read the speakers list from the rally, enlarge the photo below by clicking on it.