Be ‘character witnesses’ for Israel, consul general urges

DJ Schneeweiss

TORONTO — Israel’s consul general to Toronto and Western Canada says those who support Israel must create a greater understanding among the general public about the recent conflict in the Middle East.

DJ Schneeweiss thanked Jewish Canadians for their ongoing support in an Aug. 11 forum and discussion at Holy Blossom Temple, but he said there’s still work to be done to teach other Canadians, because some news outlets are failing to do it.

“The real service that people can give is not just as advocates… but as character witnesses,” he said. “People who know us can tell their friends, ‘I know the Israelis. I know where their moral compass is. I know who they are and I know what they’re trying to achieve.’”

The main struggle, Schneeweiss told a crowd of more than 150 people, is trying to get people to understand Israel better. That can come from history books and sharing news stories on social media that show a different side of the conflict, he said. However, the change in perception also comes from promoting Jewish values.

Jewish Canadians must use their western moral compass to help fellow Canadians realize how Israelis share their democratic values with our own, he urged. In a similar situation, a country like Canada would not live under a threat of violence without retaliating.

Schneeweiss thanked the Canadian government for being “forthright and so clear in its expression of the nature of this conflict and where wrong exists and where right exists.”

He also praised the efforts of Jewish Canadians for rallying behind Israel so strongly, ensuring that leaders from all political parties know the nuances of Middle Eastern foreign policy.

On the other hand, the consul general criticized the mass media’s coverage of Israel during the conflict. He remarked that several news outlets framed the conflict in a way that would be like if World War II had been broadcast from within Dresden, as Allied bombers destroyed targets, but without giving context about the objectives of the war.

“We cannot rely on mass media,” Schneeweiss said, reiterating the adage that truth is the first casualty of war.

“We have to tell our story ourselves. Every single conversation counts. Every single contact counts.”

Schneeweiss, who has spoken out against boycott movements at Canadian universities, says this coming school year will see renewed challenges to Jewish students and those who support Israel.

“Some of the anti-Israel agendas are completely destructive,” Schneeweiss told The CJN, acknowledging that dialogue on campus is not easy. “They don’t offer any hope to anybody. But Israel’s not going to be beaten by campus resolutions. There is room for people to be constructive.”

The evening, co-sponsored by Holy Blossom Temple and the Reform Zionist group ARZA Canada, was also a chance for guests to ask questions about the ongoing conflict in Israel and Gaza. Ryerson University professor and political adviser Hershell Ezrin moderated the talk.

One woman, nearly in tears and her voice shaking, pleaded with Schneeweiss, asking what Jews should do in the wake of worldwide vitriol against Israel. She could not understand why so many children in radical religious schools learn to hate Jews and Israel.

Even though there have been anti-Israel marches in Europe, Schneeweiss said, there are many western leaders who stand on Israel’s side. He said that protests against Israel’s actions in Operation Protective Edge feel overwhelming, but are only drawing a small, fringe group of inflamed Europeans.

“Israel has many battles,” he concluded. “But Israel has never and will never be solely the sum of its battles. We will never let our enemies define who we are.”