This year has been a pivotal year for the progressive Jewish community, both in Israel and worldwide.
A resurgence of populism that has led to an increase in right-wing extremism poses a unique threat to Jews throughout the Diaspora. That, coupled with conflicts arising between progressive Jews and forces on the left, have put us off kilter. Faced with political movements that imbue anti-Semitism and prejudice, Jewish communities are redefining their role in the struggle for human rights and tolerance.
In Israel, progressive Jewish voices have been mobilizing in record numbers. The latest election, in which Israeli voters rejected the divisive politics of Israel’s far right, including its harmful anti-democratic rhetoric and growing incitement against Arabs, is a clear example.
Our community in Canada is not much different. There is a strong contingent of Canadian Jews who identify with progressive values. Many of these same individuals are strong Zionists, but do not feel comfortable with the Israeli government’s increasingly right-wing policies, or the expansion of settlements in the West Bank. According to the 2018 Survey of Jews in Canada, among those with an opinion on the subject, nearly three times more Canadian Jews believe that West Bank settlements hurt Israel’s security than help it.
The Canadian Jewish community is wonderfully heterogeneous, but our community institutions often fail to reflect that fact. For example, during the last Israeli election, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu brokered a deal, which brought about the political resurgence of Otzma Yehudit – a successor of the racist Kach party, which was banned from the Knesset after expressing support for the Cave of the Patriarchs Massacre.
Throughout the Diaspora, an unprecedented number of Jewish organizations condemned the alliance, including the Jewish Council for Public Affairs, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee and the Zionist Federation of Australia, to name a few. But in Canada, our major community institutions were silent.
When the organized Jewish community fails to speak up on instances of racism – especially in Israel, the Jewish state – many progressive Jews feel disenfranchised and some opt to sever ties with Jewish institutions all together.
It shouldn’t have to be this way. After all, Canadian Jews have a long tradition of standing up for justice and human rights. We should be accepting of community members who are proudly progressive, while at the same time proud Zionists and valued contributors to Canadian Jewish life. This is especially important for progressive Jewish students on campus, who find themselves ideologically homeless, unable to find a place in their Jewish community or among their left-wing peers.
At such an important crossroads for our community, JSpaceCanada, an organization I sit on the board of, gives me hope. JSpaceCanada’s Fourth Biennial Conference will be held from Nov. 2-3 in Toronto. It is Canada’s premier gathering of pro-peace, pro-Israel activists. The event attracts speakers from around the globe to tackle the pressing issues facing progressive Jews and Zionists in Canada, Israel and abroad.
This year’s conference, titled “From Indifference to Making a Difference,” will feature over 40 speakers and panelists from around the world, tackling the most pressing issues facing progressive Zionism and peacebuilding in Israel-Palestine, including Naomi Chazan, Peter Beinart, Yair Rosenberg, Kenneth Bob and Bob Rae.
The speakers will tackle the challenges to liberal democracy and progressivism, both in the Middle East and worldwide. While not everyone will agree with all of their positions, they will look for ways to put words into action, to rebuild Israel-Diaspora relations and to counter anti-Semitism on the left and the right.
All the attendees will bring their expertise and a lifetime of thought to bear on questions we face every day in the Jewish community and throughout the world. Specific attention will be given to the unique challenges facing younger members of the community and those still looking for a place in it.
No matter what political spectrum you occupy, I believe you owe it to yourself to learn and listen. This conference will provide a unique opportunity for that.
For more, visit jspacecanada2019.ca.