On November 21, shortly after the cease fire was declared between Gaza and Israel, MP Jason Kenney addressed a rally in Vancouver. His words deserve a critical analysis.
When Kenney spoke of the Gazans, he used phrases such as “terrorist aggression,” “anti-Semitic death cult,” and “hateful.” When he spoke of the Israelis, Kenney used phrases such as “innocent civilians” who were victims of “endless violent aggression.”
Kenney’s tactics — to paint one party as evil and the other party as innocent, reminds us of many leaders throughout history (many of them totalitarian) who tried to depict complex conflicts in black and white terms — essentially constructing an evil “other” while simultaneously constructing one side as needing our allegiance.
Throughout history, these speeches have been a necessary component to rally support for wars that most sectors of society would otherwise have never embraced. Kenney’s dismissal of the Gazan people includes reference to Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, a dubious fanatic who conjures up religious references to rally the support of his Iranian citizens.
By most accounts, Ahmadinejad’s attempts are not that successful. However, Kenney himself finishes his speech with a call to glory: “God bless Israel, and God bless Canada,” making the ultimate declaration: God is on our side, but only after warning Canadians that if we do not stand with Israel, her enemies “would seek to eliminate all of us.” There may have been a time in our history where we would have heeded these fear-based tactics, but I’m glad to say that the times are changing.
Fortunately for Canadians, we have long since evolved from a fear-based society which uncritically embraces the war cries and “othering” tactics that our politicians may use. Rather than whipping us up into a blind frenzy of unconditional support, Kenney’s speech just ends up making our government look silly.
Fortunately we are now much more critical of violence as a means to solve political crises. We are also more aware of the role that human rights and justice play in these conflicts. We are apt to seek out non-partisan analyses based on the paramount importance of justice and human rights, as evidenced by organizations such as Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch and B’tselem (btselem.org ), an Israeli organization that painstakingly documents human rights violations by both sides in the conflict. Their non-partisan work is highly regarded worldwide and until recently relied upon financial support from the Canadian government — until a few years ago that is, when the Harper government determined that B’tselem’s reports did not conform to its tidy black and white perspective.
Finally, Canadians are paying much more attention to the moderate voices in both Israel and Palestine that bring people from both sides together — to work non-violently and collaboratively to build a peace with justice. These Israeli and Palestinian voices, whose strategic nonviolent actions provide us with hope, are becoming too loud to ignore. Our challenge as Canadians, therefore, is to ensure that our politicians represent those values which research consistently demonstrates are important to Canadians — values such as peace, justice and human rights for all people.
We deserve a government that is in touch with the changing times.